Australian director Wayne Blair is in Cannes for the world premiere of his feelgood feature debut The Sapphires, which screens out of competition

The film tells the true story of four aboriginal girls who sang for US troops during the Vietnam war. Goalpost Films is handling international sales.

Were you surprised when your film got selected for Cannes?

We got the money in Cannes in 2010, so it’s nice to come full circle. And it’s amazing to be here with my first film. I must have done some good stuff in the past!

How did the film come about?

It is based on a stage musical, which was a big hit in Melbourne and Sydney. The play was written by Tony Briggs based on his mum’s story — she was one of the four girls. And he has also written the script for the film.

How would you describe the film?

It has a little bit of a Strictly Ballroom feel mixed with The Commitments. There is pathos, but primarily it is joyful and uplifting and full of love. We’ve seen the Vietnam war in lots of films but we’ve never seen it through the eyes of four aboriginal girls. That’s the hook.

How did you go about casting your leads?

Chris [O’Dowd] was a real find. The character was originally meant to be English, but I saw Chris in Bridesmaids, spoke to his agent and spoke to him on the phone and we decided to massage the script so he was Irish instead. He was the final jigsaw piece in the puzzle. The casting process for the girls lasted about 15 months, I think I saw every Aborginal girl in Australia!

Will music play a big part in the film?

The film is littered with music. Tracks from the Jackson 5 to Smokey Robinson to Aretha Franklin to Wilson Pickett.

What’s next?

I’ve got one film in the pipeline but I can’t talk much about it. I’m just going to enjoy the ride with The Sapphires. And I’ll do some writing and try to live and breathe because for the last two years I have been flat out with this film.

What are you most looking forward to about Cannes?

It will be nice for us all to come together and relax and have a glass of champagne and say, ‘Yay, we made a beautiful film and now we can show it to the world.’
The four girls in the film didn’t know how good they were but had the same sparkling quality as Marilyn Monroe, who is on the poster for this year’s festival. So it will make me smile, when the girls walk that red carpet.