Missing women force a rethink at Cannes

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A routine press conference on the eve of the Cannes Film Festival on Monday turned controversial with General Delegate of the Festival Thierry Fremaux on the defensive over the award of the honorary Palme d’Or to legendary French actor Alain Delon, despite his archaic views on homosexuality and his admission of having slapped women.

“We are not giving the Noble Peace Prize,” said Mr. Fremaux when questioned about the criticism heaped against Cannes on the issue.

While talking about the “contradictions in history”, Mr. Fremaux said the festival was honouring Mr. Delon for his years as an actor. He stressed on the significance of “context”, saying that the actor came from a different generation but was being judged with the eyes of the new and young.

He felt that Cannes was criticised more than other organisations when it came to societal, political issues and there was this expectation by the media that the festival should be “impeccable and perfect”. He also raised the issue of representation of women in media itself.

Mr. Fremaux asserted that the selection of films at the festival will not be on the basis of gender.

“The films that are there deserved to be selected; they are not there simply because they have been made by women,” said Mr. Fremaux. “We are looking at the end of chain,” he said, while, according to him, it is the beginning — the fostering at film schools, training and exposure that need to be widened.

Cannes has traditionally been criticised for its gender skew. Till last year there had been 1600 odd competition titles from men in the entire history of the festival as against just 82 from women. It had made 82 women film professionals stage a silent protest on the red carpet on May 12 last year, perhaps the most memorable image of Cannes 2018. Jane Campion remains the only female director to have won the Palme d’Or, for her 1993 film The Piano.

This year has seen a marginal improvement with four women directors competing for the Palme D’Or — Mati Diop for Atlantique, Jessica Hausner for Little Joe, Céline Sciamma for Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Justine Triet for Sibyl — and 13 in the overall selection.

The last time four women figured in the top list was in 2011. Last year only three women made it to the competition section as was the case in 2016 and 2017. In 2015 and 2014 there were two women, in 2013 just one and in 2012 none.

The Un Certain Regard section has six films directed by seven female directors among the 16 titles on view — Zabou Breitman and Eléa Gobé Mévellec’s The Swallows of Kabul, Monia Chokri’s A Brother’s Life, Danielle Lessovitz’s Port Authority, Mounia Meddour’s Papicha, Maryam Touzani’s Adam and Annie Silverstein’s Bull.

Last year in a ‘50:50 by 2020’ pledge had been taken by the festival. Under the charter, Cannes took upon itself to record the gender of the cast and crew of all films submitted, to make public the names of selection committee members and work towards gender parity on the Cannes board of the festival management and the programming teams.

In a start, the films selection committee for the films this year was gender balanced with an equal number of women and men.

If the main competition opens with Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die, it’s Chokri’s A Brother’s Life that kicks off Un Certain Regard.

The juries for the Un Certain Regard and Cinefondation sections are headed by women — Nadine Labaki and Claire Denis respectively. The main competition jury has Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu as the President but has equal number of male and female jury members.

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