With no women directors in the main competition at Cannes this year, the festival has been the focus for an outcry about sexism in the film industry. As the debate rages on, we speak to three women working in the business to get their views…
This week, as the great and good of the film world descend on Cannes, there’s a stink in the air – and it’s not just the Roquefort.
On Saturday French newspaper Le Monde published a comment piece accusing the festival of sexism. Although seven films directed by women will be screened, not one of the 22 directors competing for the prestigious Palme d’Or is female. For the article’s authors, two prominent female directors and an actress, the absence of women in the main competition is Cannes’ way of saying that when it comes to celluloid, “men like depth in women, but only in their cleavage.”
Festival director Thierry Frémaux has hit back, saying that the films have been chosen on merit alone and stressing, “We would never agree to select a film that doesn’t deserve it on the basis it was made by a woman.” His view is shared by Rebecca O’Brien, producer of The Angel’s Share, the only film in the shortlist with a British director – Ken Loach. “Cannes’ job is to present what they believe are the best films that year. It’s not like they’ve got a female phobia. If Cannes aren’t choosing women filmmakers, it’s that there aren’t that many to choose from,” she says.
Women make up less than 10% of film directors. That means for every Kathryn Bigelow, Lynne Ramsey and Andrea Arnold, there are at least nine more male directors. Why? It’s a question that has preoccupied Lynda Myles, Head of Fiction Direction at the National Film and Television School, for 40 years. “In 1972 I organised the first women’s film festival in Europe with two colleagues – Laura Mulvey and the late Claire Johnson,” she says. “We showed almost every film by a woman director that we could get hold of, going back to silent cinema. What I find peculiar is that the issues haven’t changed very much and the answers don’t seem to get any clearer.”
Kate Kinninmont, Chief Executive of Women in Film and TV, thinks the question relates to women’s wider cultural position. As she points out: “There are fewer head teachers of secondary schools that are women, there are fewer judges who are women. There are fewer women in the cabinet, there are fewer chief executives of FTSE companies.” For Rebecca O’Brien, there is also a problem of emphasis. “There is a myth that the director is the only filmmaker, but filmmaking is a communal effort,” she says. A 2011 study of the top 250 grossing films in the US, by Professor Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University, found that, while 5% were directed by women, significantly more – 25% – were produced by them. “If it were a female world I suspect you would see a more equal standing given to the roles that the women take on,” says O’Brien. “You wouldn’t have people saying, ‘Oh why aren’t there more women?’”
Even so, 25% is hardly representative. Though we clearly have some way to go until female filmmakers equal their male counterparts in number, Kate Kinnenmont is optimistic about the future. “We’ve got generations of women filmmakers that we didn’t have before. It used to be terribly expensive to get film equipment – now you just need to have a phone,” she says, adding: “If you want to direct, get on with it.”
Women in Film and Television
Membership organisation for women working in creative media.
Women and Hollywood
Blog about issues relating to women in film and popular culture.
The Bechdel Test
A simple test for determining the active presence of female characters in movies.
Birds Eye View
Organisation celebrating and supporting women filmmakers.
Advice on the many roles in the film industry.
Image: Bratz the Movie by puuikibeach on a CC BY 2.0 license.
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