Jodie Foster will head the jury at this year's Cannes Film Festival, which runs May 9-20.

The Academy Award-winning actress won the top prize at Cannes, the Palme d'Or, in 1976, for the role of 12-year-old prostitute Iris in Taxi Driver.

"I remember going to the festival with Taxi Driver when it won the Palme d'Or," she said in a statement. "All of the excitement of the French press, the drama of the competition, the craziness on the boardwalk. I'll never forget the experience there that really launched my film-making career."

The 38 year-old star of Hollywood pictures such as The Silence Of The Lambs, The Accused and the upcoming The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys has appeared in French film and TV titles Moi, Fleur Bleu and Le Sang Des Autres. She also directed Little Man Tate and Home For The Holidays.

"She has won the highest awards, it was high time she came to Cannes to award some herself," said festival chief Gilles Jacob. "Jodie promised me she would do it a number of years ago. Every time we spoke of American stars at the festival, the name Jodie Foster came up. Jodie has the charm and seductive quality of one of the best actresses of her generation."

Foster, who graduated from the College Lycee Francais in Los Angeles and speaks French, said that she was "the product of two cultures". She added that she had dreamt of heading the festival jury since she was young.

"This will be an opportunity to celebrate my love for the French language, culture and cinema as an American personality," she said.

Meanwhile, Working Title Films' Captain Corelli's Mandolin has emerged as an early but strong contender for the opening night slot after UK distributor Buena Vista International slotted it into a May release date. While Working Title previously released romantic comedy Notting Hill in May without any platform at Cannes, John Madden's lavish, European love story is seen as far more like Cannes material and is expected to be submitted to the event imminently.

Last year's jury was headed by French director Luc Besson. The Palme d'Or controversially went to Lars von Trier's Dancer In The Dark.

Adam Minns in London contributed to this report.