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Four Steps Back – NO Women Directors in Competition at Cannes

Four Steps Back - NO Women Directors in Competition at Cannes

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Cologne, Germany having arrived yesterday at International Frauen Film Festival for the second year in a row.  I came back this year because I had such a great time last year meeting and talking with so many women directors and I really love the people who run this festival.

Last year I also sat in my hotel room when the Cannes lineup was revealed and I was happily shocked when four women directed films were included in competition.  And you will note that when the Festival happened people talked about the women and their work.  It wasn’t just about a woman.  It was about the work.  That’s what happens when you get to some level of critical mass.  Several of the films especially We Need to Talk About Kevin were released all over the world and Lynne Ramsay won a ton of respect for her effort on the film.  Maiwenn’s Polisse is now about to play at Tribeca and it will be released in the US in May.  Would this have happened without Cannes?  I can’t answer that but her film’s profile was clearly raised because of the Festival.

But this year we are back to two years ago when no women were included.  NO WOMEN DIRECTED FILMS WILL BE IN THE MAIN COMPETITION AT CANNES.  That is ZERO out of 21.  Two women directed films out of 17 films — Trois Mondes (dir. Catherine Corsini) and Confession of a Child of the Century (dir. Sylvie Verheyde) — are in Un Certain Regard. 

Cannes is the most prestigious world competition and to have no female directors is just a slap in the face.  I cannot believe there were no films worthy of inclusion.  I just don’t believe it.  The whole process is fucked up that women can’t even get into the conversations about films that people are even thinking about will be included in lineups. 

For an industry that professes to examine questions about life, that challenges conventions, that pushes the envelope, the total neanderthal approach to women is breathtaking.  How can this industry say it is progressive or forward thinking in any way when it constantly shunts aside the perspectives of half of the world.

This puts a very bitter taste in my mouth.  I am so grateful that I am in a place where I am surrounded by women with strong visions.  I can’t wait to get to the movie theatre this evening to be relieved of the grand misogyny that envelopes the film business.

I feel like I repeat myself everytime something like this happens — with far too much regularity — that something must be done about this.  I know that women directors want to be seen as directors and not as women directors but they also want their movies seen and taken seriously and that is just not happening. 

I know I will get into trouble for saying this but I think that festival directors need to decide that they will include women directors in at least 20% of the slots.  Yes, it will take some more work.  Yes, you will have to watch movies that you might not get because you are so fixated on the male being universal and the female as being other.  Yes, you will have to occasionally endure seeing and hearing about vaginas and other things women experience.  Here’s a thought, maybe you could send people to places that say play films by women directors to see what’s out there and see what people are working on. 

People will need to be “affirmative” in deciding that the inclusion of women makes their festival better and more reflective of the culture as a whole.  Until the festival directors believe they are missing something by not including women, there will never be progressive change.  There will always be one step forward and one step backward — or in this year’s case, four steps backward.

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Jake. Yes, every selection panel at Cannes (there are two official competition strands and two out of competition strands) is fronted by a man. With at least a 90% male judging panel.

And Arielle, are you a female director? I doubt it. If you were you would probably know that sexism is alive and well and living in the film industry and wouldn't waste your time getting affronted at articles like this and crapping on about vaginas. I don't want the world to revolve around yours or anyone else's vagina, but I wouldn't mind seeing a few more stories told by a few more women on film. Isn't much to ask for.

Either women have absolutely nothing to say and no stories to tell on film, or there is quite possibly some imbalance here that is worthy of investigation.


Ugh. Why is this always viewed as sexist? Why is it always that women have been slighted? Was it a man-only panel? Or were we betrayed by traitorous women? Ugh.


This is an age-old debate (think 2011 Oscars Best Director backlash) and one thing is clear: we need more female gatekeepers. It's not enough just to say that the predominantly male-led film festivals should have a quota for films from female directors. An increase in female festival directors, programmers, agents, critics and publicists are needed if we're ever going to create an even playing field. My recent post:


I can not believe I just read this. Haven't seen a more bitter sexist rant in ages. What if the movies weren't selected because they WERE NOT WORTHY?
Step out of your politically correct narrow views and think broader (pun intended) – the world doesn't revolve around our vaginas. To include a product in a contest just because it was made by a woman is just another reason for why we stopped going into space as a race: because we're growing dumber by the day. Grow up, ladies… As a woman, I'm ashamed of such outbursts of gratuitous feminism.


Hi all, I am a member of a feminist action group in Paris called "La Barbe" ( We are preparing a piece about Cannes 2012 and collecting signatures to support it. I remember a petition circulated in 2010 already, entitled "You cannes not be serious" and we would love to know who launched it and how to get back to the signatories with a new opportunity to protest these repetitive facts. Do you have any idea how to best circulate our petition among your community? Any advice on how to reach out to previous signatories or contact with film makers to share with us ? Thank you all, and have a look of our website, it's fun! (though french)

Ariel Dougherty

Maria, since this happened:
…..(THE WINE OF SUMMER) was rejected from Cannes this year. But I have a strange sense of solidarity because they excluded all women from competition……
What about a Women Count(er) Cannes festival that showcases all these rejected women's films. If you can find some place in Cannes to four-wall it, you'll get GREAT press.


A little while ago I heard Debra Zimmerman (CEO at Women Make Movies) suggest that it might be helpful to develop stronger links between men and women in 'the industry' and women's film festivals. Would a campaign to invite industry decision-makers and influential critics to women's film festivals be a good idea? I think an all-women context often facilitates different insights than when we view women's work in a mixed gender festival, and if industry decision-makers could view women's work among other women's work and listen to and participate in the significant conversations about women's films and women filmmakers that happen at our festivals they might have fresh reference points when investing/buying/selecting. I'm encouraged that 30% of the (only ten) short films in competition at Cannes this year have women directors: Zia Mandviwalla (New Zealand, so proud!) with 'Night Shift', Chloe Robichaud (Canada) with 'Chef de Meute' and Emilie Verhamme (Belgium) with 'Cockaigne'.


Thanks for your rage Melissa. It inspires me to keep going.


I find this article to be rather amateur. Has Melissa Silverstein seen any of the films that are IN COMPETITION? If you're thinking about responding, "Well no, because that is why I am there" – don't use that as a response. There are ways to see these movies whether you know distribution companies that have already seen all the films in advance or possibly leaked. The Cannes line-up every year is about: QUALITY, QUALITY, QUALITY. If there are no films from a female director, then it's simply because the quality of the them was not up to par with the other films in terms of design and the strength of the narrative. Please Ms. Silverstein, see all the films in the line-up first, then see other films from female directors that were left out and compare. Then you can blog all you want about the injustice to incorporate female directed films.


I think it should be more disturbing that no female director was on the list of possible replacements for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Because that's where the problem really is. Female directors are being cut out of jobs. With less opportunity, there is less chance of getting to anything.

Stefanie Görtz

Time for new edition of "You Cannes not be serious"!

Sanne Kurz

On my way to the IFFF right now…
…we got a long way to go, not necessarily to the IFFF in Cologne, but in to the industry as equally working, employed, received and treated people.
I'm a cinematographer and a vast chunk of my work I get because I'm a woman.
A much bigger chunk of work I am actually NOT getting, because I'm a woman.
Female character in documentary? Let's ask a woman to shoot it. Commercial with kids? She'll be good with them, let's ring her.
My debut feature for cinema was an action film. I used to live in Australia back than where Mandy Walker set the limits for all DP's not only women DP's.
Car chases, explosions, fight scenes – It was the best!
Back in Europe, people kept asking me, if the credit I got was for real.
"And you shot this? I mean – as the DoP?"
No kidding.

Kat Gordon

How disheartening! I don't work in the film industry, but I watch it closely because there are a lot of similarities between the lack of women there + in my industry (advertising). I am organizing a conference in SF highlighting the need for more female Creative Directors + one of our panels is called "Needed: More Cans in Cannes." The gender bias of judges leads to gender bias of award recipients. Part of our battle cry needs to include more women on judging panels.

Deep sigh. Seems we've still got a long way to go, baby.

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