The prestigious Cannes Film Festival has always had a difficult relation with women in the industry. Some editions, like 2012, didn't feature any female directors in the competition at all. During its 70 year run the festival was opened only twice by a film directed by a woman. With the purpose of rectifying this and celebrating women in film, 2015 was named 'Year de la femme', but two years later women are still being kept out.
It's a regular occurrence of the past few years; whenever film festivals announce their line-up, the press starts counting how many female directors are included. And for good reason. Women are still underrepresented in film and, as a result, at the festivals. While festivals like Sundance and Tribeca have been praised this year for including and awarding more women in film, Cannes screened only thirteen films and one television show directed by women. That didn't go unnoticed.
Actress Jessica Chastain, who was on the jury for the main competition, made it very clear what she thought of the female representation at this year's Cannes: "I love movies, and the one thing I really took away from this experience is how the world views women from the female characters that I saw represented", she said. "It was quite disturbing, to be honest. There are some exceptions, I will say. But for the most part, I was surprised with the representation of female characters on screen in these films."
"I think if we include more female storytellers, I hope we have more women that I see in my own day-to-day life. They just don’t react to the men around them. They have their own point-of-view", she continued.
Out of the nineteen films that were considered for the Palme d'Or, only three (The Beguiled, Radiance & You Were Never Really Here) were directed by women. The odds were a little better in the Un Certain Regard section, with five out of a total of eighteen. Jane Campion's second season of Top of the Lake was part of the 70th Anniversary Events, just as Kristen Stewart's short film Come Swim. The other four women-helmed projects were screened as part of Out of Competition (Agnes Varda co-directed Visages, Villages) and Special Screenings.
While the odds weren't in their favor, the women definitely made sure they were the ones everyone would talk about this year, by addressing these issues themselves. Nicole Kidman, who was the unofficial Queen of Cannes with three films and a television show at the festival, brought up the statistic that only 4.2% of women directed 1,000 of last year's popular films. She vowed to keep working with a female director every 18 months.
During the anniversary soiree of the festival, Jane Campion called it insane for her to be the only woman to ever win the Best Director Award. Isabelle Huppert, who hosted the night, supported that statement in her monologue, by saying: "Seventy palmarès (prize winners), but only one for a woman. No comment."
It may have helped Sofia Coppola, because by the end of this year's Cannes, she became the second ever female director to take home Best Director for her latest film, The Beguiled. Maybe if women keep up these calls to action, places like Cannes will eventually catch up. But let's hope that will be sooner than later because, as Chastain touched upon, having more women behind the camera will also help with the representation of women on screen.