The prestigious Cannes Film Festival has had a tumultuous couple of years.
This time around, Cannes introduced a rule that requires films in competition to have a theatrical release before streaming. This drew the ire of Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, who would prefer for the platform’s films to be released in both venues simultaneously — and so he withdrew Netflix’s films from the festival altogether. It’s a uniquely 21st-century battle.
But another long-standing issue of exclusion persists amid all this hubbub — of the 18 films in competition this year, only three were directed by women. This is the same number of female filmmakers to compete last year, when “The Beguiled” made Sofia Coppola the second woman to win the Cannes best director prize. The festival has been around for 71 years.
Two of the three women this year — Nadine Labaki, Alice Rohrwacher and Eva Husson — have competed previously. Lebanese actress-turned-director Labaki will show “Capernaum,” which explores the lives of migrants in Beirut. A graduate of the festival’s Résidence program, Labaki served on the jury in 2015 and has screened two films before: “Caramel” in 2007 and “Where Do We Go Now?” in 2011. Italian writer-director Rohrwacher will return with the time-traveling drama “Happy, Lazzaro.” Rohrwacher’s coming-of-age debut “Corpo Celeste” premiered 2011, and rural drama “The Wonders” won the Grand Prix, an award second only to the Palmer d’Or, in 2014.
French director Husson will make her Cannes debut with “Girls of the Sun,” which follows a Kurdish female battalion that fights against extremist captors. Husson’s first film, “Bang Gang,” received positive reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015.
Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux remarked at a news conference Thursday morning that the world “will never be the same again” after sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein boosted the #MeToo movement, IndieWire reported. But he added that the industry’s related gender inequality issues and the lack of female filmmakers represented at Cannes had nothing to do with each other.
“There are not enough women directors, but we don’t have time to talk about that here,” Frémaux said. “Our point of view is that the films are selected for their intrinsic qualities. There will never be a selection with a positive discrimination for women.”
IndieWire wrote that even with those qualities in mind, it remains surprising to see Naomi Kawase and her Juliette Binoche-starring “Vision” snubbed. The Japanese director frequents Cannes, having previously shown seven films. Claire Denis’s Robert Pattinson-starring sci-fi drama “High Life,” which coincidentally features Binoche as well, was also left off the list — though the Hollywood Reporter noted this might have been because of a postproduction delay.
As Frémaux pointed out, there are probably a good number of women on the jury — and Cate Blanchett, who earlier this year helped launch the Time’s Up initiative to combat sexual misconduct, will be the 12th woman to serve as its president. But the same has never been true of the actual competitors. The only woman who received the directing prize before Coppola was Soviet filmmaker Yuliya Solntseva, who won in 1961 for her depiction of Soviet resistance to the Nazi movement in “Chronicle of Flaming Years.” And in a pre-written speech, Coppola reportedly thanked Jane Campion, the only woman in Cannes history to win the Palme d’Or (for “The Piano”).
This history has not gone unnoticed. French actress Isabelle Huppert, an Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner for “Elle,” received the Women in Motion Award last year. At the festival’s 70th anniversary celebration, she reportedly exclaimed, “70 years, 76 Palme d’Ors, but only one has gone to a woman — no comment.” Huppert later told the BBC: “I think the message has been clearly heard. But on the other hand, you don’t want to bring women just to bring women. … A good film is a good film. But we have to create the best possible conditions so there are more female films.”
Nicole Kidman, who had four separate projects at Cannes last year, urged support for female directors. At the time, she told the Sydney Morning Herald it was necessary for her to be able to say that “pretty much every 18 months, I’m making a movie with a female director,” and later elaborated during a news conference for “The Beguiled.”
“Only 4.2 percent of women directed the main motion pictures of 2016, that’s a statistic from the Women in Film group,” she said, according to the Guardian. “There were 4,000 episodic television series last year and only 183 women directed them. … We as women have to support female directors. Hopefully it will change over time, but everybody keeps saying, ‘Oh it’s so different now, oh it’s so different now,’ and it isn’t.”
Jessica Chastain served as a jury member last year and boldly addressed the issue of female representation, according to Vanity Fair, calling it “quite disturbing” to see how women were treated in the 20 films she watched.
“When we include more female storytellers, we will have more of the women I recognize in my day-to-day life — ones that are proactive, have their own agencies, don’t just react to the men around them,” she said. “They have their own point of view.”