When Jane Campion shows up at Cannes people take notice, especially because she is the only woman to have ever won the Palme d'Or. Let's say that again. The year is 2011 and only one woman has ever won the Palme d'Or.
The good news is the conversation at Cannes this year is so completely different than last year. This year it is about the work and the fact that finally there are enough female directors in the competition. But let's remember that just a year ago there was not a single woman in the competition. And while we can salute the festival for working hard to have women's voices included, we remind them that this year should not be a deemed a fluke or an anomaly and that just because you did it once doesn't mean that next year you can get away with saying but look at last year when we had four women in competition. Like it or not you have set the bar for yourselves and we will always be watching.
Because there have been so few women directed films at Cannes in the past, the conversation still includes a "wow - there are four women in competition" aspect to it, but the good news is it quickly moves off the "wow" aspect to the substance of the film.
That's what you get when you have critical mass. People talk about the movies not just the director. I think it is still fair to talk and think about the different types of material that male and female directors are attracted to. That's always an interesting conversation. And in a festival like Cannes where the focus is not on the commercial aspects of a film it doesn't seem that films about women are diminished in the same way that they are in Hollywood just because they are about women. When you are at a festival and the male directors are doing non-commercial (in Hollywood terms) fare and the women are doing the same, it levels the playing field. But once they get off the festival circuit, the films by women -- and especially those about women -- have harder commercial challenges in all arenas.
I feel that Jane Campion is almost the spokeswoman for female directors because she has made such successful movies and has been nominated and won a wide array of accolades around the world. And I love her because she is a feminist with opinions on the topic and is unafraid to give her opinion.
She was in town as a mentor of sorts to Julia Leigh the director of Sleeping Beauty and spoke about the reaction to Sleeping Beauty:
We really need women's voices out there...People that may have problems with this film, they are just not used to a strong feminist voice being shown on the screen.
Female Directors in the Spotlight at Cannes (AP via ABC)
At Cannes, Women With Diverse Visions (NY Times)