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Cannes Head Thierry Fremaux Says Lars Von Trier Welcomed Back To Fest, Addresses Lack Of Female Directors In Competition

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by Kevin Jagernauth
April 19, 2013 12:09 PM
3 Comments
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Thierry Fremaux at Cannes.

Each year there is plenty to talk about at the Cannes Film Festival, especially considering its pedigree as the top of the heap when it comes to world premieres and highlighting the best that world cinema has to offer. But one of the most publicized incidents of the last couple of years had nothing to do with the movies themselves, but rather the unfortunate, off hand comments by a particular director. When Lars Von Trier dropped the n-bomb (Nazi) during a press conference for "Melancholia" two years ago in the guise of a malformed, provocative joke, reaction was swift. Organizers declared him "persona non grata" and barred him from the rest of the fest. And indeed, since then Lars Von Trier has placed a self-imposed ban on himself from speaking to the press. But it looks like time heals all wounds...

Speaking with Screen Daily following the announcement of the lineup for the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux revealed that Lars Von Trier is welcome again on the Croisette. "...he was declared ‘persona non grata’ for 2011 and was never declared ‘persona non grata’ forever," he explained, and when asked about "Nymphomaniac" specifically, he revealed, "We didn’t see his film because it wasn’t ready. The day he has a film ready in time for Cannes we will talk about him again."

In fact, producers said back in February that Von Trier's 2-part sexual odyssey wouldn't be ready in time to submit, but the bigger take away here is that Cannes recognizes that cooler heads have prevailed, and it's mature and wise to give another shot to the director. Even if the director said following the incident that he was "proud" of getting booted from Cannes. Oh Lars...

From one controversy to another, the past couple of years have seen observers criticize Cannes for its lack of female directors, and this year, the fact that the main Competition only has one woman in contention has caused more scrutiny (including from us). But Fremaux thoughtfully addresses the issue.

"If you count Un Certain Regard, there are seven women in Official Selection. Un Certain Regard is as important for me as the competition. As I said at the press conference, the lack of women in cinema is a fundamental problem. As a citizen I think we need to fight it but it’s not a battle I can wage as a Cannes selector," he said. "...One can create a controversy around Cannes, use Cannes, but Cannes is not at the root of the problem. You can attack the festival but it does not solve the problem. It’s an easy way to discuss the issue without really doing anything about it. There was the controversy last year and then in the 12 intervening months nobody’s actually done anything to tackle the issue."

It's a bold response, and moreover, don't expect Cannes to submit to tokenism either. "The thing about women is that - like men - they can make bad films. There are hundreds of men who were rejected and dozens of women too," he shared. "We’re not going to take a film by a woman simply because it’s by a woman – what an insult. Yes, cinema is male-dominated but it doesn’t make sense to only discuss it during Cannes."

Thoughts? Did Fremaux hit the nail on the head or is he side-stepping the impact Cannes has on the world stage? Weigh in below. The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 15-27.

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3 Comments

  • MDL | April 19, 2013 2:37 PMReply

    It's sort of hard to take him too seriously when he selects some bad competition films. Cannes is a festival that plays favorites. Some filmmakers get selected just for having made a film that was ready in time. So if he really wanted to make a statement he could change his tactic of playing favorites and select more women for competition rather than just drop them off in the sidebar. I am willing to bet that the new Clair Denis film [in Un Certain Regard] will be better than at least a couple of the films in competition.

  • Lee Daniels | April 19, 2013 2:04 PMReply

    Fremaux's argument would be convincing if it weren't for all the mediocre/bad/abominable films by male directors competing in Cannes every year. Remember this is the festival that has awarded it's highest honor to Bille August not once but twice... Why not let some female hacks take part?

  • Ted | April 19, 2013 1:11 PMReply

    I think he's right about women directors. And they wouldn't be doing any favors to anyone to allow inferior films directed by women in the competition. It amounts to saying "oh isn't that cute, a women directing a film - adorable - we'll let her in!." I am reminded of how Chantal Akerman refuses to participate in gay or women's film festivals because she doesn't want her films to be viewed as "women's films." Her best films (I personally consider Jeanne Dielman an unqualified masterpiece) can easily stand with the best of any male director's output and we shouldn't demean that by talking about her as a women's filmmaker. Similarly, we shouldn't demean the potential creative talents of women by accepting inferior works simply because a women directed them.

    The real issue here is that women are still significantly under-represented in many high-profile fields. It's a mistake that we always ask why are there so few women filmmakers or why are there so few female physicists or why are there so few women CEOs or why … etc. The real question is why are there so few women in almost all high-profile fields. This is a larger social problem that Cannes can really do anything about. The unfortunate reality is that he is right, there just aren't that many talented female directors. Of course, there are female masters, Akerman, Varda, Chytilova come to mind immediately, but there are countless more men that come to mind than women. The real issue is how we can structure our societies and nurture the potential talents of women, who have been held back for a variety of social reasons, to not just succeed in filmmaking, but more broadly in science, business, etc. That's not something Cannes can achieve by letting a few mediocre women-directed films slide in.

    Of course, the situation would be helped somewhat if some critics were more active in promoting women directors who often tend to work outside the major studios and distributors. Clio Barnard's "The Arbor" was a fantastic film, especially for a feature-length debut, and she just wrapped her next film "The Selfish Giant" which I haven't heard a peep about from Indiewire, despite covering every little rumor about "Man of Steel."

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