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Photograph: EPA/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO

US director Jeff Nichols said on Monday he sees his new hard-hitting film about intermarriage in 1950's America as representing a strong message in the current moves to introduce new discriminatory laws in parts of the country.

Nichols' Loving, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday, is based on the true story of a couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, who were jailed in 1958 for breaking Virginia's state laws by getting married.

Their landmark case, which was taken up by the US civil rights movement, went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which in 1967 reaffirmed their right to marry.

However, the film is also a timely reminder of the new front that has opened up more recently in the United States over discrimination.

This includes the fight over gay marriage rights in parts of the country as well as the new sexual discriminatory laws that have been introduced in several states such as North Carolina and Mississippi.

Moreover, it took until 2000 for Alabama to finally implement the Supreme Court ruling on interracial marriage following the Loving case.  

The film shows that the Supreme Court can only do so much, Nichols told a press conference marking his movie's screening in Cannes.

"It takes a long time for society to get it right. I am continuing to be surprised to see what comes out of certain states," said Arkansas-born Nichols who is in Cannes for the third time.

"People are at centre of these debates," said the 37-year-old filmmaker, who added that he wanted to avoid telling the story of the Lovings through a grand court room drama.

"Peoples' lives are affected by these decisions," said Nichols.

He said there is a lot about the court case but not about the Lovings themselves.

"I hope it represents the sense of who these people are," Nichols said about his film, which stars Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton as Mildred and Richard Loving.

"A lot has changed (since the Supreme Court's decision) but a lot has also not changed," said Australian-born Edgerton, who also featured in Nichols' last film, a sci-fi thriller called Midnight Special.  

Loving also included a small role for actor Michael Shannon as a Life Magazine photographer sent to document the Lovings' lives.

Shannon has been with Nichols since his first feature film Shotgun Stories in 2007 and also starred in Nichols' critically acclaimed Take Shelter, which was released in 2011.

The screening of Loving came as American independent cinema grabbed the Cannes spotlight after a series of Hollywood films had screened at the world's leading film festival.

In addition, to Nichols and US independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch is also returning to the festival on Monday with the premiere of his new movie, which shows a very different aspect of American life.

Many of Jim Jarmusch's best-known movies, including Only Lovers Left Alive, Broken Flowers, Ghost Dog, Dead Man and Mystery Train, have made their debuts in Cannes.

This year, he is back with Paterson, about a bus driver following a simple daily routine but who has aspirations to be poet.

The films from Ohio-born Jarmusch and Nichols follow the screening in Cannes this year of new movies from leading Hollywood directors such as Steven Spielberg, Shane Black and Jodie Foster.

This year Nichols enjoyed one of the those rare moments for filmmakers when two of his movies screened in the main competitions of leading film festival in less than six months.

Nichol’s Midnight Special was also part of the main competition of the Berlin Film Festival in February.

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