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This year’s Cannes Film Festival competition announcement continues a worrying trend in the history of the lauded festival: a slate dominated by male directors. The 2018 competition lineup includes the highest number of films from female filmmakers since 2014 (17.6%, three out of 17 currently announced films) — but that’s only a sign of growth due to the even smaller number of films from women in the 2017 lineup.
This year’s festival will play home to new works from Nadine Labaki, Eva Husson, and Alice Rohrwacher, who will compete in a smaller competition section (although the festival may add more films in the days ahead).
As happened last year, when the festival’s competition slate also included just three female directors, the 2018 edition of the event cut down slightly on the competition entries. The section typically vacillates between 23 and 18 offerings each year, which means the total percentage of competing female filmmakers was yet again nominally bumped up even though the actual number was the same.
Like 2017, the bulk of the women in competition have been to the festival before. However, last year, all three were competition veterans — while this time around, the festival is making room for a relative newcomer. Husson is the only female director making her debut at the festival this year, having previously earned accolades for her 2015 debut “Bang Gang,” which premiered at Toronto.
Rohrwacher’s features have only premiered at Cannes, including her 2011 debut “Corpo Celeste” (which was on the Directors’ Fortnight slate) and her Grand Prix-winning followup “The Wonders.”
Labaki is also a Cannes regular, a graduate of the festival’s Residence program, during which she wrote “Caramel,” which opened in Directors’ Fortnight in 2007. And her second film, “Where Do We Go Now?,” screened in Un Certain Regard in 2011. Two years ago, Labaki was a member of the Un Certain Regard jury, which awarded its highest prize to Grímur Hákonarson’s “Rams.”
This year’s slate may include the second-highest percentage of female filmmakers over the last 18 years, besting last year’s lineup (15.8%, three films out of 19), and by once again lowering the total number of films presented. The festival’s high note was 2011, when 4 out of 20 competing films were made by women. That year came only after a series of notably inequities; in 2010 and 2005, there were no women in the competition lineup — a feat that Cannes repeated in 2012.
In 2016, artistic director Thierry Frémaux tried to pass off Cannes’ lack of female-directed films as a simple product of the industry lacking female filmmakers.
At the time, he told Screen Daily, “Nine out of 49 of the filmmakers [at the festival] are women. That’s 20% of the selection. What percentage of filmmakers in the world are women? According to a recent report, it’s 7%. I’ve been saying this for four years now but what you see in Cannes is a consequence, not the cause. More needs to be done in the film schools, the universities and the production houses, to favour women, and then you would see results.”
At this year’s lineup press conference, Frémaux took a slightly different tactic when asked about the disparity between male and female directors in the competition lineup, instead opting to bolster the women who are represented on the slate.
“There are three female movie-makers in competition,” he said, going on to add that there “may be four” after the usual late additions are announced. He also made sure to mention the female representation on the juries, including the competition jury, which is headed up by Cate Blanchett, and the Golden Camera, which will be led by Ursula Meier.
Frémaux dodges questions about the dearth of women directors by arguing that “the films that were selected were chosen for their own intrinsic qualities” and that “there will never be a positive discrimination in favor of women” when it comes to the festival’s selection process. Later, he acknowledged that the festival could stand to have another Palme d’Or-winning female filmmaker — so far, only Jane Campion has broken that glass ceiling, winning the honor in 1993 with her “The Piano.”
“We’d like to have another [female director winning the] Palme d’Or,” Frémaux admitted, adding that he suspected that Campion would be pleased to have another woman join her ranks.
There are some glimmers of hope elsewhere in the program. Also announced today, the Un Certain Regard section — which often touts high numbers of female filmmakers — nearly reached parity with its slate, as six of its 13 films were directed by women. For cinephiles looking for future talent, the section continues to provide a sharp look at the kind of rising stars that have already earned the festival’s attention and remain poised to break out. That outcome seems to be at odds with Frémaux’s remarks about the lack of strong women filmmakers available to the festival during its programming process.
Elsewhere, the Cinéfondation selection — which accepts short and medium-length film submission from film schools around the world — picked a total of 17 films this year, a slate that includes 12 female directors or co-directors from a total pool of 22. And still other Cannes sidebar programs will be announced in the coming days as well, including standalone festivals Critics Week and Directors’ Fortnight.