The Cannes Film Festival Has Become A Feminist Protest

Glitz, glamour and petitions? The Cannes film festival has it all. Amidst the movie stars promoting their films there is a negative undertone at the famous film festival . On May 16, a group of 250 people including producer Darla K. Anderson (Toy Story 3), director Gillian Armstrong, actress-director Rachel Ward and feminist icon Gloria Steinem signed a petition sent to Cannes officials, headlined, “Where Are the Women Directors?” By May 17, the petition on had about 700 signatories.

Cannes 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 month’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.

Plus, film juror panels are known for being boys’ clubs. Boston University film studies professor Roy Grundmann told The Huffington Post:

“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.”

The protest effort against Cannes was created by Melissa Silverstein, founder of a blog called Women and Hollywood and co-founder of New York’s Athena Film Festival.A few weeks ago she wrote on her blog this exclusion of women at Cannes was an absolute slap in the face.  “We call for transparency and equality at Cannes and other festivals. There’s a sense of people in back rooms smoking cigars and making deals. Some people get picked over and over again. They have, like, a family — Terrence Malick, Wes Anderson, Jane Campion [Campion is Cannes' sole female Palme d'Or winner, for 1993's The Piano]-- which is great, but we need more Jane Campions at the tip of his tongue.”

Last year four women were nominated for the Palme D’Or including Lynne Ramsey whose 2011 film, We Need To Talk About Kevin, generated a lot of buzz in the fall and earned Tilda Swinton a Golden Globe and SAG nomination, but according to The Hollywood Reporter it lost momentum along the way. This is very common with women directed films apparently.

“The larger point is, there has to be a bigger list of women. You can’t just say, ‘Jane Campion’ and then the door is closed,” said Silverstein. This is why each signature on the petition generates an email to Cannes officials. She wrote, “In 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.”

To remedy this, Silverstein suggested a quota system in which festival directors have to include women directors in at least 20% of the slots.

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