cannes film festival.jpg
Photograph: EPA/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO

The world could do with a little more magic as it faces up to grinding poverty and extreme inequality, three-time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg said on Saturday as he launched his new fantasy adventure film at the Cannes Film Festival.

"All of us believe in magic," said Spielberg at a press conference marking the premiere of his movie The BFG, based on British writer Roald Dahl's beloved children's classic.

"The worse the world gets, the more we have to believe in magic," he said, answering a question about whether he was troubled by the sight of beggars and migrants selling cheap goods on Cannes' streets.

"Hope is everything for me," said Spielberg, who is one of the towering figures of modern cinema.

The BFG stars 11-year-old British newcomer Ruby Barnhill as Sophie, a young orphan who gets whisked away to a land brimming with giants.

"The only thing that I’d ever done before this was going to a drama class for a very long time, and doing a children's TV show," said Barnhill. "It's amazing to think that I’m here now. It's a dream come true."

The BFG is the latest work in the 69-year-old director and producer's more-than-four-decade-long filmmaking career, during which he has touched on almost every genre and brought to the screen an extraordinary range of stories.

His movies include Hollywood blockbusters such as the Indiana Jones series, E.T. and Jaws, through to historically themed films like Schindler's List, wartime dramas such as Saving Private Ryan and a Cold War story Bridge of Spies.

But his Cannes press conference was somewhat overshadowed when he was confronted with allegations about Dahl's anti-Semitism. Dahl died in 1990.

"I was not aware of Dahl's personal stories," said Spielberg. "I had no idea about what was reportedly assigned to him."

He went on to say: "I was focused on this story he wrote. This is a story about embracing our differences."

Spielberg, who turns 70 this year, also made clear that he had no plans to retire.

"This is something I'm going to do for the rest of my life," he said. He has several other new projects in the pipeline.

The BFG also reunited Spielberg with the late US scriptwriter Melissa Mathison, who authored E.T., which also premiered at Cannes in 1982.

Spielberg's The BFG has a distinctly British tone, with Downton Abby star Penelope Wilton playing the Queen. "I have given the Queen a good rendition," Wilton told the press conference.

"She has been played a lot," she said. "We'll see how it goes down."

The BFG is being screened in Cannes as an out-of-competition film, which means it is not in the running for any of the festival's prestigious prizes, including the Palme d'Or for best picture.

The BFG premiere is nonetheless one of the big events in Cannes this year, with the film expected to be a major summer hit and expected to be one of the biggest grossing films of 2016.

Saturday also marked the screening of two of the 21 movies vying for the Palme d'Or, including German director Maren Ade's comedy about the relationship between a high-flying corporate adviser and her prankster father.

The film, Toni Erdmann, which was the first German film to be screened in Cannes' main competition in 8 years, has emerged as an early favourite for the festival's coveted prize.

This is unlike South Korean director Park Chan-wook, who is a Cannes regular and whose latest film, an erotic thriller called The Handmaiden, also premiered on Saturday.

Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the first half of the last century, The Handmaiden is a sexually charged story about a servant girl who is enlisted by a conman to win trust of a wealthy heiress. However, his plans seems to go awry when the two women plunge into a passionate affair.

Latest news

SpaceX plans to fly two passengers around moon, NASA involved

SpaceX is planning to fly two private citizens around the moon next year, the first manned trip to the Earth's only natural satellite in more than four decades, the private company said Monday.

Key congressman has 'no evidence' of Trump contacts with Russia

The chairman of the US House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee said he is not aware of any evidence of improper contacts between Russian officials and Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

Gambia's new President Barrow fires army chief

Gambia's new President Adama Barrow has sacked army chief Ousman Badjie, replacing him with a presidential military aide.

Star investor Buffett takes a bigger bite of Apple, doubling shares

Stock market guru Warren Buffett on Monday revealed that his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway doubled its share of iPhone producer Apple stocks last month.

Minister: Erdogan not welcome in Austria for referendum campaign

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should not come to Austria to campaign to Turkish citizens living there ahead of a constitutional reform referendum in his country, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said Monday.

Migrant group: Britain hits 'new low' by deporting grandmother

Britain has hit a "new low" by deporting a grandmother from north-eastern England to Singapore, a migrants' rights group said on Monday.

Turkish judge remands German reporter in custody

A Turkish judge remanded German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel in custody Monday, according to newspaper Die Welt, sparking strong condemnation from the German government and rights organizations.

1.4 million people without water after deadly floods in Chile

More than 1.4 million people were without drinking water in the Chilean capital of Santiago on Monday following catastrophic flooding that left at least three people dead.

Serbia PM says no snap parliamentary election

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Monday that an early parliamentary election would not be held simultaneously with a presidential vote, although the state leadership had announced such a possibility.  

Trump touts 'security budget' with 10-per-cent defence spending hike

US President Donald Trump says he will present a "public security and national security budget" that hikes military spending by 54 billion dollars or about 10 per cent.

National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen fined for Roma comments

The founder of France's far-right National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had a 5,000-euro (5,300-dollar) fine for inciting racial hatred and discrimination confirmed on appeal on Monday.

Croatia-Montenegro relations example for region, says minister

After meeting Croatian Ambassador Veselko Grubisic in Podgorica on Monday, Montenegrin Defence Minister Predrag Boskovic said that relations between Croatia and Montenegro were very good and could serve as an example to other countries in the region.

Over 31,000 South Sudanese flee fighting and hunger to Sudan

Fleeing escalating fighting and famine in South Sudan, over 31,000 people have arrived in neighbouring Sudan so far this year, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said Monday.

SDP urges gov't to pull statement making radical turn in human rights

The opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) on Monday called on the government to take a position on the Croatian foreign policy's turn in human rights, which it said was initiated by Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier, and to withdraw a Foreign Ministry statement on that sent to Brussels.

Police says photoshopped photo of Milanka Opacic motivated by hate

An investigation has proved that a photograph showing Parliament Deputy Speaker Milanka Opacic wearing a shirt with four Cyrillic letters "S" (standing for "only unity saves the Serb", a popular motto and slogan in Serbia and among Serb nationalists) is a photomontage and the police suspect that publishing and distributing the said photo has been motivated by hate and intolerance.

Finance Ministry says didn't analyse HEP's readiness for IPO

The Ministry of Finance on Monday announced that it had not analysed the justification or the readiness of power provider Hrvatska Elektroprivreda (HEP) for an initial public offering with regard to a possible acquisition of Hungarian energy company MOL's stake in Croatia's INA.

Berlin confirms murder of German hostage in the Philippines

Berlin confirmed on Monday the murder of a German hostage by the militant Islamist group Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines with Chancellor Angela Merkel condemning the killing as "barbaric" and "abominable".

Syrian refugees arrive in Italy with help from Christian groups

A group of 50 Syrian refugees, more than half of them children, landed in Italy early Monday, entering the country on humanitarian visas obtained with the help of a lay Catholic NGO, Protestant organizations and the Italian government.