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Cannes Is Changing, but Thierry Frémaux Still Has Outdated Ideas About Gender Parity

The Cannes competition doesn't have many women after signing the 5050x2020 pledge last year, but is the problem submissions or selections?

Lea Seydoux, Thierry Fremaux. Juty member Lea Seydoux, left, and Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux pose for photographers upon arrival at the opening ceremony of the 71st international film festival, Cannes, southern France2018 Opening Ceremony Red Carpet, Cannes, France - 08 May 2018

Lea Seydoux and Thierry Fremaux

Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

When this year’s Cannes Film Festival kicks off May 14, it will mark the first festival since it signed the 5050×2020 gender-parity pledge. It’s a promise to increase transparency and promote (but not demand) gender parity at the festival and others like it.

While this year’s competition lineup includes a number of films directed by women (last year there were three and this year there’s four, which technically represents a 25% increase, but come on), artistic director Thierry Frémaux appears to still be struggling with the pledge’s requirements — and, by extension, those of a changing culture.

“There have never been so many women directors in the official selection because there have never been so many women directors in the industry as a whole,” Frémaux said during the festival’s opening press conference on Monday, per the AP.

In 2016, Frémaux passed off Cannes’ lack of female-directed films as a product of the industry. At the time, he told Screen Daily, “Nine out of 49 of the filmmakers [at the festival] are women. That’s 20% of the selection. What percentage of filmmakers in the world are women? According to a recent report, it’s 7%. … More needs to be done in the film schools, the universities and the production houses, to favour women, and then you would see results.”

While Frémaux wasn’t totally off track with his 2016 remarks — that same year, the Center for Study of Women in TV and Film found that women comprised 7% of directors of the top 250 films, though the number rose to 11% when the top 500 films were examined — saying that “there have never been so many women directors in the industry as a whole” requires a particular prescription for rose-colored glasses.

For instance, in 2010 the Center for Study of Women in TV and Film found that 7% of the top 250 highest-grossing films (the center did not yet examine top 500 films) were directed by women. That year, Cannes did not host a single competition film directed by a woman. If Frémaux wants to say the festival has always reflected the industry’s demographics, he’ll need to forget the past decade first.

“The Cannes Film Festival has to be impeccable and absolutely perfect,” he added at this morning’s press conference. “Of course we try to be perfect. No one has asked me to have 50% of films made by women. That would show a lack of respect.”

Actresses and female directors stand on the steps of the red carpet in protest of the lack of female filmmakers honored throughout the history of the festival at the screening of 'Girls of the Sun (Les Filles du Soleil)' during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival, in Cannes, France, 12 May 2018. The movie is presented in the Official Competition of the festival which runs from 08 to 19 May.Girls of the Sun Premiere - 71st Cannes Film Festival, France - 12 May 2018

Actresses and film industry professionals at the Cannes women’s march

FRANCK ROBICHON/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Yet Frémaux didn’t even sign the pledge until 82 of the film industry’s biggest names stood in protest on the red carpet during last year’s festival. And Cannes is hardly alone in being asked to be “impeccable and perfect” (no one is even asking Cannes to be those things).

Other major festivals like Berlin, Locarno, Venice, TIFF, DOC NYC, and London have also signed on to the pledge, along with smaller festivals like the Hamptons, Mill Valley, Annecy, Oxford, Rome, Stockholm, Goteburg, and many more. Some festivals have already gone beyond the pledge’s requirements and reached actual gender parity in their programming, including this year’s Tribeca Film Festival competition, and documentary festivals like Hot Docs and Camden International.

“When we signed this charter, the idea was never that the selection would be based on gender parity,” Frémaux said at the press conference, referring to the 5050×2020 pledge. “All the films in the official selection — and there are 15 women directors in all, 20 if you add the shorts — all these films are there because in our view as the people who selected the films, they really deserve to have been selected.”

Despite its billing as a parity pledge, the 5050×2020 promise does not directly require parity in programming (something that Frémaux has said Cannes will never embrace), though it does call for other systemic changes that could help alleviate gender-based blindspots. Those include a push for parity on executive boards, compiling statistics on the gender of the filmmakers and key crew members for all films submitted to the festival, and increasing selection transparency by making the names of selection committee members public (which Cannes did earlier this year, for the first time ever).

On Monday, Cannes released some of the required statistics, including the number of films directed by women that were submitted to the festival, which provide perhaps the most vital look inside how the programming process takes shape with regards to gender equality.

And ultimately, this serves as the strongest backing to Fremaux’s positions: Released to the public for the first time, the stats show that the festival is programming films in line with the submissions they receive.

Per the festival, 26% of the feature films submitted to be part of the Cannes selection were directed by a woman, while 32% of the short films submitted were directed by a woman. Per Cannes, 19 of the 69 films included in the Official Selection (which means features and shorts) were directed by women, which represents 27.5%.

The festival also included the percentage of female filmmakers who submitted to the Cinéfondation selection, which is specifically designed to help young filmmakers still in film school, reporting that 44% of the school films submitted to the shorts section were made by women.

In an official statement, Cannes noted that the three stats — features, shorts, and Cinéfondation — “embody three ‘generations’ of filmmakers” and “are full of meaning since they prove that women’s presence is going to be more and more important in the future.” That part they got right.

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