Céline Sciamma talks to Melanie Goodfellow about her Directors’ Fortnight opener Girlhood, about teenage girls in Paris.

French director Céline Sciamma hits the Croisette this evening in the company of the four young stars of her latest film Girlhood,which opens Directors’ Fortnight.

The gritty coming-of-age tale revolves around a group of teenage girls hailing from one of Paris’ poor minority neighbourhoods.

Sciamma says inspiration for the film came from the gangs of girls she would come across in Paris, hanging out around the Les Halles shopping centre in the centre of the capital, or in the Metro and overland RER railway network.

“I was fascinated by their energy, their group dynamics, their attitude, style and way of dressing… I wanted to find out more about them,” says the filmmaker. “They’re not gangs in the US sense of the word just big groups of friends.”

“They face a particular set of challenges but at the same their stories are consistent with the themes I’ve explored in my other work such as the construction of feminine identity and friendships between girls… the film is basically a coming-of-age tale,” she adds.

Alongside casting agent Christel Baras, Sciamma spent four months looking for the cast of the film - led by Karidja Touré with support from Assa Sylla, Marietou Touré and Lindsay Karamoh.

“We looked for them everywhere. In the street, in shopping centres, and at a Beyoncé concert. We must have seen 100 girls,” she reveals.

“You don’t see faces and bodies like theirs in French cinema very often even though these girls are French,” she continues. “I felt there was a real necessity to film them, which went beyond my own strong desire to tell their stories, it was even a political move in a way.”

Sciamma was last in Cannes with her swimming changing room drama Water Lilies, which premiered in Un Certain Regard in 2007. She is best known, however, for Tomboy, which sold to some 35 territories after premiering in Berlin.

“Being back in Cannes is just great,” Sciamma. “I still get emotional when I recall the Water Lilies premiere in Un Certain Regard. Opening Directors’ Fortnight is a real gift.”

All three of her films to date have dealt with girls in childhood or adolescence. Sciamma says, however, she may have closed that chapter in her filmmaking career.

“I’ve explored childhood, the beginning of adolescence and here, the end of adolescence. I think it’s time for me to move on,” says Sciamma, adding that she has nothing in the works just now.