Cannes Film Festival chief Thierry Frémaux sat down today for a Q&A as part of the inaugural Women in Motion program that is looking at the role of women in film. He also addressed this week’s red-carpet sandal scandal that’s seen the festival lobbed with accusations of sexism. At Competition screenings of Carol and Mon Roi, some female ticket holders were turned away based on their flat footwear. Frémaux today apologized for and denounced the actions of the security guard responsible. “It was bullsh*t,” he said. He also wanted to clear up the fest’s policy on attire: “There is a rumor that the festival obliges women to wear heels. It’s a rumor, it is not true.”
Cannes has been accused of being sexist in the past, based on the disparate numbers of female filmmakers in the Official Selection. This year, it has taken steps to address the matter with the Women in Motion program, but that security guard to a degree shot the festival in its foot as media attention turned to Heelgate.
Shifting to the focus of the Women in Motion talk today, Frémaux recalled a 2012 editorial published in Le Monde by French feminist organization La Barbe (The Beard), which decried the lack of women in the main competition that year. At the time, Frémaux said — and has maintained since — that he would never choose a film based on the sex of the director. Although he found the article unjust, he said today, “We needed this story to start the debate.”
Cannes has equally gender-divided main juries, two women in Competition this year, more in Un Certain Regard, and for the second time in history a film helmed by a woman opened the festival. What exactly is Cannes guilty of? Frémaux was asked. “The festival is guilty of a lot of things in the eyes of a lot of people. That’s just as well if, thanks to the festival, these subjects are addressed.” But, he added, “Female filmmakers don’t enjoy this debate; they feel re-discriminated against. Andrea Arnold said to me ‘I’ve had two films in Selection, I hope it’s not because I’m a woman.’ “
“We’re happy to serve as a platform for this debate, but it needs to advance… Cannes is at the end of the chain. What are the other links of the chain that would allow women access to the directing profession in larger numbers?” Frémaux wondered. He has previously suggested that quotas should perhaps be imposed on film schools in order to train more female directors. “We have to act. When we act, there are results.”
But, “Cannes is only a reflection of things. People say, ‘Cannes is very political.’ That’s not us, it’s the filmmakers. ‘Cannes is very romantic.’ Not us, the films. ‘Cannes is very pornographic.’ Not us, Gaspar Noé,” he quipped, referring to Noé’s sex-heavy Official Selection title Love.
Then, although he admitted it might add fuel to the fire, he asked the room, “Who went to check out how many women were in Competition in Berlin? Venice? No one.” The plight of female filmmakers is a perennial issue here and Frémaux said he wished it would be addressed and discussed off the Riviera, too. “It annoys me very much because it’s May 21. I’d prefer it be November 21 and that outside Cannes we could talk about this.”
Still, “If there is one place where female filmmakers are welcome and celebrated, it’s here,” he declared. He later added, “Our dream would be to have a festival where there are no film credits so no one would know the sex of the director.”