Actress Jodie Foster has been forced to drop out as president of this year's Cannes Film Festival jury after being selected as a last-minute replacement for the injured Nicole Kidman in the lead role of David Fincher's The Panic Room.

The impending threat of a summer strike, should either the writers or actors guilds now fail to agree new employment contracts with the Hollywood studios, meant that Columbia Pictures could ill afford to delay further shooting of Fincher's film in order to accommodate Foster's proposed schedule in Cannes. This year's festival runs from May 9-20.

"Since shooting continues in May, Jodie has asked us to postpone her presidency to another year," festival chief Gilles Jacob said in a statement issued Sunday afternoon from Paris. "The embarrassment and regret she has expressed match the level of our disappointment, but everybody understands that for an actress, her work comes before anything else.

For her part, Foster was quoted as saying she was "mortified" by her eleventh hour withdrawal - especially since she had previously revealed how she had always dreamed of heading the festival jury ever since playing the child prostitute in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, winner of the Cannes Palme d'Or in 1976.

"I hope with all my heart that it is only a postponement and that, if the festival honours me with another request, I will one day become president of a festival to which I owe so much, and this time for good!" said the bilingual Foster, who was educated at a French school in Los Angeles. There has been no official word yet on who will now take over as jury president.

This is the second festival setback already this year for the 38-year-old actress following a decision late last year to pull The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys, a film she both produced and starred in, from the prestigious premiere section of the recently concluded Sundance Film Festival. Her film found itself replaced by the poorly received Invisible Circus.

The Panic Room was already two weeks or so into shooting at the start of this year when Kidman was stricken by another knee injury. It is still not clear whether this is the same knee that she aggravated during production of Baz Luhrman's song-and-dance musical Moulin Rouge last year.

Foster will now step into the starring role of a mother's domestic cat-and-mouse battle with a pair of thieves (played by Forest Whitaker and Dwight Yoakam) who break into her Manhattan apartment in order to steal a hoard of cash. The film is based on a screenplay written on spec by David Koepp that was bought by Columbia for a reported $4m.