In a ceremony at the Elysee palace, French President Jacques Chirac decorates Steven Spielberg with the insignia of Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, the country’s highest distinction for civilians.
“Our country loves cinema, all of cinema,” says Chirac before honoring Spielberg. “It is the essence of our fight for cultural diversity recognizing the equal dignity of all cultures.“ Chirac then evokes Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List (1993), which he describes as one of his personal favorites. "In this difficult period where intolerance, racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and fanaticism are again manifesting themselves, it is essential for cinema to help us recall the horror of the unspeakable.”
In his response, Spielberg, who arrives from Deauville where he is attending the 30th annual American Film Festival, warns that hatred is a global threat more dangerous than either AIDS or cancer. “We live in a world right now which is not recognizable from what I experienced growing up in the 1950s and 1960s,” he tells Chirac. “I commend your efforts in what you are doing about anti-Semitism here in France. We have to work very, very hard to make people understand that it is the differences we have to celebrate and not condemn.” He concludes: “Sometimes the minorities have the most to contribute to a society.“
Spielberg also pays tribute to legendary French film director Francois Truffaut, who died 20 years ago and starred in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
Attending the ceremony are such film personalities as Gwyneth Paltrow, Sophie Marceau, Nathalie Baye, and Patrick Bruel.
The Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur was founded by Napoleon Bonaparte and recognizes eminent service to the Republic of France.