Cannes Festival Leadership Calls New Gender Data "The Tip of the Iceberg"

Cannes Film Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux at Cannes 2019 event - H 2019
Courtesy of THR/Rebecca Keegan

The fest's transparency is progress, say activists at Le Collectif 50/50, but "if we continue [at this rate], we'll have to wait to 2063 to reach parity."

A year after a historic gathering at Cannes where the film festival pledged to take steps toward gender equality, members of the French organization Le Collectif 50/50 and the artistic directors of the festival met again in the same tent on the beach Friday, this time to look at what they had learned and how far they have yet to go.

For the first time this year, Cannes counted the numbers of female directors who submitted to the festival, and those who were admitted. The festival said that it received 1,845 feature film submissions from 39 countries, 26 percent of them directed by women. Its official selection of 69 films, both features and shorts, included 19 films directed by women, or 27.5 percent. 

Addressing the audience in the tent on the beach, a much smaller, quieter one than had watched his signing of a gender parity pledge last year, Thierry Fremaux noted that there was a higher percentage of female directors in the short film (42 percent) and Un Certain Regard (42 percent) sections of the festival, which often feature the work of young directors. “This means that in the future all these figures are going to be increasing in terms of numbers of women filmmakers,” said Fremaux, who wore a 5050 badge on his lapel. He also pointed out that the numbers of female director at Cannes have steadily risen over time, from six in 2015 to 20 this year. 

Fremaux’s analysis was greeted with warmth, but also some skepticism. “If we continue [at this rate], we’ll have to wait to 2063 to reach parity,” said director and critic Iris Brey. “So we should rejoice, but we should also ask the question, where do all the women filmmakers disappear to after the schools? I want to be positive but we have to understand these figures have been the same for many years.”

Last year at Cannes, Le Collectif 50/50 organized a Palais protest of 82 women, led by Cate Blanchett and Agnès Varda, advocating for gender equality in the film industry. The moment was a galvanizing one, with Cannes becoming the first of 40 festivals that signed the gender parity pledge, which called for more transparency around the selection process.

“There is the figures and then the spirit behind them,” said Charles Tesson, artistic director of Cannes’ Critics' Week. “These figures are important, but it’s the question of a longer term state of mind.”

“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” agreed Paolo Moretti, the artistic director of the Directors’ Fortnight. “For me this is a question that goes well beyond the festival.”

Fremaux pointed out gender parallels between Cannes and other areas of French culture, noting that while only one woman has won the Palme d’Or, female chefs with three Michelin stars are also rare. Said Fremaux: "We’re not going to talk about the subject only once a year at Cannes."