Rachel Ward

The world has moved on but I’m still obsessing about why, for the second time in three years was there no films directed by a woman in the main competition at Cannes this year. I mean I know it’s only one festival but it’s by far the most prestigious and really that kind of omission is much more than the sum of its parts. It really does beg the larger question of why? Why are there so few females being recognized for excellence? This is 2012 for God’s sake, we’ve been writing books, winning literary awards, hung in national galleries, directing operas and ballets, running theatre companies for years now so what is it that is denying us a larger quota of recognition of film-making?

I was in France when the Cannes line up of films for the Palme d’Or was announced and I can tell you it was front-page news and became the most talked about issue of the festival. The French feminist collection Le Barbe, those bearded ladies, blocked the esplanade, thousands signed a petition, the festival director Thierry Frémaux was forced to issue a statement and jury member Andrea Arnold, that wonderful filmmaker of Red Road and last year’s Cannes film Fish Tank was deluged by the press asking for a possible explanation. Her answer that she would hate to be chosen just because she is a woman doesn’t satisfy.  

Duh! There’s something more complicated here and since Thierry Frémaux did us the huge favor of making the issue so hot I think it behooves us to keep the conversation going don’t you?

Well, I’ve certainly been keeping up my part and you know how they hate women with a cause or a bit of passion in England. First I complained about why every exhibition in London, from Piscasso to David Hockey to Damian Hirst is celebrating only male artists and then I wanted answers to our absence from Cannes. I finally think my massive A380 was lifted into the sky by the collective sigh of relief that I was leaving. Still I did get some theories, all different and I want to know what you think.

So, lets start with the most popular theory which is that if a women had made a good enough film it would have been selected and since none of us saw all of the films submitted, it’s an impossible theory to refute.  Still one only needs to view Cate Shortland’s new film, (not selected) Lore beside Walter Salles’s film On the Road (selected) to throw that theory into serious doubt. Of course there are many more men out there making films and as Tropfest founder John Polson once said, when I took him to task for the paucity of female finalist in Tropfest.  He said the numbers were commiserate with the numbers that submitted films. So perhaps it is simply the case of hugely disproportionate numbers of male to female filmmakers and we should accept that most women seeking a career in the arts (because we surely agree that there is no disproportion of creativity between sexes) aren’t interested in being filmmakers and instead of worrying that the only way they’ll get to Cannes is on the arm of Prince Charming or that we won’t leave behind a film making heritage for the next generation, we should just have another cup of tea and a good lie down.