For a seventh year in a row, Cannes Film Festival chief Thierry Frémaux pulled out the stops to honor one of the greatest living filmmakers at his Lumière Festival. Tonight Martin Scorsese joined past honorees including Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino and Pedro Almodovar as the recipient of the Prix Lumière in Lyon.

Frémaux on the side runs the annual fest he co-founded with director Bertrand Tavernier, a weeklong event dedicated to remastered classics old and new. At the beginning of tonight’s gala before a jam-packed amphitheater (people were literally sitting in the aisles), he said it had been his wish from day one of creating the festival to honor Scorsese. (It should be noted Tavernier is not here this week, laid up somewhat after recent surgery.)

To the strains of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Gimme Shelter” and The Animals’ “House Of The Rising Sun” as well as other tunes that the director favors, luminaries from French and world cinema crowded the auditorium. The evening was marked by musical interludes and tributes from those who have worked with Scorsese as well as many standing ovations and a few tears. It wrapped with an impassioned defense of movies about movies by Scorsese, followed by a heartfelt karaoke session of “New York New York.”

This is a festival that regularly is attended by some of the global industry’s most respected talent. When Tarantino was honored here with the Prix Lumière two years ago, he came to the French town for a week to hang out and watch movies. Likewise, this year’s honoree, Scorsese, has been soaking up the offerings here in the birthplace of cinema over a few days. This is a festival that’s right in Scorsese’s wheelhouse; the director is the founder of the Film Foundation which is dedicated to protecting and preserving motion picture history. Tonight the spotlight turned on the Oscar winner during a two-hour ceremony that drew fans and friends from near and far.

Among the attendees this evening were Shutter Island’s Max von Sydow and Emily Mortimer; The Age Of Innocence’s Geraldine Chaplin; frequent collaborator production designer Dante Ferretti; Amélie helmer Jean-Pierre Jeunet; Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat; Oscar winner Michel Hazanavicius and his Artist-star wife Bérénice Bejo; president of the Cannes Film Festival Pierre Lescure; Abbas Kiarostami who is co-president with Scorsese of the Cannes Cinefondation which helps young filmmakers with their first or second features and who presented a special three-minute short he made for the director entitled “Thanks Marty”; Intouchables star François Cluzet who shared the screen with Scorsese the actor in Tavernier’s 1986 ‘Round Midnight; controversial director Gaspar Noé (who got a big hug from Scorsese at one point); and Jane Birkin. Each of them sported an “I Love Martin Scorsese” button.

HugoAfter an extended standing ovation upon entering the hall, Scorsese sat in the audience with his wife on one side and a translator whispering in his ear on the other. A so-called “carte blanche” reel which Scorsese had overseen was shown of some of the films playing here in Lyon during the festival. Notable therein was the director’s Hugo and a scene in which the young stars Chloe Grace Moretz and Asa Butterfield flick through a book about the history of cinema, stopping on the first images put to celluloid by the Lumière brothers who hail from Lyon. The reel also had the “funny how?” clip from Goodfellas which still had the audience in stitches 25 years later. As is custom at a Lumière Prix ceremony, everyone in the audience was given a strip of 35mm film – the one we got tonight is from Goodfellas.

Ultimately, all of Scorsese’s movies from Boxcar Bertha to Mean Streets, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, King Of Comedy, Raging Bull, The Color Of Money, Casino, The Departed, The Wolf Of Wall Street and everything in between were represented in on-screen montages.

Many of the stars and collaborators of those films were not here tonight, but one of the actors most identified with his work, Robert De Niro, sent a video message. Frémaux introduced it saying, “Those who know him know he’s not a big talker, so this lasts 25 seconds.” He made good on the promise. A baseball-cap-sporting De Niro appeared on screen saying, “Hey, Marty. Congratulations on receiving the Lumière Award in Lyon. I’m shooting a movie on Bernard Madoff in New York so it was impossible to be there.” He then lifted his cap to show off a bald head. “Have a great time and lots of love. Have fun.”

Frémaux then quipped, “If we showed it three times it would have made a minute and a half.” Scorsese was seen laughing in the audience and shrugging his shoulders as if to say, “What are you going to do?”

One of the highlights of the evening was a screening of Scorsese’s scene in Tavernier’s ‘Round Midnight as an agent welcoming Dexter Gordon to New York, as well as a very young Cluzet. For anyone who doesn’t recall, it’s a scene in which Scorsese greets them at the airport and rides with them in a taxi to the city across the Williamsburg Bridge while delivering his take on Paris and traffic around the Arc de Triomphe. Cluzet came to the stage to talk about his experience making the film as a novice actor who got “one of the biggest acting lessons” of his life working with Scorsese. “I was never so happy.”

After Birkin sang a jaunty “As Time Goes By” in her trademark tux, Frémaux called “Scorsese’s invitees” to the stage. Along with the aforementioned, they included French director Tony Gatlif, George Harrison’s widow Olivia, and Italian helmer Matteo Garrone among others. Scorsese was seen visibly moved, clapping and wiping away tears as they ascended the stage.

Then it was time for Frémaux and Cluzet to read the tribute that the absent Tavernier wrote for the director.

“I am dizzy when I see all you have done,” Frémaux read as Tavernier. Citing Bringing Out The Dead in particular which he said had been under-appreciated, and recalling his amazement at Who’s Knocking At My Door, Tavernier’s letter said, “I lived with your movies, Marty… You have touched me differently with the years.” He spoke of the joy and atmosphere of Scorsese’s movies even with characters who are difficult to love yet made to be loved. The letter also spoke of the joy Tavernier had in having Dexter Gordon as one of the “slowest-speaking actors in the history of cinema” counter-balanced by “the one who talked the fastest.” Thank you deeply, he said, “for the joy you procure today.”

Scorsese was handed his Prix Lumière by Salma Hayek.

“I don’t know if I’m going to survive this,” he said “But I have to say this is really very moving to be here tonight and to see this tribute and to experience it. Thank you all for this extraordinary honor, inviting me to Lyon and a true celebration of cinema named after the (founders of cinema). Thank you and my friends of this extraordinary festival about cinema and not prizes, but the place where it all began.”

He spoke of his well-documented childhood as an asthma sufferer whose parents took him to the movies because they “didn’t know what else to do with me.” He said he “experienced the power of cinema from a very young age.” Through those films, he and his parents “experienced emotions. Love, anger, fantasy, violence, humor, poetry, compassion and life itself.” The movies, like La Strada and La Belle Et La Bête, the works of Satyajit Ray and others also opened the world to him.

Of his family he said, “Sometimes we didn’t really speak, so lots of what we couldn’t say was articulated by the films we saw together.” He continued, “It’s always that spark that I go back to. That conversation and intimacy with my parents that makes me continue to try to make films.”

Beyond that was “the miracle of getting to make films which was almost impossible in 1959 in New York, and somehow to keep making them and ultimately to restoring and preserving them.” From there his desire to preserve movies “came out of a passion and an anger that these things were just deteriorating and falling away.”

Scorsese said he “had such a need to share this excitement with others that I even needed to make films about films and what cinema is to me… In my case, I was a young kid with no habit of reading in the house. Cinema opened everything to me… all sorts of storytelling. I wanted to inspire others in my situation.”

He then sounded a defense of films about cinema. “If young people are inspired by any of the films they see clipped in the documentaries and they make wonderful films, they inspire us.” He called movies about movies “an opportunity for learning, for teaching our culture to be enriched for those we brought into this world.”

He explained he was taking this tack in his speech tonight because he had recently met up with Tavernier in Paris. He is working on a film about his personal experience with French cinema. Scorsese screened an hour and a half of the film which includes discussions on Jean Becker, Marcel Carné, music in 1930s French films and Renoir. Many of the filmmakers he saw in Tavernier’s movie are in “desperate need of reassessment. Filmmakers who have been overlooked and reviled but whose work is quite beautiful.”

One of the current problems, Scorsese said, “is the infusion of all the moving images around us constantly, day and night. Particularly for the young ones who are growing up knowing life only through this. They are desperately in need of having someone to have a little bit of guidance – you can get any film now. The greatest Bergman, animated movies…” You want to say, he said, “look in this direction. That places it in a context so they see images in a different way.” This is why works like Tavernier’s at this point are so important, he intoned.

Speaking of the Film Foundation Scorsese said when they started 25 years ago, “we were naïve in terms of the legal complications. We tried to change the mindset in Hollywood 25 years ago with the Film Foundation and we did pretty well, but there is still a lot to do. For those who own those films with license and rights issues,” he implored, “please don’t make it harder for filmmakers who are making films about their lives through cinema which are serious and entertaining and could enlighten a younger generation in ways to be interested by more than just six seconds on an iPhone and have their lives changed.” Cue more applause, the rousing New York New York karaoke session and a 15-minute standing ovation.

Said Fremaux: “It was like having John Huston, Howard Hawks and John Ford in the same room together.”