Cannes Film Festival director defends record on women

By Jake Coyle, Associated Press

A year after 82 women protested en masse on the red carpet, the Cannes Film Festival has defended its record on female film-makers.

For the first time, it also divulged data on its selection process.

Addressing reporters on the eve of the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, director Thierry Fremaux spoke at length, both touting the festival’s strides in gender parity and bristling at what he described as Cannes being held to an impossible standard.

Following pressure by 50/50×2020, the French sister group to Time’s Up, Fremaux last May signed a pledge – with Cate Blanchett, Ava DuVernay and others looking on – promising to make the festival’s selection process more transparent and to push its executive boards towards gender parity.

This year, Cannes’s selection committee was 50% female for the first time.

The festival said it received 1,845 feature film submissions from 39 countries, 26% were directed by women.

Its official selection of 69 films, both features and shorts, included 19 films directed by women, or 27.5%.

For the second time in two years, Fremaux held a press conference defending Cannes from its critics, the day before Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die will open the festival.

“When we signed this charter, the idea was never that the selection would be based on gender parity,” he said on Monday.

“All the films in the official selection – and there are 15 women directors in all, 20 if you add the shorts – all these films are there because in our view as the people who selected the films, they really deserve to have been selected.

“There have never been so many women directors in the official selection because there have never been so many women directors in the industry as a whole.”

Fremaux said Cannes is criticised in a way that other festivals and social organisations are not.

“The Cannes Film Festival has to be impeccable and absolutely perfect,” he said.

“Of course we try to be perfect.

“No-one has asked me to have 50% of films made by women. That would show a lack of respect.”

50/50X2020 said it will review the findings in a press conference in Cannes on Friday.

Jane Campion is the only female film-maker to have won the Palme d’Or (Ian West/PA)

Issues of gender equality have resonated particularly in Cannes, where only one female film-maker – Jane Campion in 1993 for The Piano – has ever won the festival’s top award, the Palme d’Or.

Women directors have also never numbered more than four in the main slate of approximately 20 films.

Not wearing high heels has even, as recently as four years ago, been a reason for denying entry to a premiere.

Cannes is also where Harvey Weinstein was a prominent regular for decades.

At the festival’s closing ceremony last May, Italian film-maker Asia Argento declared on the stage: “In 1997, I was raped by Harvey Weinstein here at Cannes.

“I was 21-years-old. This festival was his hunting ground.”

Weinstein has denied the encounter was rape.

This year’s festival has also attracted some backlash to its selections.

In competition is Abdellatif Kechiche, whose Blue Is the Warmest Color won the Palme d’Or in 2013.

In October, Paris authorities launched an investigation into a sexual assault allegation against the director. Kechiche has denied it.

The decision to give Alain Delon, the 83-year-old French acting legend of Le Samourai and The Leopard, an honorary Palme d’Or prompted an online petition against it.

Deon has acknowledged slapping women in the past and said he opposes the adoption of children by same-sex parents.

Fremaux said Delon comes from another generation and that he’s free to express his views, whatever they are.

“We’re not giving Alain Delon the Nobel Peace Prize,” said Fremaux.