Venice Film Festival: Just 2 Female Directors in Competition Lineup

©Lisa Tomasetti

The fest still hasn't got the #MeToo memo.

The Venice Film Festival still has a long way to go on possible gender parity.

Of the 21 films unveiled Thursday that will make up the competition lineup for 2019 Venice Film Festival, just two — or less than 10 percent — were directed by women:  The Perfect Candidate from BAFTA-nominated Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour (Wadjda) and Babyteeth, the feature debut of Australian TV helmer Shannon Murphy (Sisters).

The figure represents double the female representation seen in Venice's 2017 and 2018 competition lineups, each of which had only a single title directed by a woman. But it still seems paltry, particularly after Venice's boisterous festival director Alberto Barbera last year bowed to pressure to sign the so-called 50/50 by 2020 gender parity protocol, which commits the fest to release statistics on submissions and be more transparent about its selection board’s gender make-up.

The 50/50 by 2020 pledge, however, does not require Venice to agree to gender quotas — Barbera has said he would quit if a quota were imposed on the world’s oldest film fest, arguing competition titles must be selected on the basis of quality, not gender representation.

On that front, Barbera can point to several high-profile (male-directed) titles this year. From fest opener The Truth from Cannes 2018 winner Hirokazu Kore-eda (The Shoplifters) to James Gray's space epic Ad Astra starring Brad Pitt to Todd Phillips' dark comic book adaptation Joker, Venice 2019 is looking like another banner year.

The inclusion, however, of J'accuse, from Roman Polanski, is certain to spark controversy, and not just among #MeToo activists. The Polish director of such acclaimed films as The Piano and Chinatown remains a fugitive from U.S. justice in a decades-old sexual assault case involving an underage girl.

In recent years, Venice has had the worst record when it comes to female representation in its competition lineup, averaging just one movie from a women director per year (in a field of between 18 and 22 titles). Prior to that, however, in each of the 2009, 2011 and 2012 events, the festival hosted four competition titles directed by women.

The progress for female filmmakers in Venice this year echoes that seen at the Cannes Film Festival, where four women directors appeared in competition — Mati Diop with Atlantique, Jessica Hausner with Little Joe, Justine Triet with Sibyl and Céline Sciamma with Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

Four out of 21 competition titles — a mere 19 percent — might not sound like much, but female helmers got their due at the awards ceremony, with three of the four female-directed films taking home prizes: Little Joe star Emily Beecham won Cannes' best actress honor, Atlantique was awarded the grand jury prize and Portrait of a Lady on Fire earned best screenplay honors.

But Venice and Cannes lag behind some of their prominent festival competitors – 46 percent of competition films at Sundance this year were directed by women, and 40 percent of Berlin's 2019 competition lineup featured female helmers.