Allegations of sexism fly ahead of Cannes film fest
Published Wednesday, May 16, 2012 1:26PM EDT
It's been called the grand-daddy of all film festivals, but is the annual cinematic extravaganza in Cannes sexist? That's the question being asked as the festival opens Wednesday, in light of the fact no female directors are competing for its top prize, the Palme d'Or.
The accusations heated up following the publication of a scathing opinion piece published in Le Monde denouncing the 2012 Cannes International Film Festival's organizers for sexism in their selection of this year's competitors.
Published on Saturday, the open letter to the French newspaper was signed by a group of prominent women, including "Baise Moi" director Virginie Despentes, actress, director and writer Coline Serreau and actress Fanny Cottencon.
In the letter, they attack Cannes festival organizers for the complete absence of women among the contenders for this year's coveted Palme d'Or.
"The directors of the 22 films in competition this year are all, by happy coincidence, men," the letter states.
"For the 63rd time in its existence, the festival will crown one of its own, defending without fail the virile values which are the nobility of the seventh art," it said.
The women also made this scathing dig: "This year, gentlemen you've come to your senses and we are overjoyed. The Cannes film Festival will allow Wes, Jacques, Leos, David, Lee, Andre, Matteo, Michael, John, Hong, Im, Abbas, Ken, Sergei, Cristain, Yousry, Jeff, Alain, Carlos, Walter, Ulrich and Thomas to show one more time that ‘men like depth in women, but only in their cleavage.'"
The French feminist group La Barbe (the beard) had been instrumental in launching this initiative, and simultaneously ran an online petition to support the move. By Wednesday morning, the petition had been signed by 1,490 individuals, most of whom were women working in the film industry.
Seven female directors have earned recognition in other sections of the festival.
Brit Candida Brady's environmental documentary, "Trashed," starring Jeremy Irons, will receive a special screening at this year's festival.
France's Sylvie Verheyde ("Confession of a Child of the Century"), Bosnian filmmaker Aida Begic ("Djeca"), and "Three Worlds, from French director Catherine, will screen in the festival's Un Certain Regard section.
Sandrine Bonnaire's "J'enrage de son absence" and "Augustine," the debut film from French filmmaker Alice Winocour, will screen during the festival's Critic's Week program.
France's Noemie Lvovsky will close the Director's Fortnight section with her film, "Camille."
Regardless, male directors will likely see their works steal the limelight at this year's festival.
Cannes opens with a screening of "Moonrise Kingdom" by American director Wes Anderson. It will close with "Therese Desqueyroux," the final film by late French director Claude Miller.
Films competing for the 2012 Palme d'Or include David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis," starring Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti and Canadian actor Jay Baruchel.
Other titles include Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" starring Bruce Willis and Bill Murray; "The Paper Boy" from American director Lee Daniels; the Brad Pitt film, "Killing Them Softly," from Australian filmmaker Andrew Dominik; "The Angel's Share," from British director Ken Loach; and "On the Road," an adaption of Jack Kerouac's novel from Brazilian director Walter Salles.
Since the festival's inception in 1946, New Zealand-born director Jane Campion remains the only woman in Cannes history to have won the coveted Palme d'Or award for best film.
Campion won that honour in 1993 for the Harvey Keitel-Holly Hunter drama, The Piano.
Still, the accusations of sexism at this year's festival are not merited according to Cannes director, Thierry Fremaux.
In a response to the Le Monde piece, Fremaux said, "There is no doubt that greater space needs to be given to women within cinema. But it's not at Cannes and in the month of May that this question needs to be raised, but rather all year and everywhere," he said.
Fremaux said that women's rights needed to be defended beyond Cannes.
"It makes sense to highlight the problem during Cannes, but accusing the festival doesn't serve anybody," he said.