#CannesSoMale? Not So Fast…

The Cannes Film Festival is slowly but surely setting out to promote gender equality, and others will follow.

Words

Sarah Jilani

Photo

Associated Press

After the diversity debacle that was the 2016 Oscars, it’s understandable that the 69th edition of the world’s most prestigious film festival has come under intense scrutiny. Yet those quick to point out that the Cannes line-up features more male than female filmmakers may be turning on the solution, rather than the problem.

While the Academy was rightly criticised for its glaring lack of racial diversity, the organisers of Cannes have been widely ridiculed for a perceived gender imbalance in this year’s programme. It’s easy to point out that just three films out of 20 in competition for the Palme d’Or are directed by women (they are Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, Nicole Garcia’s Mal de Pierres and Maren Ade’s Toni Erdman). Yet the festival’s president, Pierre Lescure, made the point last year that he was focused on improving Cannes’ relationship with women (and by extension the festival’s reputation), and he has made progressive steps that could yet have a significant impact on the film industry at large.

In a move to acknowledge the problem of gender inequality, Cannes teamed up with the French brand Kering to launch ‘Women In Motion’, a programme of talks with stars and executives about women’s status and representation in the film world. This year, the initiative will hand out its inaugural awards, to Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, for exemplary contribution to both the film industry and women’s causes. The daily morning debates and interviews that began in 2015 with the participation of Isabelle Huppert, Salma Hayek, Matthias Schoenaerts and Agnès Varda, will continue this year. This clear signal of intent highlights the festival’s long-term commitment to women in cinema. It’s a vital step in the right direction from a respected – historically male-centric – awards body.

But is it really fair to expect festival juries to blaze the trail? Perhaps not when you consider that the submissions Cannes receives are disproportionately male-directed: female filmmakers face the determining hurdles, such as securing funding, well before the final stage of festival submission. During her talk at last year’s ‘Women In Motion’, Frances McDormand made her point hit home: “We don’t need help, we need money.” Gender discrimination at the financing stage is at the root of the wider issue of representation. Cannes showing its commitment to women will force more producers and studios to sit up and dig into their pockets.

Since the announcement of this year’s line-up, more media attention has been paid to films directed by women. Jodie Foster’s Money Monster has received its fair share of attention despite screening in an Out of Competition slot. Elsewhere, the Un Certain Regard programme, a section acclaimed for its critical weight and global perspective, features four female-directed films. And this year the presidents of the juries of the Un Certain Regard, Cinefondation and Short Films and Camera D’Or categories are all female industry heavyweights – actress Marthe Keller, writer/director Naomi Kawase, and president of the French Directors’ Society (SRF) Catherine Corsini. Even more crucially, more than half of the film in the Student Shorts section represent the work of emerging female talent – a fact that should be taken as a positive sign of things to come.

Published 13 May 2016

Tags: Jodie Foster Julia Roberts

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