Megan Ellison Gives Rare Speech in Cannes: Film "Has Made Me Feel Less Alone in the World"

The private producer was lauded along with Jane Fonda at a glamorous dinner sponsored by Cannes Film Festival supporter Kering.

At the inaugural Women in Motion awards at the Cannes Film Festival on May 17, Jane Fonda and Megan Ellison took the stage to deliver moving acceptance speeches that challenged creators in the film industry to be more inclusive of women and their stories.

Fonda and Ellison were lauded at the inaugural presidential dinner (held at the picturesque Musee de la Castre) along with actress Olivia de Havilland, the 98-year-old legend who was not present. Also in attendance were dinner co-hosts Pierre Lescure, president of the Cannes Film Festival, Thierry Fremaux, general delegate of the festival, and Francois-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of The Kering Group. His company is celebrating its first year as the lead sponsor of the Cannes Film Festival. 

Ellison was the first honoree to take the stage, starting her acceptance speech by acknowledging her nervousness, thanking Pinault and “my friend Thierry Fremaux,” and paying tribute to her fellow nominees. “Any time you are put in the same category as Jane Fonda, a real legend, it feels surreal, perhaps even undeserved. I humbly accept this beautiful award on behalf of my team at Annapurna as well as all the amazing filmmakers I’ve had the opportunity to work with. I have been shaped by all of you,” said the 29-year-old producer and daughter of Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison. “I feel incredibly lucky to have been welcomed in this community that has been the primary source of inspiration in my life.”

The notably private Ellison has never given a formal press interview, issuing statements only via Twitter, which is why Sunday night’s dinner proved to be a special event at the festival. Her taste does speak for itself, however, thanks to such recent credits as Zero Dark Thirty, Her, Foxcatcher and American Hustle.

On stage, Ellison admitted that her work so far in the film industry has had an emotional impact on her. “It has made me feel less alone in the world, and for that, I will always be grateful,” she said. “I don’t believe in very many things, but art is definitely one of them. And at the top of that list, film and art, influence our world’s culture much more than many of us understand and fully respect. Art does not belong to the few, but to the many.

She continued to say that the perspectives filmmakers are putting out in the world should not come from such a small subset of people because that would be a disservice. In closing, she quoted iconic American scribe Kurt Vonnegut, proving that her artistic inspirations also include literature.

“As Kurt Vonnegut said, the arts are not a way to make a living, they are a very human way of making life more bearable. And that’s what I believe. And that’s what I want to be a part of.”

While accepting her award, 77-year-old Fonda, also congratulated Ellison before turning her attention to the challenges females face in the industry. (She also received a standing ovation sparked by Pinault's wife, Salma Hayek. “I want to give a shout out to Megan Ellison. It’s hard to believe how young she is,” Fonda noted. “Without her, a lot of the most daring, cutting edge, important filmmakers in the United States would not be making their movies.”

She continued: “This industry, our industry, is without doubt the most important cultural force in the world. It knows no boundaries. … It’s critical that women are at the heart of the international film industry, not just as glamorous icons but as creators, as artists, as decision makers, ensuring that the narrative — of not just half but 51% of the world’s population — is fully represented. We women we see things differently, we experience things differently, we express things differently, we just do. And if our stories, our truths, are not respected on that big silver screen, then the women in those dark theaters are going to risk feeling that they are not seen and that they don’t really matter that much. And the half of the world that is male will be robbed of half of reality.”

Fremaux and Lescure also acknowledged the push to bring female-centric stories to the mainstream, but it was Pinault who backed up his comments with statistics and questions about films from 2014: “Why did only 12 percent of them have a woman at the center of the story? And why only 7 percent were directed by women?”

“Through the Women in Motion Talks here at the Cannes Film Festival, we want to get you talking openly with each other about what is happening and what we can do about it,” he said.

The elegant evening, which hosted the official competition jury members including the Coen brothers and Jake Gyllenhaal, minus Sienna Miller and Xavier Dolan, marked the official launch of Kering’s “Women in Motion” initiative of the festival, a program designed to celebrate and recognize women and their contributions to film by presenting one award honoring a remarkable contribution to women’s causes and another to honor a young and talented female filmmaker.

The Hollywood Reporter is a partner with Kering on the series of “Women in Motion” talks, one-hour conversations moderated by a THR editor and featuring such names as Hayek, Isabella Rossellini, Frances McDormand, Christine Vachon and Claire Denis, among others. 

The dinner closed up a glittery Cannes evening that kicked off with a red carpet screening of a restored print of the classic Luchino Visconti film Rocco and His Brothers from 1960. The event was made possible by Gucci through it's now 10-year-strong commitment to preserving the artistic and cultural heritage of film in partnership with Martin Scorsese's The Film Foundation. On hand to introduce the film for the VIP festival audience was Benicio Del Toro, decked out in a Gucci midnight blue Marseille tuxedo. He was joined at the screening by Gucci president and CEO Marco Bizzarri and creative director Alessandro De Michele.