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Moira Jean Sullivan


Moira Sullivan is a member of FIPRESCI and Alliance for Women Film Journalists. She writes for three venues:

 


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71st Festival de Cannes - historic year for women in film

The 71st Cannes Film Festival was an extraordinary year with excellent films and a manifestation  protesting the near exclusion of women from the official competition. Protests in Cannes have made life altering waves from the establishment of the “Directors’ Fortnight” (Quinzaine des réalisateurs) in 1969 when ­­­­­­­­­­Cannes closed in solidarity with French workers the year before -  to this year’s manifestation. Hopefully, it will open the door for more women than 82  whose films have been selected for competition in the 70 year festival history and over1600 men. 

Jury president Cate Blanchette stood with jury members Ava DuVernay, Léa Seydoux Kirsten Stewart, and Khadja Nin at the manifestation. Four women and four men with a female president was labeled a “predominantly female jury”. At the Palme d'Or closing ceremony  music from the "Wonder Woman" soundtrack accompanied  almost every award given out - as if this "female centric jury" selected winners as "empowered women" not established film professionals.

Only three women from 18 films by men were chosen by the selection committee this year overseen by artistic director Thierry Frémaux - yet two of these women walked away with top prizes: Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum won the jury prize and Alice Rohrwacher won best screenplay for her film Lazzaro Felice. But there is another story to tell about these awards. I knew when I saw Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum it was clearly a strong contender for Palme d'or with powerful innovative shots, editing, music. When the awards were announced May 19, I sat in the company of primarily male film critics who talked throughout the ceremony held at Théatre Debussy nearby the Grand Théatre Lumière  and loudly booed Nadine Labaki. Word among some critics circulated that it was “poverty porn” but that ignominious remark could have been leveled against Palme d'Or winner Hirokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters about a family of petty thieves that adopt a child abandoned on the street or Mohammed Hefsky's Yommedine in the official compeittion film about a leper collecting garbage in Egypt who finds other outcasts from society. The jury was moved by these kinds of films and singled them out in their closing remarks.

The official jury delegates and Thierry Frémaux attended the 5050 2020 seminar, a growing cause introduced in 2013 at Cannes by Anna Serner, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute. She revealed at the time she was ridiculed for speaking out by the men in the Swedish film industry. “The Fight for Inclusion” is a real struggle.

Several non-mainstream events clustered before the first Cannes weekend. The Swedish Institute and Women in Film & TV International (WIFTI) presented “Working For Change: Filmmaking In the New Landscape”. At the Irish Pavilion sponsored by “Women and Hollywood”, representatives from Eurimages and its “Gender Working Group”, the BFI Film Fund, the New Zealand Film Commission and the South African Screen Federation discussed “The Fight of Inclusion” by women working in film. Other parallel events included a panel on next moves for #MeToo and the “Gender Equality Movement: “5050 2020”, the movement for gender parity in the film industry by the year 2020.

Will these peripheral actions get Cannes to start including women? At least 50-50 by 2020 is doable. It has happened in Sweden before 2020 and last year was adopted by the BFI in the UK . If not, Cannes must resign itself to be a sophisticated well-dressed and well-heeled dinosaur like James Bond – irrelevant to the needs of today. This year Cannes - especially Thierry Frémaux - did not seem to be digging in its heels against change. 

In other festival sections the presence of women was more visible. In the Un Certain Regard section  there were eight films directed by women (two of which were made by a woman and man): Rafiki, Wanura Kahiu (Kenya), a film centering on two Kenyan lesbians (banned in Kenya) , Sofia (awarded best screenplay), Meryem Benm’Barek (Morocco) Euforia , (Valeria Golino (Italy) My Favorite Fabric, Gaya Jiji (Syria) , Angel Face,Vanessa Filho (France), and Manto, Nandita Das, (India). Films made by a woman and man: Andréa Bescond/Eric Metayer, Little Tickles (France), and The Dead and the Others (awarded Jury Special Prize) (João Salaviza/Renée Nader Messora (Brazil).

Originally the Cannes Film Festival was held on the Croisette and the the outdoor cinema section – Cinema de la Plage-  remains. Of seven films including Hitcock’s Vertigo (1951) only one was screened by a woman directed by honorary Palme d' Or winner - Agnès Varda – One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977). The festival beach venue ended with a special event by Latetitia Carton – Le Grand Bal (2018).

In the Cannes Classics section of restored films and documentaries, Margarethe von Trotta’s  Searching for Ingmar Bergman (2018)  screened. Von Trotta met Bergman in 1977 when he was in exile in Germany for a tax invasion claim that was later dismissed. Her film Marianne & Juliane (Die bleierne Zeit, 1981) was one of the films the Swedish director admired. Swedish director Jane Magnusson’s made yet another film on Bergman - A Year in the Life  - and many more should come from Bergman's country where primary source material is archived Susan Lacy honored the veteran actress and activist who stood on the steps of the Palais as one of 82 women - Jane Fonda in Five Acts.

Cannes Classics also screened a tribute to the very first film director Alice Guy Blaché: “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché” by Pamela Green. The filmmaker said the biggest hurdle was financing, a film that was in part crowd-funded. She stated that “If Alice and many other female filmmakers were known throughout the years we would not have to right the severe imbalance of male to female makers or even make a distinction between them”. In the restored film section women's work is rarely chosen– only one of 20 films was directed by a woman -Fad ' Jal (1979) by Sengalese director Safi Faye.

Officially, this was the year for women at Cannes. It is a year that is only meaningful if the number of films made by women selected to the festival increases. The realization that Cannes is a hunting ground for sexual predators can never be erased thanks to Asia Argento. Festival de Cannes may not continue under the same exclusive terms of the past, but this is the year where acknowledging the achievements of the work of women was dynamically profiled.  Equality inclusion is yet to come.

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