What did your friends Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro say when they found out you were President of the Feature Jury this year?
I think they were delighted for me, and possibly a bit jealous!
How do you see this role?
The first time I came to Cannes for a film was twenty years ago with Amores Perros for La Semaine de la Critique. Back then, I could never have imagined that I would one day be the President of the Official Selection Jury at the Festival de Cannes. It's an honour. I made my début here with my first film, and at this crucial turning point in my career, it's a way of consolidating my deep ties to the Festival. As a filmmaker, it's a privilege to come together around films from such incredible directors. It's also an opportunity for me to exchange with other directors I admire, to share our passion.
So this role is about passion, in your eyes?
It's impossible to not be passionate about it, I have been in Competition and I know how significant it is to have a film in Selection. I know what that means to filmmakers at this level. I know that they have given up whole chunks of their lives to working on these films. They are the result of hard, in-depth work, in so many respects. I know what it means to be in their shoes, and that makes it all the more of an honour to be able to enjoy, dissect and debate these works with the other members of the Jury. It's impossible not to feel it viscerally: it's about exposing yourself to films that strike you to your very core.
Through your six feature films, you have shown a tireless capacity for reinventing yourself by experimenting with different genres and techniques. What keeps you going?
I think it's about growth and personal development. I'm not the same person I was twenty years ago, and I see it as a kind of internal change that hopefully is projected externally. I think film is an incredibly rich and fertile playing field that gives you the scope to experiment with infinite different forms. I like expressing things in different ways, it means I'm always evolving. It's not deliberate.
Is that why you like to change your filming locations?
Yes. Once I've got the story and the character, I go looking for the right place. It's like planting a seed: you find the most fertile soil possible so that it might grow into a plant and become stronger.
And then there's the people. Babel and Biutiful tackle the issue of immigration: an age-old question that you help 'spectators' experience through your Carne y Arena (Flesh and Sand) virtual reality installation. Does this type of installation really help you touch viewers more deeply?
Yes, it really does. I don't think any of my films inspired reaction or immersion on that scale. I truly believe that seeing isn't the same as watching, and even less so with a piece like this. The experience that people had with Carne y Arena (Flesh and Sand) was physical, psychological and sensory, all at once. It's about stepping into someone else's mind, and no film can claim to do that. Over and above aesthetics and tastes, the immersive effect here is all-encompassing, deep, touching and transcendent.
This year, Cannes Classics brings viewers Los Olvidados (The Young and the Damned), a Buñuel classic that depicts extreme poverty in Mexico, despite the country being in its golden age. Is there a parallel here with what we're seeing on the news? What meaningful action can artists take, when their country is blighted by poverty and the ensuing violence?
I think an artist's sole obligation and responsibility is to be very honest with yourself. I feel we are at a turning point, and like the Titanic, the ship is sinking. And unlike the musicians who played their violins to turn the shipwreck into something that could still hold beauty and poetry, the world we know is sinking both suddenly and physically. We are exterminating the human race, and humankind as a whole is in denial about the situation we find ourselves in. This is such a broad topic, broader still than 'politics' or 'poverty'. Personally, I believe in the liberating, humanising nature of film. I believe in the power of images and ideas, those that tell stories that might shake us up, tap into our consciences and reunite us with our existence. A festival or community experience of this kind can, at some point, start the ball rolling, and affect as many people possible on an instinctive level. I'm not naive enough to believe I can change the world, but I do believe that the only responsibility we might have is that.
When you received a Special Achievement Academy Award for Carne y Arena (Flesh and Sand), you said "the competition doesn't matter. What matters is competing with yourself". How does that apply to the films in Competition that you will be judging?
I don't want there to be any losers. Rather than judging or dividing, I invite the members of the Jury to share their appreciation for the films with passion. Sharing something that might have changed us, something that touched us for one reason or another. As President, I want us to focus on what resonates with us. And then celebrate it.