An interview with Dimitra Karya, artistic director of Cinéfondation selection.

Cinefondation is celebrating its 15th birthday in 2012. What was the first Cinefondation like? How have things changed since then?

In 1998, when Gilles Jacob and Pierre Viot created this new section of the Festival de Cannes, the Cinéfondation was just a selection of student films. Laurent Jacob, its programmer for the first 12 years, took up the challenge of making it known in the world of film schools. He went to some festivals, invited the best student shorts he could find and undertook to convince schools to submit as many works directed by their students as possible. The very first Cinéfondation showed 15 shorts and among them 3 from NFTS, which attests that the choice was limited and the diversity of film schools hard to achieve. Fortunately, Cinéfondation’s reputation kept growing during all those years and we no longer need propaganda. With some 1700 yearly submissions, we can present a better balanced programme. Today we closely work with many film schools, and some “new” ones contact us every year.

Besides, as you know, the Cinéfondation has grown up, and it has developed complementary programmes: the Residence in 2000 and the Atelier in 2005.

Are you planning any special screenings or events marking the anniversary?

There are no special events planned this year. We’ll let it go quietly through its adolescence period and will hopefully make a “bigger party” for its 20th anniversary. The best celebration for us is when filmmakers whose student films we had programmed come back to Cannes or other major festivals with new feature films. It’s our pleasure and our pride. This year, Aida Begic’s second feature is part of the Un Certain Regard selection and Gonzalo Tobal’s feature debut is shown at a special screening. Another positive sign of recognition came last year when Jessica Hausner and Corneliu Porumboiu sat on the Cinéfondation Jury, many years after having shown their student films in our programme.

What will happen for the first time this year is that just after the festival, in mid-June, the Cinéfondation-awarded films will make a trip to Rome, to be shown at the prestigious Villa Medici. Since last year they have also been shown at La Cinémathèque Française, the Parisian temple of cinema, while the Forum des Images, another important French institution, showcases a part of the programme, also in June.

In the past 15 years, the Cinefondation has discovered many emerging talents. What is your experience? Are there any trends in student filmmaking? Are there any topics filmmakers like very much as beginners that they tend to forget later on in their careers? Or are talents very serious filmmakers from the very beginning?

I don’t know if we can talk about trends in student filmmaking. I noticed that many directors deal with personal loss. Some are concerned with their historical, political and social background, in a more or less obvious way: they often sharply dissect the society of their own country. Others create a more personal universe, sometimes inspired by myths. A few have been marked by conflicts in their region, painting the portrait of lost generations. Directors are artists expressing a personal vision but also evolving with their society, acutely feeling the uneasiness of living. Fortunately, there can be humour to enlighten the Cinéfondation programme. There are directors who consistently follow the same path and others who surf on different waves. There are born filmmakers who seem to have cinema flowing in their veins from the very beginning of their career and there are personalities who develop film after film, in a blossoming that is very touching to witness.

Although there is no direct link between the Cinefondation, L’Atelier, La Residence or the Official Selection, there are a lot of doors that open after being selected to the Cinefondation. How does this shape a filmmaker’s career, how is life after the Cinefondation?

As you say, there is no direct link. To date, only 23% of the selected student film directors have joined the Residence with their feature film project and 13% the Atelier. Those are selected by Georges Goldenstern, the General Manager of the Cinéfondation, twice a year for the Residence and yearly for the Atelier at Cannes.

But it’s certain that being selected at the Cinéfondation can become the “Open Sesame” for some of these young filmmakers: their shorts continue the journey started here, they are invited to other festivals, where they meet fellow directors or professionals and build up a network, hopefully arousing the interest of producers, distributors etc.

As I said before, a part of the selection (usually the awarded films) is shown in various prestigious places. Besides, every year, ARTE television broadcasts some of our films.

Your short film sharing site,, also showed interest and intends to present a retrospective selection of the awarded Cinéfondation films online.

As for a possible link to the Official Selection, meaning the Competition and Un Certain Regard (because the Cinéfondation is also part of the Official Selection), there is definitely no preferential treatment for our “reservoir” of talents; on the contrary, one could say the Festival de Cannes is even more demanding towards them. Last year it was at Locarno that Nadav Lapid’s first feature got international recognition. This year Mátyás Prikler developed his short “Ďakujem Dobre”, that we showed in 2010, into a splendid first feature film and I’m sure it will attract a lot of attention.

The only “favour” is that we guarantee our First Prize winner that his first feature film will be presented at the Festival de Cannes: Gonzalo Tobal, winner in 2007, is back for a special screening of “Villegas”.

Tell us about this year’s selection – how many applicants are there and how many countries do they represent? How many sleepless hours does the selection process mean?

If you’re a “numbers person”, enjoy some statistics: this year 15 films from 14 countries have been selected from among 1683 coming from 320 schools in 71 countries. We received 100 more films than last year.

Three schools make their first appearance at the Cinéfondation: The Animation Workshop (Denmark), Tokyo University of the Arts (Japan) and L’Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts – this is the first time Lebanon is represented in our Selection.

Although the number of applicants is increasing every year, I can still enjoy sleeping at night like a baby after viewing films all day long!

How does the selection process work? Do you have any ideas, topics, themes in your mind a priori  – or does it happen after seeing all the applicants when you can tell what to choose to the Cinefondation?

I have absolutely no a priori or favourite themes. Of course, I have my own sensitivity and interests but as a programmer I’m trying to make a selection with the widest possible range of forms, genres and themes. What mostly counts is the filmmaker’s ability to express a personal vision. The films fulfilling this point find themselves on the “preselection” shelf; then the other criteria I quoted before are applied to make up the final programme. Taking of course into account the geographic diversity, which for a student film festival is accompanied by another one: the variety of schools and the concern of introducing those that have never participated.

Needless to say, there are moments of grace when a film becomes essential on first viewing and is immediately invited.

This year’s very international jury is headed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne. How did you, organisers, choose the jury members?

As a general rule, the Cinéfondation and Short Film jury is headed by an internationally distinguished director. The task of finding one is not always easy for the Festival authorities: either the filmmakers in the middle of preparing a film and so they don’t have the time to come, or they have submitted one to the Festival de Cannes and consequently are likely to be selected… Some of them refuse the invitation because they simply don’t like the position of the “judge”.
Once the presidency is ensured, the organisers invite the other four members of the jury, mainly filmmakers and actors/actresses.

An ideal jury president or member is someone who is somewhat prepared for the mission and knows what is to be done; who has the appropriate degree of generosity, the ability to foresee what could emerge from those first works, and the wisdom to judge those young student filmmakers for what they are: young student filmmakers; who pronounces a personalised compliment to the awarded directors in the Buñuel Theatre, and maybe a word of consolation to those who have got nothing; who encourages them during the cocktail reception after the awards ceremony. And sometimes all of this happens, when we are very lucky, but you never can tell in advance!

I believe that Jean-Pierre Dardenne is an excellent choice, just as Luc Dardenne was in 2000, who carried out his mission with curiosity, intelligence and passion.

text: Anita Libor
illustration: Matheus Lopes Castro
photograpy by: Miklós Vargha