Sean Penn, the Oscar-winning US actor-turned director once known as Hollywood's "enfant terrible", is to head the jury of the 2008 Cannes film fest, organisers said in a statement on Thursday.
A blunt talker with a sharp political conscience and a career that has gone from strength to strength, Penn seems perfect for the role next May at a film extravaganza as well known for being a window on the world as for its glam and its buzz.
"In the last few years," said Penn in response, "there has been a rejuvenation of cinema building worldwide, increasingly thoughtful, provocative, moving and imaginative ... A new generation of filmmaking may have begun."
"The Cannes Film Festival has long been the epicentre in the discovery of new waves of filmmakers," he added, "I very much look forward to participating."
The world's paramount movie festival, kicking off on the French Riviera on May 14, wraps up on May 25 with the jury awarding the Palme d'Or prize for best film.
The former Hollywood "bad boy", whose wrenching portrayal of a vengeful father seeking revenge in Clint Eastwood's 2003 movie
earned him an Oscar, is currently full in the spotlight of the film industry.
Now aged 47, Penn's latest go at directing in the harrowing drama
Into The Wild,
dominates nominations for this month's Screen Actors Guild Awards, regarded as a key Oscars indicator.
Once best known for his marriage to pop star Madonna, his divorce was last week announced with his wife of 11 years,
actress Robin Wright Penn with whom he has two children aged 14 and 16.
Born in Los Angeles to actress Eileen Ryan and director Leo Penn, he dreamt of being a lawyer but then took up acting, debuting as a military cadet in
(1981) and winning some fame as a "surfer dude" in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982).
But it was his stormy four-year marriage to "Material Girl" Madonna that made the headlines until he took starring roles and enthused critics as a cop in
(1988) or a brutal sergeant in Vietnam in Brian de Palma's 1989 film
Casualties of War
In 1991 he made his directorial debut with
The Indian Runner
, a Vietnam war-themed drama inspired by a song from his friend Bruce Springsteen.
It was also in the 1990s that he won a first Oscar nomination for
Dead Man Walking
(1995) and another for
Sweet and Lowdown
A performer with a keen social conscience who makes no bones about his criticism of the Bush administration, Penn last year paid a visit to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and in 2005 penned his thoughts on Iran after a visit there.
His 2004 Oscar was seen as marking his acceptance as a major talent by an industry that seldom rewards its unruliest sons.
Penn, the Cannes festival's artistic director Thierry Fremaux told AFP, "represents the independent American cinema as well as a vision of America which we like."
The brooding actor had snubbed the Oscars on the three previous occasions he was nominated -- the third was for "I Am Sam" in 2001 -- and was an absent focus of the awards in 2003 after paying a controversial pre-war visit to Iraq to condemn the looming war.
"I never thought I'd be sitting here today missing Richard Nixon," he said in Cannes in 2004.