PARIS — Francois Da Silva sits in the middle of an otherwise empty auditorium, taking the occasional sip of Perrier from a can while a naked man and two women writhe about on the screen.
Lately, Da Silva has been spending a lot of time alone in movie theaters. But then again, this was a month before the opening of the Cannes Film Festival — de rigueur for the new artistic topper of the Directors Fortnight sidebar.
The selection process is usually shrouded in mystery, but Da Silva, a former arthouse programmer who took over the sidebar last October, has allowed Variety a glimpse behind the curtain.
“I started off writing notes on every film but I soon realized it would be impossible to keep that up,” he says, brandishing a dog-eared notebook, which holds the key to this year’s line-up.
“Now I write yes, no, maybe — or simply ‘selection’ when I am absolutely sure I want a film,” he says on a break from a marathon sesh at Paris’ Forum des Images videotheque.
With more than 650 films to be viewed — Da Silva will personally see two thirds of them — it would be impossible to spend ages deliberating over each and every one, he explains.
“I usually know pretty quickly if I am interested in a film or not,” he says, “but I make it a rule to watch the first reel at least, out of respect for the directors. I never lose sight of the fact that people may have sold their car — or lost their wife — getting their film made.
“Selecting is a huge responsibility because the spotlight on Cannes is so important that it can change a director’s life.”
The process also swallows up long hours of every day for months on end. In the run up to Cannes, in a typical day Da Silva will dash across Paris from one screening room to another, spending 10 hours in front of eight to 10 movies. The last pic will be viewed in the early hours at home on cassette.
But the sidebar topper admits to having had the time of his life in the past six months, jetting around the world to some 20 countries in search of rare gems for the upcoming fest.
“I love travelling and all I know is watching films, I absolutely never tire of it,” he says.
Da Silva’s goal is to restore Directors Fortnight’s role as a discoverer of the kind of groundbreaking movies not found in the main festival’s Official Selection.
“What I am looking for is films that are different, that are pushing the frontiers of filmmaking or talking about the world in a different way,” he says.
“Take the film we’ve just seen (featuring the libidinous threesome): There have been lots of films about desire but this one addresses the subject in an original way, and the cinematography is wonderful. That is the point of cinema.”
A couple of weeks later there it is among the lineup: underground Brazilian filmmaker Julio Bressane’s “A Love Movie,” one of 25 pics making up Da Silva’s landmark first selection.