Arriving on the Lido, The Nightingale filmmaker Jennifer Kent was primed for questions about being the only female director in the Venice Film Festival competition, something she first addressed with Deadline earlier this week. What she may not have expected at her press conference this afternoon, was to be fielding questions about disgraceful reactions during one of last night’s press screenings.
Although they were said to be isolated, what has been described as “violently sexist and racist” reactions were heard by some at one of the two showings. That included applause at an inappropriate moment and what is believed to have been a member of the Italian press shouting, “Shame on you!,” punctuated by a derogatory term used for women, when Kent’s name appeared in the credits.
Asked about the incident today, Kent responded with grace, saying, “I think it’s of absolute importance to react with compassion and love for ignorance. There is no other option. The film speaks very clearly to that. I am very proud of the film and my crew for daring to tell a story that needs to be told. Love, compassion, kindness are our lifeline and if we don’t utilize them we will all go down the plughole.”
Reactions to The Nightingale so far, apart from the isolated incidents last night, have been positive. Certainly the press conference corps hooted and applauded when Kent was introduced this afternoon. Reviews will be in later today.
Deadline has reached out the festival for comment on any action it may take regarding the incident which is yet another in an event marked by bursts of controversy this year. The most constant issue has certainly been Kent’s status as the sole woman on the main roster.
Kent said today that her position, “brings me no joy. It’s not about me, but it is quite hard for me because I wish I had my sister filmmakers here. It’s important we move towards gender-parity. Cinema’s job is to reflect the world and if we only reflect 50% of the world, then it’s not doing its job. It’s a very serious issue.”
Looking to the future, Kent added, “There are other filmmakers that are under-represented: Indigenous filmmakers, filmmakers of color, filmmakers from developing countries, filmmakers who don’t identify as cisgender men or women. We still have a lot of way to go.”
Nightingale producer Bruna Papandrea said getting women in front of the camera as well as behind is a subject close to her heart. “There has been resistance to stories concerning women and a perception that if a film has a woman at its center, it’s a film for women. I commend the festival for putting women at the center of their movies.” As we reported last week, while there is a clear issue with female filmmaker representation here, the movies boast a number of very strong female actors and roles, The Nightingale included.
It centers on a young Irish convict, Clare (Game Of Thrones’ Aisling Franciosi, who charmed the press today with her command of Italian). She is bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence committed against her family by British officer Hawkins (The Hunger Games’ Sam Claflin). To find him, she enlists the help of Billy (Bayakali Ganambarr), a young Aboriginal tracker as they chase through the rugged wilderness of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania).
Kent said she put her actors through the ropes during rehearsal. “I sent them out into the wilderness for three days with a compass and a carrot or something and left them with nature. They had a person following them, but quite far behind. But the experiment worked. They came back psychologically damaged. I like to torture my actors, but hopefully gently,” she smiled.
On how she treated the brutal violence in the movie, Kent said, “The rule for me is there must always be some element of beauty left for the soul. I hope horror and beauty exist side-by-side. I don’t think it’s important to see gratuitous violence, but the violence is so abhorrent that I did want people to see what Clare was going through. We are so dumbed down and numbed to violence. We can watch a movie when 50 people die and feel nothing. This is objectionable and disagreeable to me. I wanted to show the human cost of violence.”