Reporting from Lyon:

After tonight, the Lumière Festival taking place here in Lyon might adopt the subtitle, “The Quentin Tarantino Festival of Love.” Cannes Film Festival chief Thierry Frémaux and Lumière Institute president Bertrand Tavernier created this festival five years ago in the city that is the birthplace of cinema. This year, the fest gave its big Lumière Prize to Tarantino. A ceremony that lasted more than 2.5 hours was rife with song, dance, montages, and a lot of laughter mixed in with tears. This prize is “an act of admiration,” Frémaux said. “A way to tell people that we love them and to talk about their films.” He also dreams of this award being considered the ‘Nobel of Cinema’. “When we suggested Quentin Tarantino for the prize, we knew people would say he’s very young. But Albert Camus was only 44 when he won the Nobel for literature.” When Tarantino shouted at the end of the night, “Vive le cinema!,” no one in the room thought the 50-year-old was undeserving.

Tarantino blew into town unexpectedly on Monday when the fest kicked off and has been soaking it up ever since. It’s his kind of festival, stuffed with retrospectives, tributes and restored versions of Hollywood and world classics. Tonight, it was his turn to be feted. He was surrounded by friends and collaborators including longtime producers Lawrence Bender and Harvey Weinstein as well as actors from his films like Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Mélanie Laurent and Uma Thurman, who presented the award to her Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill director.

Tarantino was nearly speechless when he accepted the prize at the end of the night, “I don’t really have words for how I feel right now. This may be one of the first few times that’s ever happened to me,” said the normally loquacious director. “This is just a very, very overwhelming experience,” he said.

The Amphitheater at the Lyon Palais de Congrès was packed to the rafters with 3,000 invitees – many of whom were locals who paid for the chance to celebrate Tarantino, and maybe pick up a QT-shirt specially designed for the event. Tarantino is almost god-like for French moviegoers, so it’s no surprise. I saw Pulp Fiction in a Paris movie theater on a random night in 1994 – after it had won the Palme d’Or – and have never seen an audience whoop and holler in such a way. Fast-forward to the first Kill Bill and I remember being at a premiere screening at the Grand Rex theater in Paris where the reception was just as rapturous. Tarantino had introduced the film but he also stuck around to watch.

Tonight, when he entered the room in Lyon, unlit cigar in one hand and flashing a peace sign with the other, the crowd leapt to its feet for the first of many standing ovations. As proceedings began, Frémaux said that this might have been the “first time Quentin Tarantino has a little bit of stage fright.” The director sat in the audience flanked by Bender and Thurman while special guest after special guest recounted stories of their experiences with him. Other directors in the audience who came specially to honor Tarantino included Luc Dardenne, Fatih Akin, Elie Suleiman, Jerry Schatzberg and Michael Cimino. I hear Tarantino had something of a masterclass with Cimino this week when he huddled with the Deer Hunter director about how he filmed a key scene in the 1978 Oscar winner.

Tim Roth kicked off the tributes, ascending the stage and muttering “Fuckin’ hell.” He apologized for the choice of words: “I know there are politicians here.” Indeed, the French Culture Minister and the Mayor of Lyon were in the audience. Roth said, “I divide my life into halves. There was the British half that was captained by director Alan Clarke; the second half of my life was captained by Quentin.” Roth recounted his first meeting with Tarantino when he was considering Reservoir Dogs. “I met with him, he got me drunk and got me to read every part by the end of the night. And I got the job that changed my life in many ways.” (I have to give props to the indefatigable Frémaux who simultaneously translated all of the speeches into French for the largely Gallic audience.)

Roth was followed by Inglourious Basterds’ French star Mélanie Laurent who, rather than deliver a speech, sang a sultry rendition of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” the Nancy Sinatra song Tarantino used to such haunting effect in Kill Bill.

Bender, who started producing Tarantino’s films with Reservoir Dogs, said that meeting the director changed his life. The next big thing came when the pair were shooting Pulp Fiction “and Harvey Weinstein walked on to the set and said, ‘I want to make a deal with you guys.’ That didn’t happen to people like us.”

Weinstein said, “Working with Quentin is like a passport to great adventures, but also it’s an appreciation of cinema, always.” He said the director had pulled him and Uma Thurman down to Chinatown to see Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express in the mid-90s and encouraged the distributor to bring it to bigger audiences in America. “And we did. Quentin never took money. He wanted Wong Kar-Wai to get respect… There’s never any jealousy.” Weinstein also praised the director for “the chances that he took with Django Unchained on a political basis in dealing with (the subject) as bravely as he did and exposing slavery as the American holocaust.” On a lighter note, he added “In America, Miramax, my first company, was ‘The House that Quentin Built’ and The Weinstein Co is ‘The House that Quentin Saved’.”

One of the most emotional points in the evening came when Harvey Keitel took the stage. He started off wooing the audience in French saying “Je suis très content d’être ici ce soir” (“I’m very happy to be here tonight.”) The audience went nuts and so he added to much laughter, “That went down well. In that case: Darling, je vous aime beaucoup.” But then things turned a bit more sober. “There are two people present here tonight and I was so compelled to come because they have such a dear place in my heart.” At that, Keitel choked up and took a moment. The first person he was referring to was his Death Watch director Tavernier. When he was a young actor in New York, he said he’d gone to see Tavernier’s The Clockmaker Of St Paul, then he teared up again – “Damn, I’m not gonna make it through this,” he said. Composing himself, he said he’d felt then, “Those are the kind of movies I want to make.” A friend of his at the time said he’d just read an interview with Tavernier in which the director said he wanted to work with American actors, “like Harvey Keitel.” In the audience, Tavernier was visibly trying to keep it together, nearly sobbing at Keitel’s comments. Keitel turned to talking about Tarantino and said he’d read a script many years ago which he ultimately did not commit to, but by whose writer he was very impressed. Years later he got a script for Reservoir Dogs and “realized it was written by the same fellow.” Addressing Tarantino in the audience, he said he “always felt we were sort of made for each other, nothing could keep us apart. Had he been a girl maybe we could have gotten married and settled down.” The “thing about reading his script… it’s like reading a great novel, or hearing a great piece of music or seeing a great painting. Somehow the dynamic inside you is changed and you know it’s been changed and you know you have to follow that work. And Quentin has done that to all of you here tonight. We’re all sort of in the same boat, all looking for the same thing, the thing we come to the cinema to see. Quentin is us and we are him. Everybody has talent, but this guy did it.”

Thurman, after a standing ovation, referred back to the Lumière Prize being a sort of Nobel. She noted that the creator of the Nobel Peace Prize was Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. To Tarantino she said, your work has been “like an explosion of dynamite, an explosion in art itself… The wildness of your expression of your dreams, your observations, and sometimes of your nightmares, have all exploded in your films. We all have the same hopes for justice, freedom of expression, courage, and most of all for love and passion.” She then added, “Mercifully these are all dished out with a twisted, wicked vengeful sense of humor.”

Tavernier said that in discussions about cinema history, he has “only one point” over Tarantino: “I met William Witney.” The director who died in 2002 is one of Tarantino’s favorites and has a special dedication in Kill Bill Vol. 2. “Otherwise, he beats me in everything,” Tavernier said. He also spoke of Django, calling the director courageous for his use of wit dealing with such a serious subject matter. Finally, he thanked Tarantino for “electrifying this festival.”

The “components” that made tonight happen for Tarantino included his “lovely colleagues, these lovely artists that have brought my characters to life and have backed me and backed my dreams. I’ve always considered myself a lone wolf, a silver surfer. That’s because I’ve never really had a family. But these people here on this stage are my family and their affection and respect is all I ever want,” he said, fighting back tears. The other component he said, “is vous,” bringing the audience to its feet. “When I say that, I mean everyone in this room, I mean the town of Lyon, but most importantly I mean the country of France. Cinema is my religion and France is its Vatican.” Then he added, “I kind of insulted you guys a little bit with that but it was the best example I could come up with.”

He thanked Frémaux and Tavernier – his “brother from another mother” – and the festival’s commitment to the history of cinema. If the Lumière brothers’ parents had never met, Tarantino said, “I would probably be selling Royales with Cheese at McDonald’s. Luckily, they did meet and cinema was invented and it gave me something to do.”

He concluded, “I will humbly accept this and I will treat this as encouragement to do better.” Then he danced a jig with Laurent reminiscent of the pair’s pas de deux on the red carpet in Cannes for Inglourious Basterds.