American filmmaker Steven Spielberg will be head of this spring's Cannes Film Festival jury.

Organizers of the French festival, which runs May 15-26, revealed the appointment of the Lincoln director on Thursday.

Festival president Gilles Jacob said he had tried — unsuccessfully — for years to land the influential and very busy director of films such as Jaws, E.T., the Indiana Jones series, The Color Purple, Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan.

"When this year I was told 'E.T., phone home,' I understood and immediately replied: 'At last!'" Jacob said in a statement posted on the festival's website.

Spielberg's wide-ranging body of work spans "entertainment films and serious reflections on history, racism and the human condition," the festival said.

Fresh off his most recent best-director Oscar nomination for the Civil War-era presidential portrait Lincoln, Spielberg said he was honoured and felt privileged to be asked to serve as jury chair.

"My admiration for the steadfast mission of the festival to champion the international language of movies is second to none," he said.

"For over six decades, Cannes has served as a platform for extraordinary films to be discovered and introduced to the world for the first time."

Spielberg will preside over the main competition jury that decides the winner of the festival's top prize: the Palme d'Or.

Last year, Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti presided over the group, which crowned Michael Haneke's searing tale Amour as the ultimate winner. The tale of an elderly man caring for his ailing wife subsequently earned acclaim at other film festivals around the globe and from critics, eventually winning the Oscar for best foreign-language film last Sunday.