Cannes’s Thierry Fremaux Takes on the Women Question: “Attack the Oscars, not the festival!”

Cannes's Thierry Fremaux Takes on the Women Question: "Attack the Oscars, not the festival!"
Cannes's Thierry Fremaux Takes on the Women Question: "Attack the Oscars, not the festival!"

At one of the continuing conversations at the Women in Motion series that has heightened awareness of women in world cinema over the festival–as one high-profile interviewee after another has lambasted the industry for its gender inequality–Fremaux admitted that this year he would have liked some credit for the increasing representation of women’s directors, from opening with Emmanuelle Bercot’s “Standing Tall” to awarding a special award to French auteur Agnes Varda. Not more criticism.

“My mother is a feminist,” he said, adding that many women are in power as distributors, producers, and screenwriters in the industry, and that France is not as guilty of not having enough women directors as other countries. 

“We made quite a good effort in terms of selection,” he said (the English translation was not ideal). “Cannes is a big institution, like the Tour de France, a film festival that is there to support projects and ideas.” He wishes that Berlin and Venice were under such scrutiny. When it comes to not giving awards to women, “attack the Oscars, not the festival!” he said. “Cannes is part of the chain, not the only ring.” 

The problem of women’s representation and gender inequality is worldwide, not just the film industry, he said: “We can’t escape so many debates about women and minorities as well, but a successful festival is what really matters.” The media should pay more attention to strong women like producer Megan Ellison, he said: “She is saving the American cinema d’auteurs. She has fantastic taste.”

He also defended Isabelle Huppert, who was unfairly criticized by the media, he said, as president of the jury in 2009, which awarded her frequent collaborator Michael Haneke the Palme d’Or for “The White Ribbon.” “I’ve never seen a jury president so ill-treated,” he said, of accusations that she gave him the award in order to get roles in his future films. “That would not have happened with a man. And I haven’t seen many men stand up for Huppert.”

Yet again he insisted that a few rogue gatekeepers on the red carpet who pushed away women not wearing high heels were not following the rules, and flats are fine. “I’m happy to be insulted,” Fremaux said. “I’m used to it. We must ensure that this debate goes forward. My dream is to have a film festival without knowing the gender of who has made the film.”

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