2019 Cannes Film Festival lineup brings good news and bad news for women directors

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Festival director Thierry Fremaux, left, and festival president Pierre Lescure in front of the Cannes International Film Festival poster for the upcoming 72nd edition during a press conference to announce this years line up in Paris, Thursday, April 18, 2019.

The initial lineup for France’s Cannes Film Festival has been unveiled, and there’s good news and bad news for women directors.

As previously reported, it’s been 11 months since 82 women – including Ava DuVernay, Kristen Stewart, Marion Cotillard, Salma Hayek, Jane Fonda and Patty Jenkins – climbed the steps of the Palais des Festivals at Cannes 2018 to call for improved gender equality in the film industry. Cannes 2018 jury president Cate Blanchett read a statement atop the Palais steps in English – while legendary French filmmaker Agnes Varda, who died last month, read it in French – noting that “Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of our industry says otherwise.”

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

With the announcement of this year’s lineup, Cannes has a new best since 2011 for female filmmakers … because four will have their work in the main competition at the 72nd fest.

The four films from women that will be in the main competition this year are “Atlantique” by Mati Diop, “Little Joe” by Jessica Hausner, “Sibyl” by Justine Triet, and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” by Céline Sciamma, according to Variety.

So, the number is going the right direction, but clearly, we have a long way to go.

Those four women represent more than 21 percent of the 19 competition entries that have been announced so far. That’s a boost from 14 percent in 2018 and 16 percent in 2017. It could also improve if more competition titles are added at a later date, as is often the case, as Variety notes.

Overall, 13 female directors are represented in the 47-film official selection, with two of the women co-directors on the same film.

Cannes’ numbers lag behind those of other high-profile film festivals: Women directed 46 percent of the competition titles at this January’s Sundance Film Festival, and 40 percent of the competition films at the Berlin Film Festival in February.

So, Cannes obviously has a lot of work to do to make up ground. But, again, this year indicates that the event is at least moving in the right direction: Over its first 71 years, only 4.3 percent of competition entries were directed by women, or 82 movies, while more than 1,600 men vied for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s highest honor, over that period. Only one woman, “The Piano’s” Jane Campion, has ever won that top prize.

That 82 is why that number of women made a stand on the steps at least year’s festival. Perhaps as an indication that organizers heard and accepted that call for change, the festival’s official poster this year pays homage to Varda, a recipient of an honorary Palme d’Or. The poster shows her audaciously standing on the back of a technician to get a shot for her first film, 1955’s “La Pointe Courte.”

A day after that 2018 protest, Blanchett, Stewart, DuVernay and others looked on as  artistic director Thierry Fremaux signed a pledge to improve gender parity at international film festivals. Last week, Fremaux said that this year’s selection committee was equally balanced between men and women, according to Variety.

Again, it’s a step in the right direction, but obviously, we need to see more movement from one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals to ensure that women are being fairly represented.

The 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival will run from May 14 to 25. Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu will serve as jury president. American film director Jim Jarmusch’s ensemble zombie comedy film “The Dead Don’t Die” will be the opening film of the fest.


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