Cannes plain
There are rumbles around the world about the lack of women directors in the official competition. Dr. Lisa French adds an Australian perspective.

The `Festival de Cannes` opened with the usual `lights, camera and action` - unless you are a woman. For the second time in three years there isn`t a film directed by a woman in main competition. Why not?

There are those who`d say that this is simply a merit - based system, and women didn`t make the cut (again). Can`t argue with that - or can you?

Where women take part in international film industries, they do so with great success, but globally, women`s participation in film industries is declining. They are not making progress to increase their numerical participation - in particular, there is strong evidence that women directors are decreasing rather than increasing by percentage. For example, in Australia, my comparisons of data of women directors of features reveals that in 1985 they were 7% of directors, in 1992 this number rose to 22%, but from 1990 to 2008/09, women directors of features in Australia dropped to 18% (based on analysis of 395 features shot July 1990 - June 2009). Therefore, they are not making progress in terms of proportional representation, and more significantly, they are going backwards.

An examination of the reports and surveys internationally reveals that this is a global trend. For example, a 2008 American survey by Martha Lauzen found that women represent between 4 and 23 per cent in any of the following: director, executive producer, producer, writer, cinematographer and editor (thus remaining significantly under-represented). A study of women of gender and work in relation to Danish feature films 1992 - 2002 undertaken by Mette Knudsen and Jane Rowley revealed a marked imbalance: women made up 0 per cent of cinematographers, 17 per cent of screenwriters, 19 per cent of producers, 20 per cent of directors and 38 per cent of editors. Although interestingly, the Danish study did find that despite a decrease in participation in most areas from 1992 to 2002, women directors had increased to a fabulous 20%. Overall, the studies reveal that on top of the low participation, and evidence of a decline in proportional representation, women continue to find it difficult to break into technical fields, and while still the minority, are over - represented in areas such as producing.

So the questions are, do films made by women simply not make the cut to be included in a festival like Cannes because they aren`t good enough, and why are women going backwards?

The Cannes Festival Board of Directors select the films in competition (whose names I cannot find anywhere). A jury selects the prizes, and this year it has four women amongst the nine members (and to her credit, one of them, Andrea Arnold was the first to raise the issue). Because gender is not seen as an issue, there is no consideration given to gender balance in selection (and until the lack of gender equity is recognized, they are probably not going to feel they need to get consider it - unless we all rise up and sign a petition to make them think twice about it!) The festival`s Thierry Fremaux, is reported in `The Independent` as saying that the judges would not select a film that doesn`t deserve it "just because it is directed by a woman". A response that effectively shuts up the debate, because no-one would want this. But are there particular structural reasons that films made by women directors are not being selected? I would hope that the festival would take up a genuine inquiry into this issue, especially as it seems particularly symptomatic of this particular festival.