Sunday Magazine ~ May 20, 2018
Women of Cannes
BY Namrata Joshi
The figure of 82 Only 82 women directors have been in competition in Cannes’s 71-year history (getty images)
Events, images, people, films, talks everything in Cannes screamed gender this year
The lasting image of Cannes 2018 will be that of 82 women standing hand in hand on the red carpet on May 12 in a silent protest against gender disparity. They represented the 82 female directors who’ve been in competition in Cannes’ 71-year history compared to the almost 1,700 men.
At Cannes last year, Jessica Chastain had questioned the lopsided representation of women. She said that watching all the competition films left her disturbed at how the world viewed us. She said she wanted more of the women that she encountered in daily life to inhabit the screen, women with their own agency rather than those just reacting to men. Last year many of us had also applauded Harvey Weinstein for taking on Donald Trump on the issue of native Americans.
One year has made for a lot of change. With the lid off Weinstein’s sexual harassment offences, with #MeToo and #TimesUp movements gaining ground, the issue had to come knocking at Cannes’ door too, especially when it has had a dismal record of giving space to women filmmakers.
It’s in this context that another telling visual this year has been that of the Palme D’Or jury at the opening press conference. The president of the main competition jury, actor-producer Cate Blanchett, sat between two men (writer-directors Denis Villeneuve and Andrey Zvyagintsev) and two women (writer-director-producer Ava DuVernay and actor Léa Seydoux) to her right and another two men (director-writer-producer Robert Guédiguian and actor Chang Chen) and two women (actor Kristin Stewart and author, composer Khadja Nin) to her left. It was all, quite clearly, about trying to strike a balance of power.
Events, images, people, films, talks and interviews everything in Cannes screamed gender this year. A statement read by Blanchett and documentary filmmaker Agnes Varda on the red carpet said: “Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of our industry says otherwise… As women, we all face our own unique challenges, but we stand together on these stairs today as a symbol of our determination and commitment to progress. The stairs of our industry must be accessible to all. Let’s climb.” A helpline has been set up at the festival to report sexual harassment following accusations of four assaults by Weinstein there in the past.
But can these powerful images and statements and initiatives be enough? Can they become more than mere tokenisms? The gender question is loaded with ambiguities and complications in Cannes this year as it has been in the past. As it is in life in general.
For all the women joining hands in protest there have also been some boycotting the festival because of the presence of filmmaker Lars von Trier. Von Trier, who was listed persona non grata by the festival a few years ago for favouring Hitler, returned this year despite sexual harassment charges levelled against him by many, including Björk who was the star of his Dancer in the Dark .
A night with Harvey
Also, the closing film at the festival was Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. This, when Gilliam is known to have made light of the charges against Weinstein by dismissing his victims as “adults with a lot of ambition.” “Harvey opened the door for a few people, a night with Harvey that’s the price you pay…” he is reported to have said in one of his interviews. And then there are the cold facts. Despite the “female majority” jury and the seeming balance of power, Cannes couldn’t shrug off the fact that of the 21 in the main competition this year only three films are by women directors Girls of the Sun by Eva Husson, Capernaum by Nadine Labaki, and Lazzaro Felice (Happy as Lazzaro) by Alice Rohrwacher.
Meanwhile, this weekend will decide if Jane Campion will continue to remain the only woman to have won the Palme D’Or for her 1993 film The Piano or if she will finally find some company.
Blanchett admitted that she would want to see more women directors but the change can’t happen overnight. “They [women filmmakers] are not there because of their gender. They are there because of the quality of their work. We will assess them as filmmakers, as we should,” she said.
And then there are the larger questions. What were the gender issues in the bunch of films this year and what roles did women play? Is gender a woman’s only thing? Why should only women be expected to make “women-oriented” films?
Kenya’s Wanuri Kahiu, in the centre of controversy in her country for making Rafiki, a film on a lesbian relationship that features in the Un Certain Regard section, wants to make a sci-fi next but refuses to give up her gender-sexuality eye view. “I will always approach the subject with that perspective,” she told us in an interview.
While Kahiu faces a ban on her film, closer home Nandita Das’s Manto dwells on the larger issue of freedom of expression. She shows Saadat Hasan Manto as a brilliant mind, a fallible guy, and also as a feminist, one who shares a great camaraderie with his wife Safiya. Going a step ahead, Das chose the film’s première in a Un Certain Regard to put the spotlight on the two men behind her her father, the “Manto of her family,” artiste Jatin Das; and her son Vihaan, who was a part of the making of the film, sleeping in the editing suite while the film took shape.
If women shouldn’t be boxed into ‘feminist subjects’ then can men render gender issues more compellingly on screen? While Husson’s Girls of the Sun , being pitched as a Palme D’Or contender, disappointed me with its simplistic and manipulative telling of the tale of Kurdish women taking on the IS, playing on the familiar stereotyping of the mother-warrior, it was the quiet subversion and satirising of patriarchy in Jafar Panahi’s Three Faces that reached out, where the filmmaker gently guides the gender question without asserting himself or getting on the driver’s seat.
Two of the strongest women on screen in Cannes have featured in works by men Joanna Kulig as the beautiful Zula, clinging on to her love in politically tough times in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War and Tao Zhao, effortlessly managing the gambling dens and mercurial men in Jia Zhangke’s Ash Is Purest White. Should cinema then be gendered at all?
Mid-way into the festival a new charter was unveiled, aiming at improving gender parity at Cannes, which is expected to be adopted by other leading film festivals. Under the charter, Cannes will record the gender of the cast and crew of all films submitted, make public the names of selection committee members, and work towards gender parity on the Cannes board. Maybe such affirmative action is a better approach.
Meanwhile, what of the viewer? Shouldn’t one have boycotted Lars von Trier? Or walked out rather than be willingly hypnotised by his tremendous craft, despite being conscious of its underlying sadism? This festival has been as much about looking inwards into one’s own feminist heart as it has been about pointing a finger at Cannes, and the world, in general.
If women shouldn’t be boxed into ‘feminist subjects’ then can men render gender issues more compellingly on screen?
~ Tuesday 22 May 2018
Cannes of worms: true gender equality in film will take more than 'just add women'
Women working solo direct 15% of new releases – but many of those films aren’t widely screened. The problem’s not just access, but gatekeeping too
By Deb Verhoeven and Bronwyn Coate
: Kristen Stewart, Ava Duvernay and Cate Blanchett were among the 82 film industry professionals who protested gender inequality at Cannes. (Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)
Last weekend at the Cannes film festival, eyes were fixed not on the flickering images of a distant screen but on 82 women paused dramatically on the steps of the Palais.
Filmmakers, actors and lobbyists led by jury head Cate Blanchett and veteran filmmaker Agnes Varda took the red carpet opportunity of Eva Husson’s new film, Girls of the Sun, to give stark statistical visibility to a stubborn industrial deficit.
The number of protestors was not coincidental. In the entire 71 year history of Cannes only 82 women directors have climbed the festival’s stairs – in sharp contrast to 1,645 men. The under-representation of women and directors of colour at Cannes has been a longstanding feature of the festival, and despite repeated objections over many years, the numbers have barely moved. This year there were only three women directors out of 21 in the main competition. Spike Lee was the first black filmmaker in competition in four years.
In response, Cannes representatives led by artistic director Thierry Fremaux signed a diversity commitment, which promises more data transparency around film selection processes and outcomes, and improved representation of women on the festival board. But the charter pointedly rejects minimum statistical targets for films directed by women, in deference to existing “merit-based” decision-making practices. In the hands of adjudicators such as Fremaux and Blanchett, the word “merit” acts as a powerful euphemism for evenhandedness and is intended to thwart alternative calls for a numerically defined idea of balance.
The film industry generally, and Cannes in particular, has become a battleground for a galvanised feminism that includes and extends beyond the politics of visibility that has shaped the #MeToo movement. This is an industrial strength struggle that bridges a traditional division between the specific and the systemic; between data that describes the extent of the problem and data that indicates where and how to intervene. The mathematical, the statistical and the quantitative are all pivotal to understanding the operations of contemporary power. New forms of evidence and innovative analytic techniques are the critical weapons in a revitalised feminist arsenal.
At the Kinomatics Project, we have been working with a team of researchers using newly available datasets to understand the intersecting systems of gatekeeping that operate to constrain the advancement of women filmmakers. We collected data for films screening theatrically around the world from November 2012 to June 2015 – around 130 million observations, which revealed that women working as solo directors helmed 15% of all the new release movies that screened in that period. This is higher than the percentage of women directors in many key filmmaking centres at this time; in Hollywood for example, women only directed 7% of the top 250 grossing films. From a purely numerical perspective then, our findings appear to be comparatively positive.
But it’s not the full picture. If we look beyond the supply side (how many women directors) to the exposure side of the industry (how many of these filmmakers’ movies were seen by audiences in a cinema), the data is telling and terrible. Films directed by women constituted only 3% of all the screenings that occurred around the world.
When we break the data down to look at the screenings of films directed by women at a country level, we can see how filmmaker gender is distributed unevenly across the globe. In South America and Great Britain, only slightly over 2% of screenings were of films directed by a woman, while in North America and Asia the situation is only slightly improved, with just under 3% of screenings by sole women directors.
In Scandinavia the situation is markedly better, but still falls far short of parity with around 7% of screenings devoted to films directed by women. In every jurisdiction the proportion of films directed by women exceeds the percentage of screenings.
What this suggests is that strategies limited to “just add women directors and stir” are doomed to fail without attendance to additional and overlapping forms of gatekeeping, where judgements of aesthetic or business value severely impinge on women’s participation. Anna Serner, the compelling CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, has noted how consciously redefining highly gendered industry precepts such as “merit” and “risk” in the decision-making process, combined with methodical statistical verification, sparked her industry’s recent realisation of increased women’s participation: “We do the counting every month but we do the counting after taking the decisions.”
Festivals such as Cannes play a critically important role in organising and amplifying global distribution opportunities for women filmmakers, and because of this they also offer a unique opportunity for redistributing gender throughout the entire industry.
We’ve had more than 70 years of data to show us Cannes has a problem with women filmmakers. If the various directors of the Cannes film festival were truly committed to meaningful change they wouldn’t just agree to make women more countable, they would make themselves and their festival accountable. That’s a red carpet vision worth the price of a festival ticket.
• Deb Verhoeven and Bronwyn Coate are researchers in the Kinomatics Project, an international effort that collects and explores data about the creative industries.
Tuesday 22 May 2018
Cannes film festival's sexual harassment hotline – did it work?
Leading industry women spoke out passionately about sexual harassment – but some female film-makers said they continued to be mistreated
By Anna Smith
: Asia Argento, left, and director Ava DuVernay at the closing ceremony. (Stephane Mahe/Reuters)
In the post- Weinstein era, it looked as if this year’s Cannes film festival was going to be different. A sexual harassment hotline was launched by the festival, and 82 powerful industry women staged a demonstration on the steps of the Palais des Festivals. Two days later, a panel of women from the international #MeToo, Times Up and 5050x2020 movements spoke passionately about their work, before the festival’s director signed a pledge for gender parity. It was a historic moment and strangers smiled and chatted to each other, high on hope.
There was a more uncomfortable atmosphere at the closing ceremony, when actor Asia Argento spoke out. “In 1997, I was raped by Harvey Weinstein here at Cannes. I was 21 years old. This festival was his hunting ground.”
Weinstein denies all allegations of non-consensual sex made against him.
It’s likely the words “hunting ground” chimed with any woman who has been in Cannes during the festival, whether as an actor, producer, journalist or bar staff. The abuse of power in film industry meetings has been well publicised in Weinstein’s wake, but going out and about in Cannes can also be perilous – notably more so than in London, for example.
While I’ve always had a terrific time covering the festival and am treated respectfully by male colleagues, I’ve learned the need to be especially aware at night. Out on the Boulevard de la Croisette, I’ve had drunken/predatory strangers lunge at me. Less crude approaches at parties have still carried a sense of entitlement or expectation, as if any woman in a dress in Cannes were fair game. Many younger attendees I spoke to had similar experiences – or worse.
“Last year was my first time in Cannes,” says one actor and activist. “Let’s just say I mastered the art of declining advances that obviously had nothing to do with work. That includes an invitation to tag along with some people on to Weinstein’s boat – phew!” She had troubling experiences this year, too. “There were times when I still felt vulnerable and objectified. My guard was up, I didn’t drink and I wore unrevealing clothes, so I wonder: what happens when a girl is tipsy, more trusting and wearing whatever she wants?”
Incidents are also taking place in broad daylight. One writer-director had cause to call the hotline this year. “I went to the hotline because [a chauffeur] drove me away against my will and tried to molest me,” she claims. “We spoke on the phone to a lady who arranged for me to be met immediately. I made a statement and she took me to the police, acting as a translator for the whole time. The police acted very swiftly, and he was fired. Without the helpline I don’t honestly think I would have been able to get the same outcome.”
A spokesperson for one of the companies who operate the fleet of cars the chauffeur was driving said: “Her complaint has been closed as a non-case. Nevertheless we are shattered by her allegations and are taking this matter very seriously.”
It seems that the #MeToo message will take time to filter through all aspects of Cannes. Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood says: “Women are still perceived as second-class citizens all across this festival, from the types of movies that are sold in the market, to how women are still eye candy, to how women are sexually harassed, to how few women directors walk up the steps of the Palais. Having a jury led by a woman does nothing to quell the reality that men rule that town.”
That said, initiatives such as the hotline seem like a step in the right direction. Kate Kinninmont, CEO of Women in Film TV (UK), says: “I’m delighted that the festival organised a sexual harassment helpline this year. This is a great way, not only to help the people being harassed, but also to get the message out that the Cannes film festival will not put up with the predatory behaviour of the Harvey Weinsteins of the world.”
The actor also has reason for hope. “I met some men who were really sensitive to and supportive of gender equality,” she says. “One powerful Hollywood businessman told me, ‘Time is up, indeed’, while a British director asked me, ‘How can I join the movement?’”
Let’s hope we can all work together to change Cannes for the better.