What’s the mission of Cannes, in your view? What is your special imprint on the festival?
Every year for twelve days, people come from around the world to this small city in the south of France, to celebrate cinema. Cannes exists to tell the world that cinema is an art, cinema is an industry, cinema is a passion, cinema is alive. It is the greatest film festival in the world — not just in terms of the film competition but also in terms of the market it facilitates.
What I’ve done in the last ten years is to manage a balance, between art and the market, between arthouse films and the red carpet. In fact, Indian cinema is a good example of that balance I’ve tried to achieve.
Could you elaborate on that?
Traditionally, we associated Indian cinema with the great auteurs — Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, and so on. When I came on board, in 2001, I began with a Raj Kapoor retrospective, following it up with Devdas the next year. Bollywood was a revelation for everyone, and drew mixed reactions from the Western press. We went further with Shekhar Kapoor’s documentary on Bollywood. Now, Bollywood is almost expected — it is that other tradition of auteur filmmaking that we miss. This year, as Indian cinema celebrates 100 years, we hope to focus on both strands, popular and arthouse, as well as the young “third wave” I have found very interesting.
Part of the reason India is special is its long history of cinema, its strong past. India, Mexico, South Korea and Romania — these are the interesting countries to me, they have had such historically vibrant cinema.
How does it help Indian cinema to be at Cannes? Some wonder why India makes such a production about the festival when our films don’t make the competitive section.
You have to understand, we start the selection process with 1,700 films, narrow it to 50 or 60, then choose 20 for the competition.
Cannes is supposed to set the tone for other festivals and awards, in many ways. How do you feel about being such a powerful tastemaker?
If you start thinking like that, you wouldn’t be able to move or do anything! I prefer to think of myself as a movie buff, someone who watches and talks about movies with my heart, and is sincere about them.
Everyone in the movie business goes to Cannes, there are 40-50,000 people. You have to watch at least two or three films a day or you are mute, unable to make conversation. People have fierce battles about this or that director. That’s what Cannes is — it is about caring terribly about the movies. In fact, we have been considering catalysing mini-Cannes, smaller festivals over three or four days, to spread that Cannes spirit.