Venice: Jury President Annette Bening Addresses Lack of Female Directors in Lineup

The actress believes the situation overall is getting better.

The Venice Film Festival kicks off its most star-studded lineup in years Wednesday with its 74th edition. New films from the likes of George Clooney, Alexander Payne, Paul Schrader, Martin McDonagh, Darren Aronofsky and Guillermo del Toro will bring stars including Javier Bardem, Frances McDormand, Matt Damon, Judi Dench, Jennifer Lawrence, Jane Fonda and Robert Redford to the red carpet.

While studios are flocking to the Italian festival in hopes of a strong awards season launch, one criticism that has been made of this year's lineup is the lack of female directors represented, with just one out of 21 films in competition helmed by a woman.

Jury president Annette Bening, herself the first woman jury head in more than a decade, isn’t too worried about the lack of diversity in the lineup.

“I was thrilled to be asked to be here, so I didn’t count the number of films that were accepted that were directed by women,” said Bening.

“They watched 2,000 films if you can imagine what that would be like. So no, I didn’t approach it that way,” she added.

When asked if festivals should do more to showcase diverse lineups, or if the problem lies solely with the people making the films, Bening brought the question back to women, rather than address any systemic divide.

“I think that we as women, we have to be very sharp and shrewd and creative ourselves about what we choose to make,” she said.

For Bening, the difficulty of making a movie is a universal problem, not just a female problem. “I know that most people that I know, whether they’re veterans or newcomers, or they’re men or women, most people struggle to get their movies made,” she said.

“And there is a lot of sexism, of course that exists. There’s no question. But I think things are changing,” she said. “The more that we, as women, can make films that speak to everyone, we can be regarded as filmmakers.”

Bening believes overall the situation is getting much better. “We have a long way to go, in terms of parity — production, directors, writers, actresses, appearing in festivals and all of that,” she said. “I think the direction we’re going is positive.”

On the other side of the coin, the Toronto Film Festival this year launched an initiative to help level the playing field, of what they see is gender inequity at every level.

The festival, also an important awards-season launching place, will pursue a residency program for female filmmakers as well as a new producers’ accelerator film for women. Toronto has targeted a $3 million goal to launch various programs over the next five years.

One area Venice is focusing on this year is the showcase of new technologies and art forms, which they believe is the mission of the Biennale.

This is the first year that Venice will have its own VR competition. The festival has set up an entire island with installations featuring everything from Greenland Melting, a short that puts visitors atop and underneath a melting iceberg, and Gomorrah VR, a short that takes place between seasons of the popular mafia show.

Director John Landis is president of the jury that will award the festival’s first VR prizes. “I’m here because the technology is so new,” said Landis.

“The reason I'm here is I want to learn about it,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of VR and I think, 'Oh, it’s neat.' But I want to learn about how artists use it.”

Landis added that he was particularly excited to see The Deserted by Tsai Ming-Liang, about an isolated man who is only able to communicate with a fish, as it is the longest piece in the competition with a running time of 55 minutes.

“The technology is evolving already,” said Landis. “Within the past few weeks I’ve been shown two brand-new improvements. I find it very exciting.”