The Cannes Film Festival has selected New Zealand director Jane Campion to preside over the 2014 jury.
Campion has been one of the most vocal critics within the industry of Hollywood’s institutional discrimination female filmmakers. She also has a long history at Cannes. She is the only woman director to have ever won the Palme d’Or, Cannes’ top prize, for 1993’s The Piano. Before that, she won a shorts prize as a novice filmmaker in 1986, and last year she presided over the shorts jury.
So on the one hand, Cannes deserves recognition for taking steps to make its panel be more representative of the film world as a whole, especially given the festival’s history of excluding female directors. Though not the first female head juror at Cannes, Campion might well be the first female director of note to preside over the festival. (Swedish actress-director Liv Ullmann has previously headed the jury, but her directorial body of work isn’t as distinguished as Campion’s is.) That Campion is a very visible figure — and one extremely important to those of us who care about fighting against sexism in the film world — certainly helps.
On the other hand, little might change for women directors if none are selected to compete for a jury prize. That the festival has also selected an old favorite in Campion, forgoing a search for any other female talent, suggests a kind of tokenism effect in play. I don’t mean that Campion’s work has been honored in the past because she’s a woman, but that the festival appears eager to sweep its sexist history under the rug by continuing to place Campion in positions of prestige. Cannes’ continued reliance on Campion as a standard-bearer of gender equality, though, might mean that the festival organizers feel free from the obligation to acknowledge or challenge their own ingrained sexism.
For her part, Campion seems eager to take on head juror duties, praising the “Queen of film festivals” for “combin[ing] and celebrat[ing] the glamour of the industry, the stars, the parties, the beaches, the business, while rigorously maintaining the festival’s seriousness about the Art and excellence of new world cinema.”
We will look forward to seeing a competition of films where hopefully Ms. Campion won’t be the only visible female director.