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Cannes jury member Denis Villeneuve says he would rather make films than judge them

The director switched from making film inspired by the French New Wave to science fiction when he realized the power of the genre to tell stories that were otherwise off limits
UPDATED FEB 19, 2020
Denis Villeneuve (Source: Getty Images)
Denis Villeneuve (Source: Getty Images)

French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve may have been a four-time recipient of the Canadian Screen Award for Best Direction but, 20 years after making his first feature film, Villeneuve says his only ambition as a director is to make a solid piece of work, one that "endures" the "test of time."

The 50-year-old director has since gone on to make highly acclaimed science fiction films including Arrival and Blade Runner 2049.

Villeneuve first came to Cannes in 1997 with an omnibus film called Cosmos, directed by him and five other young Quebec filmmakers, based on the adventures of a Montreal taxi driver.

He was back at Cannes the next year with his 1998 feature 'Un 32 août sur Terre' (August 32nd on Earth) which premiered in the Un Certain Regard program.

The director is now a feature film jury member at the festival and says that the event has rather served as an "almost egotistical opportunity" to revive his passion as a cinephile.

Villeneuve says that, despite coming from a small village in Quebec, he is an American director who is thoroughly trained and influenced by the best of directors globally including Steven Spielberg, François Truffaut and Ingmar Bergman, who he says was "a revelation."

 Tanya Lapointe and Denis Villeneuve attend the screening of 'BlacKkKlansman' during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France on May 14. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Early in his career, Villeneuve was heavily inspired by the French New Wave but he later switched to the science fiction genre for its great storytelling potential.

"I began my career with Un 32 août sur Terre, a Quebecois film influenced by the French New Wave, but soon realized that this wasn't for me," Villeneuve said.

"As soon as I accepted my North American roots and realized that I had to return to my first love, I was able to let go and I felt much happier. I'm definitely a very American filmmaker," he affirmed.

Villeneuve says his decision to make science fiction films was heavily inspired by Stanley Kubrick's 1968 classic '2001: A Space Odyssey'.

 Cannes jury member Denis Villeneuve attends the jury photo call during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France on May 8. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

"I first watched it from the staircase when I was very young. I then saw the entire film on television and was struck by the sense of vertigo that he managed to create. It became my favorite film. Rediscovering it at the festival, in 70mm, was a special moment for me," Denis stated.

After encountering this genre, Denis says he got his first "cinematic shock."

"Science fiction appeals to me because it allows you to tackle difficult subjects such as religion, or other aspects of society that are off-limits, with a great deal of freedom and distance," he explained.

The director says the movie that was the toughest to make was Blade Runner 2049.

"(It) was the hardest thing I have done in my life so far because I was appropriating someone else's dream. It felt like an act of vandalism! Taking possession of this creation was very complicated and it took almost two years of work," he admitted.

"I've watched fewer films in recent years because my time has been taken up with directing. After my last film, I felt an urgent need to take a break and to once again cultivate my love of cinema. I needed films that would surprise me, and so far, I haven't been disappointed," he says admitting that it will be a tough call as a filmmaker to judge the work of his peers.

"I've decided not to judge the films and to champion them instead," he concludes.