Mike Leigh to head 2012 Berlinale jury

Mike Leigh, the seemingly mild-mannered master of contemporary British realism, is famously a man who takes no prisoners, and one imagines this extends to the jury table at film festivals. While serving as a Cannes juror in 1997, Leigh and jury president Isabelle Adjani are said to have butted heads repeatedly: “She’s simply not very bright,” he airily wrote years later.

So the jurors at next year’s Berlin Film Festival in February will have to be on their game, as Leigh will be presiding over events: the first time, to my knowledge, that the director has headed the jury at any of the three European majors. As it happens, the first of them to invite him is also the only one at which he’s never won: Leigh has a Palme d’Or and a Venice Golden Lion, but has only competed once at Berlin, with “Happy-Go-Lucky” in 2008. (He came away empty-handed; Sally Hawkins won Best Actress.)  

More eyes will be on the Berlinale in 2012 than in recent years: after several years of lackluster competition selections and winners that faded quickly from view, the festival struck gold this year by snagging the premieres of critics’ darlings “A Separation” and “The Turin Horse,” as well as Ralph Fiennes’s “Coriolanus.” Here’s hoping next year’s fest brings Leigh a similarly strong crop to work with.

Press release as follows:

British film director Mike Leigh will be the Jury President of the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival.

Over the course of his nearly 40-year film career, Mike Leigh has distinguished himself as one of the most outstanding filmmakers of auteur cinema and protagonists of New British Cinema. His approach includes giving actors much leeway to improvise in order to develop their characters. Leigh portrays British society in a bluntly realistic but humorous style. His films have received countless international awards and several Oscar nominations.

Leigh has directed more than 20 films, as well as having made a name for himself as theatre director, dramatist and screenwriter. He first studied dramatic arts and then set design. Afterwards he attended the London Film School, of which he is now Chairman.

In 1972 he made his directorial debut with Bleak Moments, which went on to win the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival. In Cannes he won the Best Director Award in 1993 for Naked, and the Palme d”Or in 1996 for Secrets and Lies, which in itself received a total of five Oscar nominations. In 2004, Vera Drake, his highly regarded study of society whose characters display an extraordinary depth, was awarded the Golden Lion in Venice.

Over the years Mike Leigh has been invited to the Berlin International Film Festival to present Meantime (Forum 1984), the short film The Short and Curlies (Panorama 1988) and Life is Sweet (Panorama 1991). His latest contribution was to the Competition in 2008: his social comedy Happy-Go-Lucky featured Sally Hawkins, who won the Silver Bear for Best Actress. Another Year is Leigh”s most recent movie. It screened in competition at Cannes in 2010 and went on to be nominated for an Oscar.

Since the 1960s, Leigh has also worked as a theatre director and writer, having staged more than 20 plays. His current play Grief is being performed at theatres across Britain until the end of January 2012.