“I believe in reform,” says Directors’ Fortnight topper Edouard Waintrop, who is readying his inaugural edition at this year’s Cannes festival.

Waintrop, who succeeded Frederic Boyer after he was let go in June following a two-year stint, is a well-respected, unpretentious ex-film journalist whose taste ranges from the popular to the eclectic. Indeed, this year’s selection kicks off with Michel Gondry’s “The We and the I,” and includes Sundance hit “Room 237” as well as a strong showing from Latin America and France.

“One of my primary goals is to make people talk positively about Directors’ Fortnight again,” says Waintrop, who rebooted the Switzerland-based Fribourg Festival when he served as artistic director for four years and made waves, notably when he chose Jackie Chan’s “Little Big Soldier” as 2011’s opening film.

Many observers say that Directors’ Fortnight lost traction after Olivier Pere left as topper in 2010 after an acclaimed six-year tenure.

Meanwhile, under Thierry Fremaux, Un Certain Regard, once perceived as the main competition rejects basket, has gained strength and coherence as a stand-alone section, drawing hot indie pics such as “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Miss Bala” and “Precious,” while Critics’ Week’s popularity has skyrocketed thanks to buzzed-about pics such as “Declaration of War” and “Take Shelter.”

Running alongside the Cannes Festival, Directors’ Fortnight was created after the May 1968 uprisings by filmmakers who aimed at screening a broad range of films, while steering clear of the main Festival’s perceived cultural elitism and entrenched formality.

Addressing criticism of the Fortnight’s last couple of editions — deemed too low-profile and Eurocentric, Wainstrop says it was due to an obsession with screening first films.

“My job is to show films that are surprising and good, no matter if they’re first or sixth features,” says Waintrop, who still writes a blog for French newspaper Liberation. “If I chose a film that happens to be a debut, that’s a good thing, but it’s the least of my concerns.”

Six of the films in the Directors’ Fortnight this year are from helmers making their feature debuts.

Waintrop does share Pere’s taste for the contemporary, audacious, yet audience-friendly fare.

“I’m totally in line with Pere’s mandate of having a diversity of films. Comedy is my thing, and so are genre films,” Waintrop says.

In a departure from Boyer’s approach, Waintrop, who admits being a fan of American cinema, says he wants more U.S. titles playing in the selection and will consider films that have opened domestically, although none were programmed this year.

But, he insists, “The problem we have with American movies is that independent films go to Sundance and after that, filmmakers and sales agents often see no point in getting the films into Cannes, unless they’re in the official selection.”

Since coming on board in June, Waintrop says he has worked to reinstate some harmony between the Fortnight, the main festival and Critics’ Week.

“Thierry and I have been friends for 25 years so that helps,” says Waintrop. “Although we can’t work hand in hand because we must suprise each other in a good or bad way, we must respect a certain code and communicate on our strategies to avoid being at war with each other.”

John Hopewell contributed to this report.

Cannes Preview 2012
As DVD pie crumbles, is VOD sweet? | Europeans take small steps in VOD market | Cannes market adjusts as indie pic trends shift | New topper works to reform Fortnight’s image