The Venice Film Festival is getting underway today, kicking off with the world premiere of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth. However, before the red carpet rollout this evening, there was some spirited discussion — and a bit of dissension in the ranks — at the annual opening press conference. The panel, led by Venice chief Alberto Barbera, who was joined by jury president Lucrecia Martel, was dominated by debate over the fest’s inclusion of Roman Polanski’s An Officer And A Spy, as well as the fact that only two female filmmakers are in the main section, and how to change that going forward.
Regarding Polanski, Barbera reiterated that he is “convinced that we have to distinguish necessarily between the artist and the man. The history of art is full of artists who committed crimes of a different nature, nevertheless we have continued to admire their works of art. The same is true for Polanski who is in my opinion one of the last masters still active in European cinema.”
Martel took a different stance, saying, “I don’t separate the man from the art. I think that important aspects of the work emerges in the man.” Referring to Polanski’s 1977 conviction for unlawful sex with a minor and the case’s aftermath, Martel said, “A man who commits a crime of this size who is then condemned, and the victim considers herself satisfied with the compensation is difficult for me judge… It is difficult to define what is the right approach we have to take with people who have committed certain acts and were judged for them. I think these questions are part of the debate in our times.”
However, Martel added that she does not plan on attending a dinner organized for Polanski’s movie which screens later this week. The Argentine filmmaker, whose credits include The Headless Woman and Zama, said, “I will not congratulate him, but I think it is correct that his movie is here at this festival, we have to do develop our dialogue with him and this is the best possible place to go on with this type of discussion.”
Elsewhere, Martel supported the idea of quotas to increase gender parity at festivals. She allowed they are “never satisfactory,” but said, “there are no other solutions to ensure the inclusion of women or to give women the place they deserve. Quotas are pertinent for the time being. Do I like them? No. But I don’t think I know of any other system that would force this industry to think differently and take into consideration films directed by women.”
Barbera took the opposite position. “I am fully opposed to quotas in the selection of a film festival. We should be thinking of quotas in different areas — for admission to film schools or financing — where prejudice is still very much in place. Introducing quotas (at a festival) would be offensive because it would go against the only criteria that we have to consider, which is the quality of the individual film.”
Martel then asked, “What if we were in a situation when we had to have 50/50, are you sure we wouldn’t have the quality?”
Replied Barbera, “If I found 50% of films directed by women, I would have done so without quotas. I have tried.” There were over 1,000 films submitted to Venice this year and 23% came from female helmers, said Barbera. “It would be great if we had 50% of films directed by women to put into the competition. It would be the sign that the barriers and the limits have been broken down… I would have loved to invite more female directors. Some of the films directed by women I don’t think had the quality to be invited. Remember, the selection committee is made up of 50% women. We discussed, there was no opposition, no prejudice on our behalf. The choices made were shared amongst the committee.”
Venice runs from today through September 7.