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Four Steps Back - NO Women Directors in Competition at Cannes

by Melissa Silverstein
April 19, 2012 7:18 AM
  • |
No women allowed 3

I'm sitting in my hotel room in Cologne, Germany having arrived yesterday at International Frauen Film Festival for the second year in a row.  I came back this year because I had such a great time last year meeting and talking with so many women directors and I really love the people who run this festival.

Last year I also sat in my hotel room when the Cannes lineup was revealed and I was happily shocked when four women directed films were included in competition.  And you will note that when the Festival happened people talked about the women and their work.  It wasn't just about a woman.  It was about the work.  That's what happens when you get to some level of critical mass.  Several of the films especially We Need to Talk About Kevin were released all over the world and Lynne Ramsay won a ton of respect for her effort on the film.  Maiwenn's Polisse is now about to play at Tribeca and it will be released in the US in May.  Would this have happened without Cannes?  I can't answer that but her film's profile was clearly raised because of the Festival.

But this year we are back to two years ago when no women were included.  NO WOMEN DIRECTED FILMS WILL BE IN THE MAIN COMPETITION AT CANNES.  That is ZERO out of 21.  Two women directed films out of 17 films -- Trois Mondes (dir. Catherine Corsini) and Confession of a Child of the Century (dir. Sylvie Verheyde) -- are in Un Certain Regard. 

Cannes is the most prestigious world competition and to have no female directors is just a slap in the face.  I cannot believe there were no films worthy of inclusion.  I just don't believe it.  The whole process is fucked up that women can't even get into the conversations about films that people are even thinking about will be included in lineups. 

For an industry that professes to examine questions about life, that challenges conventions, that pushes the envelope, the total neanderthal approach to women is breathtaking.  How can this industry say it is progressive or forward thinking in any way when it constantly shunts aside the perspectives of half of the world.

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  • Jennifer | March 5, 2013 8:31 AMReply

    Jake. Yes, every selection panel at Cannes (there are two official competition strands and two out of competition strands) is fronted by a man. With at least a 90% male judging panel.

    And Arielle, are you a female director? I doubt it. If you were you would probably know that sexism is alive and well and living in the film industry and wouldn't waste your time getting affronted at articles like this and crapping on about vaginas. I don't want the world to revolve around yours or anyone else's vagina, but I wouldn't mind seeing a few more stories told by a few more women on film. Isn't much to ask for.

    Either women have absolutely nothing to say and no stories to tell on film, or there is quite possibly some imbalance here that is worthy of investigation.

  • Jake | May 25, 2012 11:07 PMReply

    Ugh. Why is this always viewed as sexist? Why is it always that women have been slighted? Was it a man-only panel? Or were we betrayed by traitorous women? Ugh.

  • Christina | May 17, 2012 5:22 PMReply

    This is an age-old debate (think 2011 Oscars Best Director backlash) and one thing is clear: we need more female gatekeepers. It's not enough just to say that the predominantly male-led film festivals should have a quota for films from female directors. An increase in female festival directors, programmers, agents, critics and publicists are needed if we're ever going to create an even playing field. My recent post:

  • arielle | May 14, 2012 5:48 PMReply

    I can not believe I just read this. Haven't seen a more bitter sexist rant in ages. What if the movies weren't selected because they WERE NOT WORTHY?
    Step out of your politically correct narrow views and think broader (pun intended) - the world doesn't revolve around our vaginas. To include a product in a contest just because it was made by a woman is just another reason for why we stopped going into space as a race: because we're growing dumber by the day. Grow up, ladies... As a woman, I'm ashamed of such outbursts of gratuitous feminism.

  • marie | May 9, 2012 4:02 PMReply

    Hi all, I am a member of a feminist action group in Paris called "La Barbe" ( We are preparing a piece about Cannes 2012 and collecting signatures to support it. I remember a petition circulated in 2010 already, entitled "You cannes not be serious" and we would love to know who launched it and how to get back to the signatories with a new opportunity to protest these repetitive facts. Do you have any idea how to best circulate our petition among your community? Any advice on how to reach out to previous signatories or contact with film makers to share with us ? Thank you all, and have a look of our website, it's fun! (though french)

  • Ariel Dougherty | April 26, 2012 5:07 PMReply

    Maria, since this happened:
    .....(THE WINE OF SUMMER) was rejected from Cannes this year. But I have a strange sense of solidarity because they excluded all women from competition......
    What about a Women Count(er) Cannes festival that showcases all these rejected women's films. If you can find some place in Cannes to four-wall it, you'll get GREAT press.

  • Marian | April 19, 2012 5:24 PMReply

    A little while ago I heard Debra Zimmerman (CEO at Women Make Movies) suggest that it might be helpful to develop stronger links between men and women in 'the industry' and women's film festivals. Would a campaign to invite industry decision-makers and influential critics to women's film festivals be a good idea? I think an all-women context often facilitates different insights than when we view women's work in a mixed gender festival, and if industry decision-makers could view women's work among other women's work and listen to and participate in the significant conversations about women's films and women filmmakers that happen at our festivals they might have fresh reference points when investing/buying/selecting. I'm encouraged that 30% of the (only ten) short films in competition at Cannes this year have women directors: Zia Mandviwalla (New Zealand, so proud!) with 'Night Shift', Chloe Robichaud (Canada) with 'Chef de Meute' and Emilie Verhamme (Belgium) with 'Cockaigne'.

  • Emily | April 19, 2012 5:08 PMReply

    Thanks for your rage Melissa. It inspires me to keep going.

  • Andres | April 19, 2012 2:59 PMReply

    I find this article to be rather amateur. Has Melissa Silverstein seen any of the films that are IN COMPETITION? If you're thinking about responding, "Well no, because that is why I am there" - don't use that as a response. There are ways to see these movies whether you know distribution companies that have already seen all the films in advance or possibly leaked. The Cannes line-up every year is about: QUALITY, QUALITY, QUALITY. If there are no films from a female director, then it's simply because the quality of the them was not up to par with the other films in terms of design and the strength of the narrative. Please Ms. Silverstein, see all the films in the line-up first, then see other films from female directors that were left out and compare. Then you can blog all you want about the injustice to incorporate female directed films.

  • Antonella | April 21, 2012 6:46 PM

    I completely agree with you. Even before reading the article a thought crossed my mind, maybe cynical, 'What if the films from the female directors weren't as good as those made by the men?'. Why getting all victimistic as usual? It's not like EVERY year women are snubbed. Last year there were more female directors in competition and the quality was higher (We Need To Talk About Kevin is one of the best films of the last years).
    This attitude really grates on me. And let's not get there with the 20% quota. By continuing on feeling victims women will not get where they want.
    As for Lars von Trier, his films get accepted for the competition simply because, whether you like his style or not (I personally adore him), he goes beyond what is the norm or more simply he's 'crazy'. Most women don't do that and are not as ground-breaking as him and others.

  • Andres | April 20, 2012 10:15 AM

    @Craig Ranapia: what are you talking about? You criticize my naivete, but tell me then - what is the basis and criteria of their selection? They're obviously doing something right if every year, the biggest and most influential film festival in the world is Cannes. Also, you gave a very poor example in choosing Von Trier as a filmmaker who wouldn't be chosen, since about half his films (10) have been In Competition at Cannes already. Dogville, Dancer in the Dark, Breaking the Waves to name a few.

  • Craig Ranapia | April 20, 2012 2:28 AM

    With all due respect, I think you've got a rather naive (if charmingly so) picture of the politics of selection around Cannes and other high-profile competitive film festivals. Lars von Trier could make the greatest film since 'Citizen Kane', and I have severe doubts it would be playing in Competition at Cannes.

  • Elizabeth | April 19, 2012 1:49 PMReply

    I think it should be more disturbing that no female director was on the list of possible replacements for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Because that's where the problem really is. Female directors are being cut out of jobs. With less opportunity, there is less chance of getting to anything.

  • Stefanie Görtz | April 19, 2012 10:24 AMReply

    Time for new edition of "You Cannes not be serious"!

  • Sanne Kurz | April 19, 2012 9:28 AMReply

    On my way to the IFFF right now...
    ...we got a long way to go, not necessarily to the IFFF in Cologne, but in to the industry as equally working, employed, received and treated people.
    I'm a cinematographer and a vast chunk of my work I get because I'm a woman.
    A much bigger chunk of work I am actually NOT getting, because I'm a woman.
    Female character in documentary? Let's ask a woman to shoot it. Commercial with kids? She'll be good with them, let's ring her.
    My debut feature for cinema was an action film. I used to live in Australia back than where Mandy Walker set the limits for all DP's not only women DP's.
    Car chases, explosions, fight scenes - It was the best!
    Back in Europe, people kept asking me, if the credit I got was for real.
    "And you shot this? I mean - as the DoP?"
    No kidding.

  • Melissa Silverstein | April 19, 2012 9:53 AM


    Please make sure to say hi when you get to Cologne.


  • Kat Gordon | April 19, 2012 7:26 AMReply

    How disheartening! I don't work in the film industry, but I watch it closely because there are a lot of similarities between the lack of women there + in my industry (advertising). I am organizing a conference in SF highlighting the need for more female Creative Directors + one of our panels is called "Needed: More Cans in Cannes." The gender bias of judges leads to gender bias of award recipients. Part of our battle cry needs to include more women on judging panels.

    Deep sigh. Seems we've still got a long way to go, baby.

  • Anton Sirius | April 23, 2012 1:31 PM

    They haven't announced the full juries yet, but last year's Palme d'Or jury with DeNiro as president was composed of five men and four women (Uma Thurman, Martina Gusman, Nansun Shi and Linn Ullmann). I don't believe the juries have input into the selection process though, and just vote from among the films that are selected.

  • maria | April 19, 2012 10:04 AM

    Thanks for your point, Kat. And thanks as always for posting this, Melissa. I was just thinking the same thing about judges and juries. My film too (THE WINE OF SUMMER) was rejected from Cannes this year. But I have a strange sense of solidarity because they excluded all women from competition, like it was not just a rejection to me/my film but to our gender. What a strange feeling. All the judges this year are men: Nanni Moretti, Jean-Pierre Dardann, and Tim Roth. All are middle age, all are white. How can our voices be heard in the world of cinema if we are excluded from the conversation in the first place?

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