The festival’s artistic director discusses his selection and why he put Zhang Yimou’s film out of competition, how he has yet to see the final cut of Abel Ferrara’s latest work and why he will not broach the subject of women at the festival right now.

When did you tie up the Official Selection?
One o’clock this morning [April 17]. The three French films in competition: we always finish with the French films. We always start by saying “no” and then we finish by saying “yes” and move very quickly – we don’t want it to come out in the press. We were watching films right up until yesterday [16] – one of which is in the selection. The films are arriving later and later – it’s becoming problematic. There will be perhaps two or three additional titles announced in the coming weeks.

Cannes received 1,800 entries. What was the quality like? Is filmmaking changing with the event of YouTube, the iPad and internet in general?
What you see in the Official Selection is not necessarily representative of filmmaking in general. We’re lucky at Cannes: we’re privileged to have in the same selection films by the Dardennes, Godard, Zvyagintsev, or the astonishing film of Argentine Damian Szifron. Out of the 1,800 films we received, however, there were a lot of films that couldn’t really be called a film. The problem isn’t technical but rather thematic, linked to the need to have an intellectual understanding of films. Cinema nourishes itself on cinema. To be a cineaste you have to see a lot of films. I think that if the younger generational manages to renew cinema it will be through capturing history with a capital “H” through an intimate approach. There’s a school of thought that says the first cineastes talked about life, the second generation talked about life and cinema, the third generation only talked about cinema and the fourth generation talks about nothing at all. But that’s not true. Snow In Paradise, for example, is an amazing social film

Snow In Paradise is by up-and-coming UK director Andrew Hulme. You talked about the emergence of a new generation of filmmakers in the UK during the press conference. Can you elaborate?
I go to London a lot – not always to see films, but also to network and see old friends from the industry. Snow In Paradise came to us in part through its French distributor and we have strong links with Ken Loach and Mike Leigh and talk to them directly. In the last two to three years, I’ve got the feeling that there is a young generation of filmmakers who are very busy, doing some very interesting work – a bit in the style of Andrea Arnold, but younger, and it’s very interesting.

There were expectations that Abel Ferrara’s Welcome To New York would make it into official selection, is there any chance it will be a late addition?
It’s still a possibility but we saw the film a long, long time ago in a first version and I hope we’re going to be able to see a second version of the film very soon. We’ll see. They’re preparing something for Cannes in any case… perhaps in the market… we’ll see. [see separate Screen story here.]

Why did you decide to screen Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home out of competition?
For me the Official Selection has to be viewed in its entirety. There are 50 to 60 films and the important thing is to put the films in the right place. I, alongside my colleagues at the festival, thought Zhang Yimou’s film was perfect for an Out Of Competition slot, as a way to pay tribute to the director and Gong Li and to allow them to return to the Croisette in the best conditions possible. The Competition can be difficult – sometimes it’s better to show out of competition. Last year, we put JC Chandor’s All Is Lost with Robert Redford out of competition, where it made a big impact.  

Aside from Zhang’s Coming Home, Korean July Jung’s A Girl At My Door, Indian Kanu Behl’s Titli, Chinese Wang Chao’s Fantasia and Japanese Naomi Kawase’s Still The Water, there’s not a huge Asian presence in Official Selection this year even though Asia’s film industry is thriving
No, there’s not many in comparison to last year when there were a lot, that’s true. You have to look at the selection over a five-year period. Cinema from all over Asia – Japan, China, Malaysia, Singapore and Korea – has always been very present at Cannes. This year it’s a bit less. There’s no particular reason.

At the press conference, you referred to the perennial question of how many female directors are in Official Selection as an old Cannes chestnut. Why don’t think it should be discussed at the festival?
Today someone on Twitter said the whole debate was my fault. Women now reproach me for bringing the subject up because it’s a stupid discussion to have in relation to Cannes and it doesn’t help the fight for female equality. It’s idiotic, idiotic… Why talk about it at Cannes. If it’s an important subject for you, talk about it in January, July and not the day of the selection announcement.

That said, there are more female directors – 15 in total – in Official Selection than in previous years. Did jury president Jane Campion have any role in this?
How can you suggest such a thing? Firstly, that Jane Campion would influence the selection or even the jury. I decide the jury. I decide the Selection. And secondly, even if she could, someone like Jane Campion, who is an artist and doesn’t refer to herself as a female artist – and doesn’t want people to – how can you think she would push for films by female directors? This is such a ridiculous subject, which has been ridiculous for three years now. It’s not that I don’t want to tackle the question, but I don’t understand why it always comes up at Cannes. Why didn’t you come and talk to me three months ago for an article on the place of women in cinema and art… rather than the day of the press conference. Cannes has welcomed all the world’s big female cineastes, apart from Katherine Bigelow, and they’ve always been happy to show their work.

The Special Screenings – which include films such as Maidan, Sergei Loznitsa’s portrait of the on-going revolution in his native Ukraine, and Syrian Mohammed Ossama’s Homs-set Silvered Water – is very political this year, was that a conscious decision?
People say the Cannes Film Festival is very political, very engaged. It’s not us – it’s the cineastes who are political and engaged. Loznitsa is Ukranian and a cineaste. He went to see what was happening in Maidan Square and took his camera with him. He wanted to bear witness. Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu, in Competition, delves into the war in Mali. Often the eye of a director can give us insight into an event, which we don’t find elsewhere. We saw Silvered Water six months ago and then again three days ago. It takes a lot of footage from YouTube. It’s the opposite of Loznitsa’s film: Loznitsa poses his camera and watches the events unfold. Silvered Water is quickfire images – it’s interesting. It is also interesting because it’s not a Western view of the situation. We [set out on] a “Cannois” journey to show different voices, faces, landscapes, beliefs – it’s the vocation of the Cannes Film Festival.