In a fraught year for film festivals, some good news: the Venice Film Festival, one of the world’s starriest annual film events — and one that has previously resisted pressure to program more female filmmakers — has nearly reached gender parity with its competition lineup. This year’s festival will host eight films directed by women in its highest-profile section, where they will compete for the Golden Lion. Only four women have won the prize since the festival started in 1932, with Sofia Coppola as the most recent winner for “Somewhere” in 2010. The other past winners were Mira Nair, Margarethe von Trotta, and Agnès Varda.
The 2020 festival will play home to new films from a variety of the industry’s top female directors, including Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland,” already poised as a major festival breakout), Mona Fastvold (“The World to Come”), Emma Dante (“Le Sorelle Macaluso”), Nicole Garcia (“Lovers”), Susanna Nicchiarelli (“Miss Marx”), Malgorzata Szumowska (“Never Gonna Snow Again”), Julia Von Heinz (“And Tomorrow the Entire World”), and Jasmila Zbanic (“Quo Vadis, Aida?”).
As Women and Hollywood’s founder and publisher Melissa Silverstein shared on Twitter, that uptick in female filmmaker representation marks a massive sea change for Venice. With eight films directed by women debuting in the competition section, which includes 18 total films, Venice has programmed its marquee section with 44 percent of its films directed by women.
That means that this year’s total competition films directed by women is equal to the total of female-directed films Venice has put in competition for the last five years. The festival may still add more films in the coming days, but this year’s competition section is clearly more female-friendly than it’s ever been. While the festival is offering a reduced lineup (a handful of sidebars have been cut for social distancing purposes), it’s still a robust selection of nearly 60 films, and remains a launching pad for several promising cinematic highlights of the year.
In recent years, Venice has 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.
Last year, Venice’s artistic director Alberto Barbera faced backlash for his response when asked about the minimal presence of female directors in the lineup. “Women directors are unfortunately still a minority,” he said at a press conference. “But these portraits of women, even when they are directed by men, reveal a new sensibility geared towards the feminine universe, as had rarely happened in the past. This is a signal that perhaps the polemics of recent years have made an impact in our sensibility and our culture.”
Unlike Cannes, which this year attempted to boast a “significant increase” in its female-directed films — though ultimately its competition lineup was par for the course, with under 25 percent of its films coming from women — this year’s Venice has actually made remarkable strides in its representation of women at its highest levels.
In 2018, the festival signed the 5050×2020 “gender parity pledge” that a number of other festivals — including Cannes — have also embraced. While the pledge does not directly require parity in programming, 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.
The 2020 Venice Film Festival runs September 2-12. Cate Blanchett is serving as the president of this year’s Venice competition jury. Joining the Oscar winner on the main competition is “Goodnight Mommy” director Veronika Franz (“Goodnight Mommy,” “The Lodge”), “The Souvenir” filmmaker Joanna Hogg, Italian writer and novelist Nicola Lagioia, “Phoenix” and “Transit” filmmaker Christian Petzold, Romanian director Cristi Puiu, and French actress Ludivine Sagnier. “High Life” director Claire Denis is heading up the Horizons jury alongside Oskar Alegria, Francesca Comencini, Katriel Schory, and Christine Vachon (USA).