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Why Spielberg is returning to fantasy with 'BFG'

'Hope comes from magic and I think that's what movies can give people,' says Spielberg. This is his second collaboration with 'E.T.' screenwriter Melissa Mathison.

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    Director Steven Spielberg (l.) poses on the red carpet with stars Ruby Barnhill and Mark Rylance as they arrive for the screening of 'The BFG' (The Big Friendly Giant) at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, May 14.
    Yves Herman/Reuters
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Steven Spielberg, a giant in the world of cinema, landed at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday with his gentle Roald Dahl adaptation of "The BFG."

The film, about a young orphan (Ruby Barnhill) taken away by a friendly, big-eared giant (recent Oscar winner Mark Rylance), 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" (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 probably the closest I've ever come to telling a love story."

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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 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.

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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.

Rylance, who won a best supporting Oscar for his Soviet spy Rudolph Abel in "Bridge of Spies," performed the Big Friendly Giant through motion capture. The actor is also to co-star in Spielberg's upcoming sci-fi thriller "Ready Player One" and will play Pope Pius IX in the director's "The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara."

Spielberg described Rylance as not only a new collaborator but a close friend. He called Rylance's transformation from the quiet Abel of "Bridge of Spies" to the whimsical colossus of "The BFG" as "one of the most astonishing experiences I've ever had in my entire career working with anybody."

Above all, the director sounded no less enthralled by moviemaking at age 69.

"This is something I'll be doing for the rest of my life," said Spielberg.

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