By Eric Kohn | Indiewire May 15, 2013 at 1:12PM
The Cannes Festival's official competition may garner more attention, but the Directors Fortnight provides a hip alternative. With just 21 features, Fortnight offers a leaner take on the latest noteworthy cinema from around the world, but that doesn't make artistic director Édouard Waintrop's job any easier. On the brink of his second year running the festival, which opens Thursday with the premiere of Ari Folman's "The Congress," Waintrop sat down with Indiewire to explain this year's selection.
Many decisions were made at the last minute. While Waintroup singled out Marcel Ophuls' diary film "A Voyager" as the first movie they chose, many films weren't selected until moments before the final announcement of the lineup was made. "We didn't know the flavor of the year until a week before we announced it," he said. "I don't know why." He rejected the possibility that the selection of the main lineup at Cannes limited his decision. "We weren't really troubled by their choices," he said. "We got our movies really late and some of the movies I liked the most I saw during that last week." These included two French titles in the lineup, Serge Bozon's "Tip Top" and Thierry de Peretti's "Les Apaches."
His relationship with the main Cannes Film Festival has improved. In fact, during his interview with Indiewire, Waintrop received a call on his cell phone from Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux. The conversation sounded pleasant enough. "It's easier now because he's really content with his choices," Waintrop said. "He took the movies he wanted to take and has given us the space to be what we are. Unlike last year, we had no temptation to compete with them." The truth is obviously more complicated: "The Congress," for instance, was certainly a movie considered for Cannes' competition. "OK," Waintrop conceded, "but this movie is so strong and new, which is a flag for us. For the others, Thierry has picked the best names and movies, and we've tried to find the best movies by going in other directions."
Why so many French films? "In the beginning, I didn't want so many French films," Waintrop explained. (There are four.) "But they were so different, one movie to another -- not only in terms of being French movies -- but we have three French comedies. But the same person might not laugh during all of them because they're very different."
Of all the Sundance movies available, why take two genre films? Last year, the only Sundance movie was "Room 237." This year, Waintrop selected Sebastian Silva's eerie Michael Cera vehicle "Magic Magic" and Jim Mickle's cannibal drama "We Are What We Are." Waintrop said he hopes to bring new context to the movies. "Both were both shown in the midnight section at Sundance," he said. "I thought that 'Magic Magic' was not a proper midnight film, because people were probably expecting something very scary and it wasn't. I think for European audiences, and especially French ones, it's a movie to be shown here." In the case of MIckle's movie, "I'd seen his previous film "Stake Land" and was struck by the progress he had made in two or three years. I think he's going to become a master horror filmmaker. I wanted to present this to a French audience."
The festival isn't exclusively devoted to newcomers, but it helps if the work feels fresh. "We look for new names and the best names of the future," he said, pointing out that there are nine first-time filmmakers at Fortnight eligible for the Camera d'Or. "We're not obsessed with first-time filmmakers because that's not our job. That's what Critics Week does. But in terms of quality, we were seduced by many first movies." That being said, there are two directors in their eighties whose work will screen this year. Waintrop felt their presence was justified. "Even Alejandro Jodorworsky and Marcel Ophuls, while being very established, are also outsiders," he said.
Distribution deals matter, but they're not the main goal for the festival. "We care but we're not looking for the industry," he said. "We speak with them, but we have no time to help them during the festival. Sometimes they call and we tell them about our movies." For example, "Les Apaches" didn't have a distributor when the festival selected it, but three days later it landed one. Waintrop also singled out Anurag Kashyap's "Ugly," which follows the director's five-hour action epic "Gangs of Wasseypur," a Fortnight hit last year, as a movie with major sales potential.
A number of movies have potential to generate strong audience reactions. "I don't sure which one, but I'm sure one of the French comedies will be a crowdpleaser," Waintrop said. He also pointed to the sci-fi movie "Last Days on Mars," a personal favorite. "I've seen twice," he said. "It is extremely brilliantly directed. It's like a screwball comedy on Mars. In the first part, the dialogue is very punchy, as it's the story of a bunch of people who spend six months on Mars and get bored with each other. Then it starts to be a real horror movie after 30 minutes."
Still, there are definitely movies in the main selection of the festival he really enjoyed. "In Un Certain Regard, I loved the new Hany Abu-Assad film, 'Omar,'" he said. "In competition, there are a lot of movies that I liked. Nicolas Winding Refn's 'Only God Forgives' is really good. Francois Ozon's 'Young and Beautiful' is very surprising."