The Cannes Film Festival’s official selection might be lacking in new works from female directors, but elsewhere in this year’s lineup, women are staking a claim for supremacy. In the International Critics’ Week (AKA Semaine de la Critique) sidebar, they’re actually leading the way. In the first time in a decade, this year’s competition slate includes a majority of films made by female directors.
The seven titles that will play Critics’ Week include four directed by women: Agnieszka Smoczynska’s (best known for her wild debut “The Lure”) “Fugue,” Anja Kofmel’s “Chris the Swiss,” Rohena Gera’s “Sir,” and Sofia Szilagyi’s “One Day.” Also competing in the section: Benedikt Erlingsson’s “Kona Fer I Strid” (“Woman at War”), Camille Vidal-Naquet’s “Sauvage,” and Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s “Diamantino.”
The last time female directors offered up the majority of films in the sidebar’s competition, it was in 2008, when films by Emily Atef, Aida Begić, Valeriya Gai Germanika, and Anna Novion screened alongside features from Duane Hopkins, Pablo Fendrik, and Christophe Van Rompaey. In the intervening decade, few female filmmakers have earned a spot in the sidebar, and in 2012, 2013, and 2015, no films from women screened in Critics’ Week. Last year, however, did see an uptick in representation, as three filmmakers (Marcela Said, Lea Mysius, and Atsuko Hirayanagi) debuted new work in the section.
Like Directors’ Fortnight (which will announce its lineup tomorrow), Critics’ Week is a parallel section to the Official Selection organized by the French Union of Film Critics, which currently includes over 244 critics, writers, and journalists. It’s oldest parallel section to the Cannes Film Festival, first kicking off in 1962. The section is devoted to first and second films from new talents and rising stars, and provides a platform for the kind of younger filmmakers who do not typically show up in the Official Selection.
Critics’ Week was actually inspired by a 1961 screening of a film from another female filmmaker: the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics organized a special screening of Shirley Clarke’s “The Connection” in hopes of directing some industry attention to it. The screening was such a success that Robert Favre le Bret, then the Artistic Director of Cannes, teamed with the Film National Center and the Association Française de la Critique to create a brand-new sidebar dedicated to discovering and amplifying the work of new talents.
The International Critics’ Week lineup traditionally only presents a slate of seven feature films, all the better to shine a greater light on the well-curated features it opts to bring to the festival. Critics’ Week films are eligible for a number of prizes, including the Critics’ Week Grand Prix, along with the SACD Prize for best screenplay and the ACID Prize. All first features are also eligible for the Camera d’Or, given to the festival’s best first film (features from other sections, including the Official Selection and Director’s Fortnight, also compete for the prize).
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
The sidebar will open with the lone American pick: a special screening of Paul Dano’s feature directorial debut, “Wildlife,” which previously debuted at Sundance in January. Critics’ Week will close with another out-of-competition special screening, Alex Katz’s “Guy,” and both Guillaume Senez’s “Our Struggles” and Jean-Bernard Marlin’s “Shéhérazade” are on deck for special screenings. Critics’ Week also announced 10 short films in competition, three of them helmed by female directors.
Elsewhere, Cannes’ 2018 competition lineup includes three out of 18 currently announced films, a number that hasn’t changed since 2016 (in terms of gender balance, the festival’s high note was 2011, when four out of 20 competing films were made by women). At a press conference earlier this month, artistic director Thierry Frémaux dodged questions about the dearth of women directors by arguing that “the films that were selected were chosen for their own intrinsic qualities” and that “there will never be a positive discrimination in favor of women” when it comes to the festival’s selection process.
In the past, Frémaux has also argued that there are not enough women working as filmmakers to justify high numbers of female-led projects at Cannes. While Frémaux is correct about the major gap between male and female directors (by way of comparison, the latest study from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that, of total of 109 film directors associated with the 100 top movies of 2017, a full 92.7% were male and 7.3% were female), the shifting nature of this year’s overall Cannes slate does show signs of programmers finding space to honor the great work being put out by today’s working directors who happen to be women. The numbers are harsh, but the reality is beginning to look just a touch brighter.
The Un Certain Regard section — which often touts high numbers of female filmmakers — nearly reached parity with this year’s slate, as six of its 13 films were directed by women. Also at the festival, the Cinéfondation selection — which accepts short and medium-length film submission from film schools around the world — picked a total of 17 films this year, a slate that includes 12 female directors or co-directors from a total pool of 22.
There may be less women working in the industry than men, but it seems they’re creating plenty of work that has its own “intrinsic qualities,” good enough to roll right past “positive discrimination,” straight into worthy inclusion.