Female directors have yet to break the glass ceiling of Cannes competition

This year’s crop of filmmakers in the cannes film festival it does not represent a new benchmark in terms of gender diversity.

Since becoming the first international festival to sign a gender parity pledge in 2018, Cannes has made no substantive progress in increasing the representation of female directors in the competition, which remains dominated by male directors.

Cannes director Thierry Fremaux said Variety last week that it was aiming to “hopefully” have a “stronger presence of female directors” by 2022. But so far, it doesn’t appear to have achieved that goal.

At this point, there are only three films from female directors in competition from 18 titles. The ratio is on par with last year, when four of the 21 titles were by women filmmakers. That matched a previous high of four female filmmakers from the 2019 edition.

This year’s competition features a handful of well-established veteran directors like Kelly Reichardt, who was the last to compete with “Wendy and Lucy” and will present “Showing Up,” another film starring Michelle Williams; French-Italian actress-turned-director Valeria Bruni Tedeschi with “Forever Young” and veteran director Claire Denis with “Stars at Noon.” There could be one more female director joining the competition.

However, it is interesting to note that while female directors have been underrepresented in the competition, they have largely outperformed their male counterparts in terms of awards in recent years, except for the Palme d’Or. That particular award is only they have won two female directors in the festival’s 74-year history, with Julia Ducournau’s “Titane” in 2021 and Jane Campion’s “The Piano Lesson” (shared with Chen Kaige’s “Farewell My Concubine”) in 1993. In 2019, three of the four women in competition won awards: Mati Diop won the Grand Prize for “Atlantique,” ​​Celine Sciamma won best screenplay for “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and Jessica Hausner’s “Little Joe” won the award for best actress for Emily Beecham.

It’s also worth noting that the women won first prize at every major festival over the last year. In addition to Ducournau at Cannes, Audrey Diwan won the Golden Lion at Venice for “Happening,” while Jane Campion won the Silver Lion for best direction for “Power of the Dog.” In Berlin, Carla Simón won first prize with “Alcarràs” and Denis won the Silver Bear with “Both Sides of the Blade”. Other key festivals such as Toronto and Sundance also saw female directors take home top prizes with director Kamila Andini’s “Yuni” and Nikyatu Jusu’s “The Nanny”, respectively.

Cannes is not alone in failing to promote more films from filmmakers. Most of Europe’s major festivals have also failed to reflect gender parity in their competition lineups. Cannes organizers have explained away the representation gap by saying there might not be enough female directors with the same pedigree as their male counterparts, an argument that has angered many in the creative community. However, there have been more and more films by female directors in the Official Selection in recent years, especially in the Un Certain Regard section, which is largely dedicated to emerging filmmakers.

Looking at the whole of the Official Selection, the progression of directors is also insufficient. Although the payroll has been expanding over the years, the representation of women helmsmen has not followed the same path. There were 14 female directors from 47 films in the Official Selection in 2019, compared to 28 from 64 titles in 2021 and so far just nine titles from 49 films this year.

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