WEEK IN WOMEN news roundup: Women protest on the red carpet at Cannes, Jessica Chastain-led spy thriller ‘355’ makes a big deal, Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine helps launch female filmmaker program for teen girls

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Iconic French filmmaker Agnes Varda appears in her film "The Beaches of Agnes." PBS photo

Iconic French filmmaker Agnes Varda appears in her film “The Beaches of Agnes.” PBS photo

Actors Salma Hayek and Jane Fonda, “Wonder Woman” filmmaker Patty Jenkins, legendary French director Agnes Varda (“Faces, Places,” “The Beaches of Agnes,” “Cleo from 5 to 7”) and many more joined the five female members of this year’s Cannes Film Festival jury to step out and step up for what the Associated Press described as an “unprecedented red carpet protest” Saturday at the prestigious French film festival.

The AP reports that 82 women climbed the steps of the Palais des Festivals at Cannes to call for improved gender equality in the film industry.

The number of stars, filmmakers and film industry professionals ascending the steps represented the number of female filmmakers who have been selected to compete at Cannes during the festival’s seven-decade history.

In contrast to their 82, 1,866 films directed by men have been picked for the prestigious festival lineup, according to the AP.

Organizers said the event was orchestrated by the Time’s Up movement in Hollywood as well as the French movement known as 5020×2020 to show “how hard it is still to climb the social and professional ladder” for women.

The five female members of this year’s Cannes jury – president Cate Blanchett, Kristen Stewart, Ava DuVernay, Lea Seydoux and Burundian singer Khadja Nin – have been making the call for better gender parity loud and clear so far throughout the festival. Blanchett read a statement atop the Palais steps in English, while Varda, a recipient of an honorary Palme d’Or at Cannes, read it in French.

Here’s the statement, as reported by Variety (which also has video of it if you follow the link):

“Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of our industry says otherwise,” Blanchett said. “As women, we all face our own unique challenges, but we stand together on these steps today as a symbol of our determination and our commitment to progress. We are writers, we are producers, we are directors, actresses, cinematographers, talent agents, editors, distributors, sales agents, and all of us are involved in the cinematic arts. And we stand today in solidarity with women of all industries.”

“We expect our institutions to actively provide parity and transparency in their executive bodies and provide safe environments in which to work,” Blanchett continued. “We expect our governments to make sure that the laws of equal pay for equal work are upheld. We demand that our workplaces are diverse and equitable so that they can best reflect the world in which we actually live. A world that allows all of us in front and behind the camera, all of us, to thrive shoulder to shoulder with our male colleagues.”

“The stairs of our industry must be accessible to all. Let’s climb,” she concluded

According to Variety, Cannes has come under fire for not acknowledging the #MeToo and Time’s Up initiatives like other film festivals and industry events like the Golden Globes and Oscars. Organizers also have been criticized for not promoting female filmmakers more aggressively.

Only three of the 18 films in competition this year are from female filmmakers — Cannes’ best showing since 2011.

Jessica Chastain appears in a scene from "Molly's Game." STX Entertainment photo

Jessica Chastain appears in a scene from “Molly’s Game.” STX Entertainment photo

Jessica Chastain-led spy thriller ‘355’ is a big deal at Cannes

In one of the biggest deals of the Cannes market, Universal Pictures has acquired U.S. rights to the female-fronted spy film “355,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

According to the trade publication, a source close to the deal pegged the price tag at $20 million. The budget on the film is said to be $75 million-plus.

Jessica Chastain (“Molly’s Game”), Marion Cotillard (“La Vie en Rose”), Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”), Fan Bingbing (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”) and Lupita Nyong’o (Marvel’s “Black Panther”) are to star in the spy adventure.

Heading into the market, “355,” directed by the Simon Kinberg (who is also helming next year’s femme-centric comic-book sequel “X-Men: Dark Phoenix”), was expected to cause the biggest stir due to the star power of the quintet, each bringing in a fanbase from a disparate box-office territory. It’s an especially big deal to have Fan on board, since she is one of the biggest stars in China.

There’s no script yet, but the plot is said to revolve around five spies from agencies around the world who form their own team, dubbed “355.” Theresa Rebeck (“Catwoman” as well as TV’s “NYPD: Blue” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”) is writing the screenplay.

As reported above, it’s great timing for the project, with women demanding their equal place amid the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements – and especially visibly at Cannes.

Interestingly, The Hollywood Reporter notes that Cruz previously had been rumored to be taking a role as a so-called “Bond girl” in the next 007 outing. Instead, it seems she will topline what is hoped to be a franchise starter with “355.” In my opinion, that’s a much better use for an Oscar-winning talent of her caliber.

Chastain, who has been one of the most vocal movie stars on gender equity issues in Hollywood, is producing through her Freckle Films banner. Freckle’s Kelly Carmichael and Kinberg also are producing.

Reese Witherspoon appears in a scene from "Big Little Lies." HBO photo

Reese Witherspoon appears in a scene from “Big Little Lies.” HBO photo

Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine helps launch female filmmaker program for teen girls

To address the gender imbalance in moviemaking and bring more diversity to the screen, AT&T, Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine banner and Fresh Films have joined forces to create the AT&T Hello Sunshine Filmmaker Lab.

The lab is described in a news release as “an unforgettable opportunity for young women to immerse themselves in a professional film production and learn from industry experts, including Reese herself.”

“Everyone at Hello Sunshine is ecstatic about this program where we can share our resources with young female storytellers and filmmakers,” says Witherspoon (who produced the acclaimed films “Gone Girl” and “Wild” and the award-winning HBO series “Big Little Lies” before splitting with Pacific Standard partner Bruna Papandrea and forming Hello Sunshine) in a statement.

“Hopefully, it will provide young women with the tools to tell their own stories , and ultimately, start a chain reaction that leads to continued access and opportunity for them in our industry.”

We’ve been over them on this blog many times before, but the news release reminds of the dismal statistics, which we’re going to keep repeating here until we at least see some change: Although women make up about 50 percent of moviegoers, they represent only 17 percent of creators in Hollywood, outnumbered by men in most roles within film and TV production, from writing and cinematography to production and editing jobs.

“AT&T is excited to collaborate with Hello Sunshine and Fresh Films to support the next generation of female filmmakers,” said Charlene Lake, senior vice president of corporate social responsibility for AT&T, in a statement. “It is critical that we develop a pipeline of talent who will create content that captures diverse perspectives and stories.  We’re looking forward to working with the exceptional young women selected for this program and supporting their journey as storytellers.”

Through the AT&T Hello Sunshine Filmmaker Lab, which will be July 30-Aug. 6 in Los Angeles, teen girls will learn the ins-and-outs of storytelling and production as they rotate through all key filmmaking positions – from camera and editing to sound and costume – while being mentored by professionals from Fresh Films, AT&T and Hello Sunshine.

Hello Sunshine was launched in November 2016 by Witherspoon in partnership with The Chernin Group and AT&T under Otter Media’s growing portfolio.

Girls 13 to 18 years of age with a passion for storytelling and creating videos can apply online at www.att.com/filmmakerlab  through June 10 to become one of 20 teen girls selected for the experience.

The program is free and open to teen girls of any experience level. And like in all Fresh Films programs, teen girls in the AT&T Hello Sunshine Filmmaker Lab program will gain career skills and practical experience on a real project.  This hands-on, on-set experience will grow the teen’s problem solving, communication, collaboration and tech skills.

Fresh Films’ past summer programs for teens have produced feature film “The Stream,” featuring Mario Lopez and Rainn Wilson, as well as Emmy-nominated kids’ TV show “Detectives Club.”  Fresh Films is the nonprofit arm of Dreaming Tree Films, according to the news release, has been engaging youth behind the camera and creating youth-targeted TV shows, films and original content since 2002, all with the goal to make a difference in young lives.

“Fresh Films was a great program to work with. I thought the skills they were offering to teach were so priceless,” said Maya Brown, a Fresh Films alum who participated in the summer program sponsored by AT&T in 2017, in a statement. “AT&T did a great job by sponsoring this program through influencing young minds to invest their time in something productive and magical.”

Future employers of these female moviemakers can take note: According to research compiled by Women and Hollywood, the inclusion of more female perspectives at all levels within the film industry results in more diverse and interesting storytelling. Additionally, female directors consistently employ more diverse production teams and casts, and films with diverse cast enjoy the highest median global box office.

In short, as the news release notes, bringing voices of women to the industry means making better and higher-grossing movies. Personally, I like the sound of that.


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