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The official 75th Venice Film Festival has not yet responded to a letter written by European women’s groups demanding that director Alberto Barbera and Biennale president Paolo Baratta take immediate measures to address gender bias which has resulted in a lack of female directors for years in the official competition.
While Barbera insists that he will always choose a film based on its merits, groups including the European Women’s Audiovisual Network, Women in Film & TV International, WIFT Nordic, WIFT Sweden and the Swiss Women’s Audiovisual Network are no longer buying it. They claim he is inherently saying that women are inferior filmmakers and that diversity will only bring more to the table and ultimately “fix this rigged system, which favors mainly white males.”
On Sunday, Venice Days (Giornate degli Autori), an independent festival that runs alongside the main Biennale, released its own statement: “The Giornate degli Autori is a response to the alert launched by the women’s audiovisual associations and networks criticizing the lack of women directors in the lineup at the 75th Mostra di Venezia. A ‘female boxer’ has been put on this year’s poster in their defense.”
The statement acknowledges that the women’s group letter “deserves attention, yet more precise information is needed.”
“In the year of the triumphant #MeToo hashtag, we have to come to terms with the effects of the most powerful feminist movement of the millennium. Once abuse has been placed under the spotlight, a new culture has to be rebuilt in order for the role of women to be acknowledged without discrimination,” the statement continued, using the occasion to promote its own lineup, which indeed does feature six out of the official 12 films directed by women from around the globe.
Venice Days director Giorgio Gosetti, however, made a bold statement by saying that there should be no reason to complain as Venice Days should fulfill any need for diversity. “There is real, genuine motivation in women’s organizations to be cohesive and demand visibility so that the film industry can become increasingly important and more widespread; owing its art to women’s creativity. There can be no accusations against the Venice Film Festival this year, thanks to Giornate degli Autori,” he said.
“For seven years we have been organizing ‘Women’s Tales’ in collaboration with Miu Miu; there will be three days of screenings and talks with great personalities from the global audiovisual world, including art, industry, journalism and literature,” added Gosetti.
While the Miu Miu Tales collaboration has resulted in 16 short films from top female directors, some onlookers have criticized the program for relegating A-list directors to the margins of marketing.
While the filmmakers are not required to use any Miu Miu clothing in the films, most choose to do so. The end results, which are shown on the fashion brand’s website, play more as branded content than as stand-alone films, which is not to diminish their value, but to say they shouldn’t be held as an example of great female opportunity. In the same way, the festival talks, which pop up at nearly every fest now, seem to be a cover for real change, where like-minded people get in a room and gripe about the industry with little plans for action afterward.
“But above all, six out of 12 feature films in competition at the 2018 Giornate have been directed by female directors and nine are included in our selection,” continued Gosetti. “Female creativity, therefore, reigns supreme in Venice. This time, like many other times. That’s why I subscribe to director Alberto Barbera’s view: Cinema is not a matter of women’s quotas and films are not chosen on the basis of the gender of the directors. The strength and creativity of women is, however, unrivaled and this exhibition will confirm that.”
Gosetti has made great efforts to include women filmmakers over the years, which he doesn’t see as a quota, but mainly as filling his lineup with the most interesting films of the year.
The letter urged people to not focus on the women missing from the festival, but rather the women who will be there: “The most important event will not be about the controversy over absenteeism, but all about the Venice Lido film screenings, where the rule of the game at the festival will be recognizing a filmmaker’s real worth — starting from Claire Burger’s, whose film Real Love will open the Giornate.”
His words are unlikely to appease many of the women’s organizations who see the real problem as giving women equal representation in the main competition, and the language surrounding Barbera’s choices, which insinuate that women directors are just not as good as men. Barbera told The Hollywood Reporter he watched 500 films by women this year and only one made the cut.
As Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, described it, “Their choices serve to reinforce the status quo, and, as a result, their programs reflect a narrow and specific definition of ‘greatness’ in filmmaking.”
The European Women’s Network responded to THR with an updated statement: “We believe that we have made our case through our open letter. Though we celebrate the diversity and advance of the Giornate degli Autori, ‘featuring the image of a red-gloved female boxer looking straight at her adversary, without renouncing her femininity in doing so’ does not seem to reflect an adequate response to the change within the system that we are asking for.”
Aug. 13, 4:00 a.m.: Updated with statement from European Women’s Network.
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