SPOTLIGHT ON GENDER AT CANNES
CANNES, FRANCE — The imagery was stark, if inevitable: 12 Palme d’Or winners, one of them female.
When the Cannes Film Festival celebrated its 70th anniversary on Tuesday, it assembled luminaries from across cinema as well as many of the recent winners of its top prize. Jane Campion was the only female director among the honoured group, which included Roman Polanski, David Lynch and Michael Haneke.
But that Campion, who won for “The Piano” in 1993, would stand out was a foregone conclusion. She’s not just the only female filmmaker to win the Palme who was there Tuesday, she’s also the only female filmmaker to win the Palme, ever.
“Seventy years of Cannes, 76 Palme d’Or (winners), only one of them has gone to a woman,” said French actress Isabelle Huppert in her opening remarks at the ceremony. “No comment.” (Actresses Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux shared in the 2013 win for “Blue is the Warmest Color.”)
The next morning, gender inequality in Cannes and behind the camera remained at the forefront. Sofia Coppola, one of three female filmmakers out of 19 in competition for the Palme this year, premièred her latest, “The Beguiled.”
It’s a remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 film but told with a more female point of view. It’s a Civil War thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst in which a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) is taken in by an all-girls school in Virginia. Siegel’s film, starring Clint Eastwood, had an undeniably male point of view. Some have called it misogynistic, whereas Coppola’s film was hailed as her most feminist work yet.
Kidman used the film’s première to call attention to statistics that show the mammoth gap between male and female directors — a disparity that prompted a federal investigation into Hollywood hiring practices by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A study by San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Film released earlier this year found that just 7 per cent of 2016’s 250 top-grossing films were directed by women.
“We as women have to support female directors, that’s a given now,” said Kidman. “Everyone is saying it’s so different now — but it isn’t. Listen to the statistics.”
The selections of the Cannes Film Festival couldn’t be further apart from Hollywood’s blockbuster business. But the festival’s inclusiveness to female filmmakers has long been criticized. An all-male lineup in Cannes’ Palme d’Or competition in 2012 sparked protests.
Cannes organizers have consistently argued that they simply program the best films they can, regardless of the filmmaker’s gender. The festival’s rundown of Tuesday’s evening, in response to Huppert’s zinger, noted that Cannes has “year in and year out highlighted the profiles, stories and views of women.”
There are quibbles with Cannes’ selections every year. This year’s festival represents an uptick, with 12 projects from female filmmakers (including the episodes of Campion’s series “Top of the Lake”).
“I guess there’s three instead of two this year,” Coppola said in an earlier interview, referring to the competition lineup. “I think they have more there than we do (in the U.S.). There’s always been more of a tradition of female filmmakers in France and internationally.”
Yet some were still wondering about the filmmakers who didn’t make it into the competition. Claire Denis’ “Let the Sunshine In” opened the festival’s Director’s Fortnight section, but was received by many critics as one of the festival’s best.
“What does one of the world’s most highly regarded filmmakers have to do to earn a competition slot at the Festival de Cannes?” wrote Los Angeles Times critic Justin Chang.
“That was a question many were asking in regard to Claire Denis — and not for the first time.”
On the set of “The Beguiled,” called Sofia Coppola’s most feminist work yet. Top row, from left: Addison Riecke, Elle Fanning, Emma Howard and Angourie Rice. Bottom row: Kirsten Dunst, director Coppola, Oona Laurence and Nicole Kidman.
Sofia Coppola, flanked by Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst, attend “The Beguiled” screening at the Cannes Film Festival.