Protest of 82 women in film on steps of Palais at 71st Cannes

On March 12 there was a protest of 82 women in film led by jury president Cate Blanchett and Agnès Varda-- from the steps of the Palais. The Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux knew what he was doing when asking Blanchett to be the jury president at Cannes this year in this red-carpet manifestation of female centric power.

These are the names of a few directors that protested:

Agnès Varda, Alba and Alice Rohrwacher, Ava DuVernay, Céline Sciamma, Kim Longinotto, Patty Jenkins, Ursula Meier and Valérie Donzelli. Actresses some of which are producers included Jane Fonda, Julie Gayet, Kirsten Stewart, Léa Seydoux, Salma Hayek, Marion Cotillard, and Rosalie Varda costume designer, producer of Agnes Vardas films.

The protest on the steps of the Cannes Film Festival Palais symbolize the women who should be ascending with their films to be shown in competition. At the beginning of the festival Cate Blanchett more or less called the festival gladiator sport for the male gaze. This year still only three of 18 films are directed by women in the official competition.

It is the films, not the protests that create Cannes but hopefully the protests will open the door for more consideration of women’s work. It is after all arbitrary when women are excluded. It is not based on lack of talent but refusal by women to signify the male gaze in shooting, framing, editing and sound. Many of the male directors selected have won before and are therefore recognized each time with each new film. This also includes women but only 82 films have been selected directed by women and over 1600 are films directed by men in Cannes’ 71 year history.

The official jury delegates and Thierry Frémaux even showed up at the “5050 2050” seminar, meaning gender parity by the year 2050. This is a frowing event introduced six years ago at Cannes by Anna Serner, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute. The ‘Fight for Inclusion’ movement is actually a struggle. Cannes has been known for protests through the years. A few years back fashion conglomerates paid attention to what women were saying about exclusion and started inviting well known and established actresses to the ‘Kering Talks’. “Women and Hollywood”, a blog created by journalist Melissa Silverstein sponsored initially by “Indiewire” is now independent. The blog partnered to create forums with “Créteil Films de Femmes”, the international women’s film festival in Paris, the Swedish Film Institute, the BFI British Film Institute, the Toronto Film festival and representatives of women and film groups around the world.

Will this get Cannes to start including women? Probably not –and probably not 50/50 by 2050. But it has happened in Sweden and the UK. But if not, Cannes must then resign itself to be a dinosaur like James Bond – irrelevant for the needs of today. The pressure by French film theaters to shut out streaming conglomerates such as Netflix from the officially competition unless they release their films in France first, and not online for three years, is an important instance where the rules of the French media market dominate the festival. There is also pressure by established photo journalists who are accredited to shoot pictures on the Red Carpet to bar ‘selfies’, pictures on cell phone cameras that even photocall guests disdain. Cannes is fighting to preserve its reputation as a quality event. This is largely debated by the Anglo-America media who resent its insulation from the market of the US and its ambition to be exclusive. The dress code for women to wear heels or be banned from screenings is also considered archaic.

As for the films where women are fighting for inclusion, according to filmmaker Nina Menkes "Glamorous Sexual Objects cannot be imagined as film directors or DPs by those holding power”. It just doesn’t click with the Hollywood system... And less than glamorous and/or over-40-year old women are more or less invisible". According to Menkes, an entire culture of visual language supports and encourages this system.

The male gaze is embedded in the cinematic apparatus - the shooting, the framing, the cutting and the sound. She has spoken of this at Sundance and is now at the 71st Cannes Festival. If women have not had their work selected at Cannes as directors, it is in part true because men making films that assault, ridicule and humiliate women have often been selected. Now female agency has a chance to be seen if we learn about the nature of film language the work of British feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey in her celebrated classic study “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975). It is possible to create films with female characters that do not symbolize lack or whose agency is not diminished because it is a threat to the male gaze of the film.

© 2018 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/23/18
Movie Magazine International