This year’s Venice Film Festival lineup has some world class auteurs on display — from Alfonso Cuaron to the Coen brothers — but once again, female filmmakers didn’t fare so well. Among the 21 films announced as part of this year’s competition lineup, only one is directed by a woman: Jennifer Kent’s “The Nightingale,” the Australian filmmaker’s followup to her lauded “The Babadook.” Moreover, among the 60 films picked as part of the festival’s “Official Selection” (including competition, out of competition, and Orizzonti), just eight were directed by women. Other female filmmakers represented on the slate include Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Mary Harron, Sarah Marx, and Margherita Ferri.
In recent years, the annual festival has similarly fallen short when it comes to women-directed films, averaging just one in a field of 18 to 22 selections over the past six years. It wasn’t always this way: in 2012, 2011, 2009, the festival hosted four competition titles from women, but their representation has seriously dipped.
That doesn’t mean that women aren’t submitted to the festival; they’re just being left out. At this year’s announcement press conference, Paolo Baratta, the president of the festival, reportedly noted that “21% of submissions were female, which reveals that a problem exists. The problem exists, but where does it exist? We need to make sure that women have the tools and opportunity to make films.”
Other festivals have already attempted to implement their own changes to combat the disparity. Earlier this year, Cannes Film Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux signed a pledge (alongside head programmers from Directors Fortnight and Critics Week) vowing to increase transparency and promote gender parity at the film event. The pledge, dubbed the “Programming Pledge for Parity and Inclusion in Cinema Festivals,” was signed May 14 during a Cannes event hosted by 5050×2020, the French women’s group behind the red carpet protest for gender equality earlier in the festival.
Even before the pledge was made, this year’s Cannes also played home to a number of high-profile films directed by women, including Nadine Labaki, Eva Husson, and Alice Rohrwacher, who all premiered well-recieved films in the festival’s competition section. In January, 37% of all feature films that screened at Sundance were directed by women.
Earlier this week, TIFF announced its first slate of films for this year’s festival, which is packed with picks from female filmmakers, including Claire Denis (a two-time competitor for the Golden Lion), Mia Hansen-Løve, Amma Asante, Nicole Holofcener, Marielle Heller, Stella Meghie, Sara Colangelo, Elizabeth Chomko, and Patricia Rozema. Labaki will also screen her film at TIFF, which will be released for an awards campaign later this season by Sony Pictures Classics.
At today’s press conference, festival director Alberto Barbera was asked about the lack of female directors, to which he reportedly said, “We don’t look at film saying, ‘Who made this?’ We look at the film. It’s form of maximum respect where best films win.”
A similar situation played out last year, when Venice again only featured one competition title directed by a woman (Vivian Qu’s “Angels Wear White”). “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,” Barbera said at the time. “I’m sorry that there are very few films from women this year, but we are not producing films.”
Barbera also maintained that he screens films for the festival without knowing who their directors are, a process that may sound foolproof on paper but is untenable when it comes to a setting such as Venice, one of the film world’s most curated festivals. While smaller festivals can get away with blind selections, it’s highly unlikely that Barbera isn’t already aware of the films the festival programs, including the people who made them.
Last year’s competition jury president Annette Bening also drew some heat for her comments on perceived sexism within the festival world. “The more that we, as women, can make films that speak to everyone, we can be regarded as filmmakers,” she said at a press conference.
Still, even Bening conceded that sexism remained part of the equation — versus the apparent need for female filmmakers to make sure their work is more universal in order to be considered. “We have a long way to go, in terms of parity — production, directors, writers, actresses, appearing in festivals and all of that,” she said, but added, “I think the direction we’re going is positive.”
The Venice Film Festival takes place August 29 to September 8 and marks the official kickoff of the 2018 fall awards season. Check out the full lineup for the 2018 Venice Film Festival right here. This year’s competition jury is led by Guillermo del Toro, who won the Golden Lion at the festival last year with “The Shape of Water.”
IndieWire has reached out to the Venice Film Festival for further comment.