Cannes Festival Adds Female Directors, Competition Remains Male-Dominated

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Sofia Coppola

There are 12 projects from female filmmakers set for the 70th edition, up from nine last year, but only three of the 19 competition entries are directed by women.

The Cannes Film Festival is making progress on gender equality. Sort of.

The world's most prestigious film fest has been under fire for years for underrepresenting female directors and, on occasion, for being insensitive to gender and equality issues.

In 2015, for example, the event was caught up in "Heelgate," catching criticism for an apparently unwritten policy requiring women to wear high heels on the red carpet.

This year, the 70th anniversary festival poster, which shows an exuberant Claudia Cardinale dancing, sparked controversy when fans online noted that the picture of the Italian acting legend appeared to have been retouched to make her appear slimmer.

So it was with a degree of pride that festival director Thierry Fremaux on Thursday unveiled the official lineup for the 70th Cannes Film Festival by noting that a total of 12 movies directed by women would be screening in the official selection this year, up from nine in 2016.

The additional three femme-directed films, which amounts to a 33 percent increase from a small base, is progress of a sort. But 12 titles among the 54 screening in the official lineup — which includes competition and out-of-competition titles, short films, special screenings and the Un Certain Regard sidebar — still means that more than three quarters of the fest's films this year were directed by men. For math fans, here are the percentages: female directors, 22.2 percent; male directors, 77.8 percent.

Things are worse if one looks just at the competition lineup. Of the 19 films in the running for the 2017 Palme d'Or, only three are directed by women: Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled, Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here and Radiance from Naomi Kawase. That ratio, just over 15 percent, is on par with last year's Cannes lineup, which included Andrea Arnold's American Honey, Toni Erdmann from Maren Ade and Nicole Garcia's From the Land of the Moon.

It's only a slight improvement over 2015, when just two women helmers made the competition cut. (Ironically, Cannes had named 2015 the "Year of the Woman.")

Cannes' calculations also include a short film, Kristen Stewart's Come Swim, and a TV series, Top of the Lake: China Girl from director Jane Campion (co-written by Gerard Lee), both of which will get special screenings at the festival this year.

The Un Certain Regard sidebar, which traditionally has had a better record of gender equality in its lineup, has four female-directed projects. That is a still-meager 25 percent of the total program of 16 titles for that section. They include The Desert Bride from directors Cecilia Atan and Valeria Pivato, After the War from Annarita Zambrano, Leonor Serraille's Jeune Femme and Western from German filmmaker Valeska Grisebach.

Visages, Villages, the latest documentary from pioneering feminist filmmaker Agnes Varda, will get a special screening in Cannes this year, as will Sea Sorrow, the directorial debut of Oscar-winning actress and longtime activist Vanessa Redgrave.

The 2017 Cannes Film Festival is set to run May 17-28.

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