This year's festival introduced an assault hotline (and some male baristas). But has Cannes really got to grips with the implications of #metoo?by Caspar Salmon / May 19, 2018 / Leave a comment
As Cannes Film Festival draws to a close, it feels only right to ask exactly how successful this year’s edition has been at getting on board the very novel and revolutionary cause of supporting women. Much-bruited initiatives at the festival in 2018 included the introduction of a sexual assault hotline and an event, led by the openly female jury president Cate Blanchett, where 82 women appeared on the steps of the Palais des Festivals to protest the fact that only 82 female directors have ever been selected to appear in competition at Cannes.
The latter occasion seemed a somewhat compromised affair, since it appeared to have the support of the festival itself (and incidentally made for a great photo op). The 82 women appearing weren’t all filmmakers, which perhaps they should have been in order for the protest to take on the requisite symbolism.
Meanwhile, the hotline shut up shop every day at 2 a.m., which, I couldn’t help thinking, was roughly the time that, in previous years, Harvey Weinstein’s night was just getting going in various grand hotels across the town.
What has been done for show, and what the festival really does about the real and urgent topic of discrimination against women, is the distinction that needs to be addressed. Several friends of this writer, upon arriving at one of the pavilions in Cannes, were asked to sign a form stating that they are opposed to sexual assault. This is obvious garbage, a ridiculous sop. While ineffectual contrivances like this go on, the festival is still going about its business of excluding women.
Here are some examples: in the official competition, only three out of 21 films are made by women. Among the lead programmers of the various strands in the festival—Competition, Un Certain Regard, Directors’ Fortnight—nobody is a woman. Out of the critics chosen to dole out stars for the various films in the big Screen International grid that determines a film’s ‘buzz’, one is a woman. Same for the critics’ panel in Le Film Francais.
There’s also, in Cannes, a generally retrograde attitude to women which is harder to convey. There’s a seeming desire, always, to hark back to the glamour days of the old festival, seen in the official festival posters, which often fetishise a loosely-defined “romance.” Women are still feted for the ‘glamour’ they bring to the red carpet rather than for their creative input. Thierry Fremaux, the consummate gentleman, always helps female speakers up and down the three steps to the stage before and after Q&As—which always strikes me as a pointlessly courtly gesture, that probably says quite a lot. This year the Nespresso bar, which in past years was helmed by exclusively stunning women serving free coffee to festival-goers all day, seemed to be staffed by a handful of stunningly attractive men as well, which feels like progress.
Another event which seemed to have a little more going on, but which didn’t get quite the same headlines as the pledge, was an appearance by the collective Noire n’est pas mon metier: a group of 16 actors, led by Aïssa Maïga, who called out the racist exclusion of black women from the industry. Finally, the directors Rebecca Zlotowski and Celine Sciamma, in a completely unheralded appearance, chaired a panel which established vital and constructive guidelines to change practices at all film festivals, with the intention of getting curators to agree to their terms. (Thierry Fremaux, the director of Cannes, appears to have signed up.) Unlike the more cosmetic events cited above, these initiatives actually argue for concrete proposals to change the gender balance of festivals, both in terms of staff and selections.
Meanwhile, directors like Lars Von Trier and Jean-Luc Godard, who have both been accused of being abusive by women who worked with them, were selected in competition. All the women characters are killed in Von Trier’s film and all but one of them is nameless. The one who is named is called “Simple.” Under The Silver Lake, by David Robert Mitchell, was also accused of objectifying women—who all appeared, often topless, as functions of the central male character rather than independent people with a free will.
It feels like the festival is in transition, adapting painfully and slowly to a world that requires urgent and drastic measures. Cannes has understood there is a certain, vague #moiaussi movement of some type floating around in the air, but has decided it should be addressed in the loose terms of red-carpet protests and baristas, rather than by going into crisis mode and resolving what is now a sorely overdue problem.
The lack of real action is all the more damning because the solutions are so obvious: radically change the programming teams so that women have a say in the films selected; put in a quotient so that all strands have, if not 50/50 gender parity, then at least, say, a symbolic 33 per cent of work by women; bring in a series of panels that can think critically about the work of women now and in the festival’s past; invite female critics to those and other panels, and encourage publications at Cannes to represent female criticism.
Cannes is by no means an outlier in the industry, and other institutions such as the Academy Awards or, say, Venice or Berlin film festival, still have a long way to go too. But Cannes has a duty as the best and first film festival to lead the way. As the first festival since #metoo hit the headlines ends, it’s still to be hoped that it will.