Cannes: Record-Tying Four Films By Women Directors In Competition Signals Slow Progress

Celine Sciamma

After coming under fire in recent years for the scarcity of women directors in its main competition, the Cannes Film Festival this year selected a record-equaling four films by women filmmakers among its 19-strong lineup.

This matches the same number of women filmmakers who competed for the Palme d’Or in 2011.

The four Competition films chosen with female filmmakers this year are Mati Diop’s Atlantique, Jessica Hausner’s Little Joe, Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Young Lady on Fire and Justine Triet’s Sibyl. An additional nine female directors are included in other festival strands.

In total, 13 of the 47 films in the official selection revealed today are directed by women, or about 28%. That’s a smaller percentage than this year’s Sundance or last year’s Toronto festivals but is an improvement on most previous editions of Cannes.

Cannes chief Thierry Fremaux said at the lineup press conference Thursday that this year’s selection will include “beautiful portraits of women, not only by female directors, but also by men.” He added the festival would reveal data on the number of women filmmakers submitted to the festival, and he gave a special shoutout to Pippa Branco’s Special Screening movie Share, which he said will provide a “shock” to the Croisette.

Four out of 19 doesn’t seem a remarkable return in itself, but given the history of this and many other A-list European festivals, it’s at least a step in the right direction.

Between 2016-2018, only three female filmmakers made it into Competition each year. In 2012, a year after the record four women directors, there were none. That was the norm in many editions of the festival, which has only screened 82 women filmmakers in Competition compared to 1,600 men. Jane Campion remains the only female director to have won the festival’s main prize, the Palme d’Or.

Cannes was one of a handful of major festivals to sign a gender parity and inclusion pledge at its latest edition. The festivals have promised to compile statistics according to gender, especially those regarding the number of films submitted and festival programming and executive teams.

Last year, Cannes jury president Cate Blanchett stood with Ava DuVernay, Kristen Stewart, Patty Jenkins, Marion Cotillard, Salma Hayek, Agnes Varda and dozens of other female actors, directors, writers, producers and distributors during a silent protest halfway up the red carpet, symbolizing the challenges women face to climb the industry ladder.

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