05/18/2014 09:28 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Walter Salles at Lunch at Cannes with "Cinemas du Monde"

Director Walter Salles

"Just keep believing in your own quest and don't listen to others," Brazilian director Walter Salles told a group of ten young filmmakers here at Cannes, over an exquisite luncheon on the Riviera. The ten filmmakers came from all over the world, selected, on the merit of their scripts, to participate in a networking sojourn at Cannes hosted by the "Fabrique des Cinèmas du Monde", a program financed by the French government in keeping with their tradition to support co-production.

"The program is designed to help boost the cinema industries of countries where it is not so developed," explained French Institute director Valérie Mouroux, as our fish was being served. "These promising film directors, from Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East, have the chance to meet one-on-one with producers, to search for co-production funds." They also have their scripts analyzed by an invited film director, this year Walter Salles, who meets individually with the directors to trouble-shoot." Former patrons have included the celebrated directors Abderranhmane Sissako and Rithy Panh.

"Yes, it is a great opportunity," opined my lunchmate, director Kamar Ahmad from Bangladesh. Ahmad's script was about two friends who cross India, beginning in Calcutta, to search for a river bank remembered in one of the friends' youth, before his mother's death.

And like most of the other directors here, Ahmad was no novice in the industry: his documentary Are you Listening!, about a farmer saving his land from being lost to the sea in Bangladesh, won the Grand Prize at the prestigious Cinéma du Réel documentary festival in Paris last year.

Director Kamar Ahmad

"Will you get enough funds to make your new film here?" I asked.

He shrugged. "We will see."

The dessert was served--garnished with a chocolate Palme d'Or.


Across from me, Damien Ounouri, from Algeria, told me about his film Chedda, about the oppressive weight of tradition for an Algerian woman.

"You guys know about women's oppression?"

"We try!" said his producer, sitting next to him. "We make an effort to understand your gender. Isn't that good?"

Director Damien Ounouri

It was inspiring to see these directors---from Brazil, Cuba, Bangladesh, Algeria, South Africa, Syria, Laos, Georgia, Senegal and Venezuela--given hope for their films.

"I look forward to my slot with Walter Salles tomorrow," Ahmad, the Bangladeshi director confided. "He has been so generous and open with us. I was so happy when he told me that my film reminded him of one of his own, the road movie, Central Station!"