Why Did The Cannes Film Festival Ignore Female Directors This Year?

Oh the Cannes Film Festival. The glamour, the beauty, the blatant sexism? In very disappointing news, the famous French film festival forgot to include female directors on its list of 23 nominees.

None of the 23 movies eligible for awards like the prestigious Palme D’Or was directed by women. And just two of the films chosen for the “Un Certain Regard” category, reserved for movies by young filmmakers, had female directors; Sylvie Verheyde, with Confession of a Child of the Century, and Catherine Corsini, with Three Worlds.

This is not only a major contrast from last year in which four of the movies in competition were directed by women but from last week’s Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan which was dominated by films about women and films directed by women. Though it has been a big year for women in film, this shows that that movement is not as powerful as we thought.

Another problem is that many actresses will be there to promote their films in gorgeous gowns, taking attention away from this important matter and making glamour the focus of the film industry as usual. Thelma Adams wrote for AMC’s filmcritic.com, “Despite some recent indications to the contrary, women have yet to gain substantial ground in cinema’s most powerful positions. And beyond its inherent prestige, Cannes is significant because it’s at the forefront of the awards season. Last year, for example, The Artist debuted at Cannes, where Jean Dujardin won best actor honors, and went on to sweep the Oscars. ”

Melissa Silverstein wrote on her blog Women in Hollywood:

“Cannes is the most prestigious world competition and to have no female directors is just a slap in the face.  I cannot believe there were no films worthy of inclusion.  I just don’t believe it.  The whole process is f*cked up that women can’t even get into the conversations about films that people are even thinking about will be included in lineups.

For an industry that professes to examine questions about life, that challenges conventions, that pushes the envelope, the total neanderthal approach to women is breathtaking.  How can this industry say it is progressive or forward thinking in any way when it constantly shunts aside the perspectives of half of the world.”

However, Boston University film studies professor Roy Grundmann told The Huffington Post that film festival juries have always been a bit of a boys’ club and will continue to be. He said:

“Many film festival committees include women among their juries, but festival committees are ultimately just another part of our culture — and this culture is male-dominated. In any case, the problem begins earlier, namely with the producer or distributor’s decision which film to submit to a given festival. He’ll have a choice between eight male-directed films and two female-directed films. And if he wants his film to win, he’ll be wary of the fact that women directors almost never win Cannes and other festivals. Call it a vicious circle or self-fulfilling prophecy.”

But then why did women fare so well at Sundance? It was found that 22% of the features shown at major American film festivals, including Tribeca and Sundance, were directed by women. Do Europeans have a problem with female filmmakers?  Well, Cannes is a foreign film festival and prefers complex dramas which are hard to get funding for in the U.S.

The only way those films will get funding is with a well-known director and honestly, how many household female director names can you name on one hand (and don’t count Barbra Streisand.) And even if you can count five, they may not be working on films of that nature (Nancy Meyers of Something’s Gotta Give, Nora Ephron of You’ve Got Mail and Amy Heckerling of Clueless come to mind.) The only woman to win the Oscar for best director, Kathryn Bigelow, has a film in production but did not wrap it up in time for Cannes.

And the U.S. film industry isn’t perfect either. Cathy Schulman, President of Women In Film Los Angeles, said during Sundance that studies have shown that women make up just 16% of the behind the scenes crew on domestically produced commercial films. only 7% of the top 250 top-grossing films released in 2010 were directed by women, 10% were written by women and 24% were produced by women.

To remedy this, Silverstein suggested a quota system in which festival directors have to include women directors in at least 20% of the slots. I don’t really agree with this because I think quotas undermine women  whether it is in film or the boardroom of a Fortune 500 company but this is a problem. However, she made a few good points about the attitude towards women filmmakers:

“Yes, it will take some more work.  Yes, you will have to watch movies that you might not get because you are so fixated on the male being universal and the female as being other.  Yes, you will have to occasionally endure seeing and hearing about vaginas and other things women experience.  Here’s a thought, maybe you could send people to places that say play films by women directors to see what’s out there and see what people are working on.”

I don’t support quotas but the film industry needs to recognized that women are a viable source of talent and not just when they are looking pretty in front of the camera. Ryan Gosling will probably figure something out.





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    • George Olson

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    • Black Haus

      Maybe there wasn’t any good female films this year. Isn’t that reverse sexism if a mans film isn’t chosen because the festival has to hit there quota of female directors.