Steven Spielberg screens Roald Dahl's The BFG at Cannes

Steven Spielberg, a giant in the world of cinema, landed at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday with his gentle Roald Dahl adaptation The BFG.

Filmmaker says fantasy offers hope, was unaware of late author's outspokenness on Israel

Director Steven Spielberg, actors Ruby Barnhill, and Mark Rylance, from left, pose for photographers as they leave the screening of the film The BFG at the Cannes Film Festival Saturday. (Joel Ryan/The Associated Press)

Steven Spielberg, a giant in the world of cinema, landed at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday with his gentle Roald Dahl adaptation The BFG.

The film is about a young orphan (Ruby Barnhill) taken away by a friendly, big-eared giant, played by recent Oscar winner Mark Rylance. It marks a return for Spielberg to the magical kind of fable he has largely moved away from in recent years.

It's also his second film with E.T. writer Melissa Mathison, who died last November. Spielberg has dedicated The BFG, short for Big Friendly Giant, to her.

"It's a love story that children have for their grandparents. It's a love story that grandparents have for their children," Spielberg told reporters Saturday. "I think this is probably the closest I've ever come to telling a love story."

Sitting between his young star and his new favorite actor (Rylance is starring in the director's next two films as well), Spielberg said enchanting fantasies like The BFG are just as vital as more realistic tales.

"The worse the world gets, the more magic we have to believe in," said Spielberg. "Hope comes from magic and I think that's what movies can give people. They can give people hope that there will be a reason to fight on to the next day. Hope is everything to me."

Spielberg's The BFG is based on the 1982 children's book by Roald Dahl and was made in concert with the late author's estate.
Spielberg acknowledged his interest has recently drifted to historical dramas like Lincoln and last year's Bridge of Spies, but he said making The BFG was liberating.

"It was revisiting something that I've always loved to do, which is just to tell stories that are from the imagination," he said. "It brought back feelings I had as a younger filmmaker."

The BFG, which drew warmly respectful reviews in its Cannes premiere, is largely faithful to Dahl's 1982 classic and was made in concert with the Dahl estate. The author died in 1990. Producer Kathleen Kennedy first obtained the rights in 1993 and later turned to Mathison for the script.

Spielberg called collaborating with Mathison again "a wonderful reunion and a very bittersweet time, as it turned out, for us."

Dahl was famously anti-Israel and some considered him anti-Semitic. Asked about whether that was an issue for him, Spielberg said he wasn't aware of that, and was only concerned with adapting a book he frequently read to his seven children.

The BFG, which Disney will release in July, played out of competition in Cannes. Spielberg was last at the French Riviera festival in 2014 as president of the jury.​