I called it the nine-headed beast,” said Cannes Film Festival jury president George Miller about the thorough-going group that sorted through so many potential winners during the last 10 days. “It was a collective experience, a hard one over many hours. It was incredibly vigorous and rigorous.”

Miller, director of Mad Max: Fury Road, was told that this jury took the longest in coming up with their choices, with one category — the best director slot — winding up in a tie between Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper and Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation. According to festival rules, Miller said, no winner in the top three categories — Palme d’Or, Grand Prix and director — could win any other category. It’s all about being fair and sharing the wealth.”

Why the long deliberation? Per Miller, “Let’s look at the mess of these things — 21 directors, 21 writers — multiply that by however many actors and the many variables over eight prizes.”

“Nothing was left unsaid,” Miller said of the deliberations, adding that the jury “avoided looking at what other people were saying.”

The Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake marks Ken Loach’s second top prize at the fest after 2006’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley. He now ties with Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne who also have two Palme d’Ors for 2005’s L’Enfant and 1999’s Rosetta. Loach’s film focuses on a middle-aged carpenter who requires state welfare after injuring himself and is joined by a single mother in a similar scenario. Palme d’Or pundits believed that this emotional film would ring with the actor-heavy Cannes jury, and they were right on the nose. The pic also deals with the middle class that’s been left behind, the factions who in the U.S. are jiving with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Given the opulence in Cannes, one reporter asked if the jury felt a sense of guilt given the issues raised in the movie.

“No, not at all,” asserted juror and actor Donald Sutherland. “Movies just resonate with your heart and soul.”

During the winners’ sesh, Loach said about his win, “It’s extraordinary really. It’s the same group of us from earlier in 2006. Same little gang. It’s just nice to be in that team.  Our breath has been taken away. We were’t expecting to come back. We’re quietly stunned.”

Given the abundance of female directors and stars at the 69th festival, the press corps wondered how that diversity impacted the jury’s decisions.

“Without going into specifics, I don’t remember going to a film and assessing if a woman was in it or not,” said Miller. “We were looking at other issues.”

Added Mads Mikkelsen, “There are places where (certain topics) are up for debate, but we have to do certain things as a jury. We pray and hope that people were selected because they made good films, not because they’re a woman or a man.”

In a year with such striking female performances as Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper; Sasha Lane in American Honey, Isabelle Huppert in Elle, Elle Fanning in The Neon Demon; Marion Cotillard in From The Land Of The Moon; and Min-Hee Kim and Tae Ri Kim in The Handmaiden, some onlookers scratched their heads over the jury’s choice to award Jaclyn Jose for her turn in the Filipino film Ma’Rosa. Her character is arrested within the first 15 minutes of the movie, and she spends the bulk of it in jail while her family tries to bail her out. Some critics felt she was a supporting character. “It’s a big-time leading role and the critics are wrong!” exclaimed Sutherland. “That scene at the end where she’s eating!” French director/writer Arnaud Desplechin also defended the choice: “Her performance broke my heart.”

Laszlo Nemes said that the jury’s decision to give the Grand Prix to Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only The End Of The World was not a returned favor to the Canadian director who was on the jury last year when Nemes’ Son Of Saul took the same award. Later on during the winners’ press conference, Dolan revealed why he cried so much on stage during his acceptance speech.

“To know that people have misunderstood your work… the things you’ve worked on so hard, in every character, in their love, pain and complexity, when they’re narrowed as stupid or mean, and not understanding anything, it’s a surprise and a shock. Then we had the premiere where the movie was well-received and you don’t know who you’re making films for, the critics or the public. We’re all public.”

“And now to go on stage and be told by an ensemble of people who I immensely respect from the landscape of filmmaking, that they chose this film, my characters and me, tells me that you have to remain true to yourself.”

At the top of the jury conference, Sutherland took a seat next to fellow member Iranian producer Katayoon Shahabi who had her head covered. The actor put his scarf on his head similar to hers in jest. “On that stage tonight, I got so soaking wet, I had to completely change my clothes. I’ve had pneumonia 11 times and if I catch it again,  I’m 81. I wasn’t interested in that scenario,” said Sutherland.

One standout speech during the winners’ press conference came from director Christian Mungiu (Graduation), who praised the diversity of small films in a commercial social media-driven age. It was one of the few defenses for the arthouse biz expressed during what was largely a backslapping panel. As an aside, Personal Shopper director Olivier Assayas was all too pleased to share the director win with Mungiu.

Said Mungiu, “If we can’t preserve this, smaller films might disappear in matter of a few years. It’s really important to preserve the diversity in cinema. Commercial cinema is wonderful, but cinema wasn’t born to produce commercial cinema alone. It’s good to have voices and points of views… We need to make an effort to educate the audience.” The director further praised Cannes as an oasis that supports the global stage of moviemaking, especially the small films.

Related Oldest And Youngest Directors Take Two Top Prizes, But Only Ken Loach Deserved It: Cannes Analysis