Cannes Film Festival 2018: The Fight for Inclusion Continues — Moira Sullivan reports

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cannes festival 2018 logoOfficially, this was the year for women at Cannes. It is a year that is only meaningful if the number of films made by women selected to the festival increases. The realization that Cannes is a hunting ground for sexual predators can never be erased thanks to Asia Argento’s face to face in the closing ceremony. Festival de Cannes may not continue under the same exclusive terms of the past, but this is the year where acknowledging the achievements of women was dynamically profiled. Inclusion is yet to come. Continue reading…

The 71st Cannes Film Festival was an extraordinary year that began with a triumphant overture – a protest for inclusion of women in the official competition spearheaded by Cannes Jury President Cate Blanchett and Agnès Varda. The jury composed of four men and women was called a female-centric entity based on sheer numbers, something that the media never thinks to count for this showcase of film directed almost exclusively by men. In the Palme d’Or closing ceremony, music from the “Wonder Woman” soundtrack accompanied almost every award given out as if the choices were made by “empowered women” not established film professionals. Between the protests and the awards, underrepresentation in all events poses the question why do women want to have equality in a pageant that is just not interested in our work? The Fight for Inclusion” is a real struggle but is it worth it?

Three films directed by women of 18 films were chosen by the selection committee composed overwhelmingly of men and one or two women overseen by artistic director Thierry Frémaux – two for French films, three for international films, and several film experts posted around the world, Yet two women walked away with top prizes: Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum (Lebanon) won the jury prize and Alice Rohrwacher won best screenplay for Lazzaro Felice (Italy). Rohrwacher, who previously won the Grand Prix in 2014 for The Wonders, made an enchanting film about a peasant community under the control of the miserly Marchesa De Luna who runs a tobacco plantation. Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo), a happy go lucky young worker, is befriended by Tancredi, the son of the Marchesa and both hide in the mountains with the wolves in Rohrwacher’s brilliant storytelling. When they come down it is 20 years later.

Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum was clearly a strong contender for the Palme d’Or with powerful innovative shots, skilled editing and layering with a dynamic soundtrack. Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), a 12-year-old boy, watches his sister Sahar sold into sexual slavery by his parents and runs away in protest. He is taken in by Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), an Ethiopian refugee with a young son and finds himself nursemaid in the slums of Beirut when she doesn’t return home one day. In inverted narrative order, we learn why he later decides to sue his parents for bringing him into the world.

When the awards were announced May 19, I sat in the company of primarily male film critics (some of them smelling pretty badly after 10 days) who talked throughout the ceremony held at Théatre Debussy adjacent to the Grand Théatre Lumière. They loudly booed Nadine Labaki’s award. There should have been a hidden camera to capture the divide between critics and jury. Male film critics called it “poverty porn” because of layered shots of the Beirut slums, an arrogant label that could have been leveled against Palme d’Or winner Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters about a family of petty thieves that adopt an abandoned child off the streets or Mohammed Hefsky’s Yommedine about a leper collecting garbage in Egypt who later meets other outcasts from society.

It is not only the selection committee that does not acknowledge the work of women, but the male dominated field of film criticism. This is where labels are created that become attached to films, and reviews that steer the public to like a film immediately or not at all. Screen Daily and Le Cinéma Français use a grid of stars to announce what a group of male critics think about the films, trades widely read at the festival. Most of the 4000 journalists are men, particularly for the photo calls on the Red Carpet, aiming lenses to create the illusion of the glamour of the festival. The Red Carpet is dirty and stained – a short piece of thin cloth that extends to the ascending staircase mounted by men and women in dress code: tuxes, high heels and evening gowns. The official “history” of Cannes is written by men.

The official jury delegates and Thierry Frémaux attended the 5050 2020 seminar, a growing industry movement for gender equality introduced in 2013 at Cannes by the CEO of the Swedish Film Institute Anna Serner. She revealed at the time she was ridiculed for speaking out by the men in the Swedish film industry. Several non-mainstream events clustered before the first Cannes weekend. The Swedish Film Institute (SFI) and Women in Film & TV International (WIFTI) presented “Working for Change: Filmmaking in the New Landscape”. At the Irish Pavilion sponsored by “Women and Hollywood”, representatives from Eurimages and its “Gender Working Group”, the BFI Film Fund, the New Zealand Film Commission and the South African Screen Federation discussed “The Fight of Inclusion” by women working in film. Other parallel events included a panel on next moves for #MeToo. At least 50-50 gender parity by 2020 is doable. It happened in Sweden before 2020 and last year was adopted by the BFI in the UK. If not, Cannes must resign itself to be a sophisticated well-dressed and well-heeled dinosaur like James Bond – irrelevant to the needs of today. This year Thierry Frémaux – did not seem to be digging in his heels against change.

The most radical event on the periphery of the festival was a presentation by filmmaker Nina Menkes who spoke about the inbuilt misogyny in the language of film. “We’ve all heard the phrase “the objectification of women”, argues Menkes, “but most don’t know how precisely and insidiously this objectification manifests itself cinematically inside the very details of shot design”. The event was sponsored by THE VOICE OF A WOMAN FILM FESTIVAL in New York.

Since 2013, the Kering Talks: Women in Motion have showcased the work of women working in the industry. Guests have included Jodie Foster, Robin Wright, Agnès Varda, Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Huppert, Jane Fonda, Claire Denis, Carey Mulligan, and Salma Hayek. The Kering Group acquired its fortune through fashion brand names for leather goods, jewelry and watchmaking for women. The CEO is Francois-Henri Pinault, Salma Hayek’s husband. This year a posh dinner was held that fits in with the look and feel of Cannes – a gala event that was one of the reasons why Cannes opened 10 days earlier this year. Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins was given the “Woman on the Move Award”.

In other festival sections, the presence of women was more visible. In the Un Certain Regard eight films were directed by women: Rafiki, Wanura Kahiu (Kenya), a film centering on two Kenyan lesbians (banned in Kenya) , Sofia (awarded best screenplay), Meryem Benm’Barek (Morocco,) Euforia, Valeria Golino (Italy) My Favorite Fabric, Gaya Jiji (Syria) , Angel Face,Vanessa Filho (France), and Manto, Nandita Das, (India), Andréa Bescond/Eric Metayer, Little Tickles (France), and The Dead and the Others (awarded Jury Special Prize) by João Salaviza/Renée Nader Messora (Brazil).

In the outdoor cinema section, Cinema de la Plage, seven films by men were screened including Hitcock’s Vertigo (1951) and only one by a woman directed by honorary Palme d’ Or winner -Agnès Varda – One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977). In the Cannes Classics section of restored films and documentaries were Margarethe von Trotta’s Searching for Ingmar Bergman (2018), Swedish director Jane Magnusson’s Bergman – A Year in the Life and Susan Lacy’s Jane Fonda in Five Acts. Also included was a tribute to the very first film director Alice Guy Blaché: “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché” by Pamela Green who stated that “If Alice and many other female filmmakers were known throughout the years we would not have to right the severe imbalance of male to female makers or even make a distinction between them”. In the restored film section only one of 20 films was directed by a woman -Fad’Jal (1979) by Sengalese director Safi Faye.

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Moira Sullivan

Moira Sullivan is an international film critic, scholar, lecturer, promoter and experimental filmmaker based in San Francisco. She is a member of FIPRESCI (Federation of International Film Critics) and has a PhD in cinema studies. Sullivan is one of the world's experts on the work of the legendary filmmaker Maya Deren (1917-1961). A native of San Francisco, Sullivan wrote her doctoral thesis and subsequent publication on Maya Deren's avantgarde and ethnographic filmmaking. Sullivan has been invited to special universities and art schools honoring Maya Deren in Italy, France, Germany, Sweden and the USA. Since 1995 Sullivan has been a staff writer for Movie Magazine International, San Francisco and does weekly radio reports on film reviews, film events and festivals. She also writes from named for Agnès Varda.