Cannes 2012: 700 Protesters Sign Petition Demanding More Women Directors

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A growing chorus of critics is attacking the Cannes Film Festival for this year's all-male competition lineup of directors.

On May 16, a group of 250 people including producer Darla K. Anderson (Toy Story 3), director Gillian Armstrong, actress-director Rachel Ward and feminist icon Gloria Steinem signed a petition sent to Cannes officials, headlined, "Where Are the Women Directors?" By May 17, the petition on Change.org had about 700 signatories. The effort is the brainchild of Melissa Silverstein, founder of a blog called Women and Hollywood and co-founder of New York's Athena Film Festival.

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"Each signature generates an e-mail [to Cannes officials]," says Silverstein, whose protest was inspired by La Barbe's barbed feminist manifesto in Le Monde last week protesting the fest's all-male 2012 lineup and acidly noting, "Men love depth in women, but only in their cleavage."

Nearly 900 French women in film signed the La Barbe petition, which prompted a response from Cannes fest director Thierry Fremaux, who said that Cannes selections are sex-blind, that he opposes quotas and that "there is no doubt that greater space needs to be given to women within cinema. But it’s not at Cannes and in the month of May that this question needs to be raised but rather all year and everywhere."

Says Silverstein, "We call for transparency and equality at Cannes and other festivals. There's a sense of people in back rooms smoking cigars and making deals. Some people get picked over and over again. They have, like, a family -- Terrence Malick, Wes Anderson, Jane Campion -- which is great, but we need more Jane Campions at the tip of his tongue."

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Campion is Cannes' sole female Palme d'Or winner, for 1993's The Piano. "Berlin is also a worldwide festival; they had women in competition," notes Silverstein.

Last year, four women competed for the Palme d'Or: Lynne Ramsay, Maiwenn, Julia Leigh and Naomi Kawase.

"Look what happened to Lynne Ramsay," says Silverstein. "We Need to Talk About Kevin was at Cannes, it was well received, it went to Toronto [and Telluride]. But along the way, it lost momentum. Which happens to a lot of women-directed films." Maiwenn did win a Cannes 2011 jury prize with Poliss, and despite the fracas over this year's female-free competition, Cannes 2012 sidebars do feature five female directors.

Silverstein hopes Cannes is inundated with feminist petitioner emails. "The larger point is, there has to be a bigger list of women. You can't just say, 'Jane Campion' and then the door is closed."

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