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Venice Film Festival Director Alberto Barbera on Lack of Female Filmmakers: ‘I Don’t Think It’s Our Fault’

At this year's festival, only one film screening in a competition section that includes 21 films is directed by a woman. Barbera doesn't seem interested in changing that.

Final preparations are underway at the Lido event site ahead of the annual Venice Film Festival, in Venice, Italy, 28 August 2017. The movie 'Downsizing' by US director Alexander Payne will open the 74th Venice Film Festival that runs from 30 August to 09 September 2017.Italy Venice Film Festival 2017 - 28 Aug 2017

FERRARI/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

The fall festival season officially kicks into high gear when the Venice Film Festival launches later this week (followed in short succession by Telluride, TIFF, and NYFF), but moviegoers eager to get a first peek at the year’s most exciting new selections will likely notice one distressing trend: a lack of female filmmakers hitting the Lido to bow their latest works. At this year’s festival, only one film screening in a competition section that includes 21 films is directed by a woman, Vivian Qu’s “Angels Wear White.”

It’s hardly the first time the festival has unveiled a male-dominated lineup, and it certainly seems like it won’t be the last.

Over at The Hollywood Reporter, the outlet has caught up with festival director Alberto Barbera, who seems unpreturbed about the gender disparity in his lineup, and even less driven to correct it.

“I don’t think it’s our fault…I don’t like to think in terms of a quota when you make a selection process,” he told THR. “I’m sorry that there are very few films from women this year, but we are not producing films.”

Annette Bening

Jon Rou - Loyola Marymount University

Barbera maintains that he screens films without knowing who their directors are, the sort of process that sounds excellent on paper but is likely untenable when it comes to a setting such as Venice. While smaller festivals can get away with blind selections, it’s unlikely that Barbera isn’t aware of at least some of the projects the festival programs, including the people who made them.

And while Barbera is correct that Venice doesn’t produce films, they only show them, that’s a stance that handily ignores not only the need for more diversity and parity behind the camera, but also a filmmaking industry that is rich with female filmmaking talent. This season is no different either, as the fall festival circuit will play home to, by our own estimation, at least 19 films from female directors of all levels. Venice noticeably lags behind its brethren, from TIFF to Telluride to NYFF.

This year’s festival does have at least one major female star taking the lead, with Annette Bening serving as the president of the competition jury, making her the first female jury prez in a decade.

Venice will play home to a handful of other female-directed features, though they are all playing outside the starry competition section where so many of their male brethren are bowing their features. Lucretia Martel’s “Zama” and Antonietta De Lillo’s “Il Singor Rotpeter” are both screening out of competition. Elsewhere, the Horizons sidebar includes Nancy Buirski’s “The Rape of Recy Taylor,” Anne Fontaine’s
“Marvin,” and Susanna Nicchiarelli’s “Nico 1988.” The Mulleavey sisters, Kate and Laura, will also screen their Kirsten Dunst-starring psychological drama “Woodshock.”

Those names alone bely a vast variety of filmmaking talents currently crafting work, but work that’s apparently not good enough to screen in competition at Venice. Barbera has some thoughts on that, too. He told THR that, despite the wide range of female filmmakers and their works that are appearing elsewhere at the fest, he still thinks the best place for those features is away from the kind of spotlight that competition titles receive.

“When you are in competition, for example, the expectation from the press is higher. If the film is not good enough it means that the response from critics and audience will be worse than in other cases,” he told THR. “I think it’s the only way to think in terms of programming. What we ask ourselves is will we help the film by putting it in competition or outside the competition?”

"Woodshock"

“Woodshock”

In short, he’s saying that those other films just aren’t good enough (at least, by his determination), though now would likely be a good time to mention the stunning array of talent that is represented out of competition at the festival, from Golden Berlin Bear nominee Martel to Golden Leopard and Golden Lion nominee Antonietta De Lillo, to Oscar lauded “Loving Story” filmmaker Buirski to Fontaine, a BAFTA nominee who has received no less than four Cesar nominations over the course of her career. Sounds good enough to us.

And yet Barbera maintains that his programming choices will continue to turn away from diversity and representation as measuring sticks, telling THR: “I won’t put a film in competition only because it’s a female film or whatever.”

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