Women in Cinema: With the 2014 Cannes Film Festival already underway, which took off May 14 and will run until the 25, there have already been major headlines from the prestige festival which include a red-carpet faux pas between a reporter and America Ferrera, the overwhelming panning of the Harvey Weinstein-distributed Grace of Monaco to the high praise for Bennet Miller’s Foxcatcher.
This year, however, a lot of attention has been drawn to head of the jury for the main competition section Jane Campion, who has called attention to the prevailing problem of lack of female directors in the industry.
Campion, who is the first and only female filmmaker to have won the coveted Palme d’Or in 1993 for her film The Piano (which she shared with Chen Kaige for Farewell My Concubine), has assembled a first-time female-majority panel which include: director Sofia Coppola, actress Carole Bouquet, Iranian actress Leila Hatami, Korean actress Jeon Do-yeon, director Nicolas Winding-Refn, actor Gael Garcia Bernal, actor Willem Dafoe, and Chinese director and former Cannes award-winner Jia Zhangke.
She has also been vocal about “inherent sexism” in the industry, and said, during a Cannes press conference last week, that
I think you’d have to say [there’s] inherent sexism in the industry. [Artistic director of the Cannes Film Festival] Thierry [Fremaux] told us only 7% of the 1,800 films submitted to the Cannes Film Festival were directed by women and we have 20% [women] in all the programs…Nevertheless, it does feel very undemocratic. Women do notice that time and time again we don’t get our share of representation. Excuse me gentlemen, but the guys do seem to eat all the cake.
As I’ve touched upon in past articles, gender inequity in the film industry is a serious problem for female directors trying to break into a male-dominated field. Just recently, there’s been a lot of backlash on the hiring of a first-time male director for the next Star Trek film, when many believe a more experienced woman would have been better suited for the gig, and the lack of female characters in the Star Wars reboot. It appears Cannes is no different.
Out of 18 films in the running this year for the Palme d’Or only two are directed by females: Naomi Kawase’s Still The Water and Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders. In the last decade, data have shown little improvement of the female-to-male-director ratio in the main competition category:
2013: 1 out of 20 females nominated.
2012: 0 out of 22
2011: 4 out of 20
2010: 0 out of 19
2009: 3 out of 20
2008: 2 out of 22
2007: 3 out of 22
2006: 3 out of 20
2005: 0 out of 21
The same is true of other festivals. According to a study from the Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles, 23.9 percent of the directors at Sundance are female, compared to the 4.4 percent of the top 100 films at the box office. While it’s been shown that women fare better in independent cinema, these statistics are still dispiriting-ly low.
Even women at the forefront of juries are scarce. Even with Nicole Garcia and Rebecca Zlotowski heading the Camera d’Or and Critics Week juries respectively, Campion is one of ten females who has served as the main competition’s head jury member. This is the festival’s 67th anniversary, which means there has been 57 men who have served in that position.
While Campion’s position and vocalness has been a cause for celebration for those who want to see change, it hasn’t come without adverse responses. Campion has been prematurely accused of bias. Some believe she might use her position to level the playing field, so to speak, and unfairly give priority to women-helmed films.
While it’s not uncommon to see women in positions of power under immense scrutiny (most recently former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson and possible presidential candidate Hillary Clinton), it’s also not unfair to expect gender equity from dual directions. When it comes to fairness and opportunity in her position as head juror of the main competition, Campion said
We (the jury) are coming from different points of view but we can vote with our hearts and conscience for what we love the most. Maybe there will be a consensus or maybe we will have to discover a consensus. But we are not obliged to do anything. I think that would be a really ugly situation.
After all, that’s what women filmmakers want. Just a fair chance to compete with their male counterparts and let their films speak for themselves. However, the problem of gender equity won’t dissipate with simple wishful thinking. After much attention on the matter, a panel at Cannes presented statistics of women in the industry, which included statistics from France, The Netherlands and the UK. The findings were disappointingly similar to those of the U.S. The panel concluded by suggesting that filling quotas might be a possible solution to such discrepancies. No one wants to take hand outs, but could this fix the problem? Because, let’s be honest, there is a problem. It’s unfathomable to think that in the Cannes 67 year history only one woman has won the festival’s top prize and it was shared with a man. But it’s the truth.
Regardless of how the film industry chooses to remedy gender equity (if, at all), hopefully we’ll see more female-directed entries in the future. For now, it’s difficult to believe Campion will abuse any authority to give precedence to female-helmed films. Whether her panel selects a women-directed film or not, surely they will select on a matter of merit not misandry.