Venice Fest Signs Historic Charter for Gender Parity and Inclusion

Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images
Alberto Barbera and Paolo Baratta

As previously reported on the festival's opening day, Venice chiefs agreed to sign the protocol after facing backlash for the number of female directors in the competition lineup.

After facing two years of backlash on its statements on gender inclusivity, Venice is changing course.

As reported on the opening day festivities, Biennale chiefs Paolo Baratta and festival director Alberto Barbera signed the Charter for Parity and Inclusion on Friday afternoon as planned with the newly formed Women in Film, Television & Media Italia and Dissenso Comune, Italy’s #MeToo movement. 

"For months, we have carried out a dialogue aimed at constructive change," said Women in Film, Television & Media Italia vice president Margherita Chiti. "With this signature, it is clear that Italy intends to have an active role in the worldwide conversation that will lead to greater equality and inclusiveness for women at all levels of the media and audiovisual industry. We feel it is essential that this conversation starts at Venice, the oldest film festival in the world."

The charter, which originated from the 5050x2020 movement in Cannes, will commit Venice to releasing statistics on submissions, being transparent about selection board gender makeups, and agreeing to try to reach gender parity on executive leadership boards at the earliest opportunity. 

Baratta emphasized that the Biennale operates differently from a normal film festival, as it is a broader institution that oversees many cultural institutions. He also said that throughout their history they've been transparent in revealing their curatorial boards through each catalog across each vertical of art, dance, architecture and theatre. 

"We do have a problem," he said, comparing the cinema submissions of approximately 22 percent to the percentage of women in their Art Biennale (38 percent) or Architecture (35 percent). He said that they've always disclosed statistics but are willing to research even greater data on geographical and background information on filmmakers to build a more in-depth database.

Baratta also said that he was not signing out of an obligation, but said that, "We all have the same basic aim. Everyone must go along the same basic road and do it together."

"This is not a gender battle, but a shared battle. We are pleased to sit at the same table with you and we hope to sign this every year with Venice," said actress Jasmine Trinca of Dissenso Comune.

The festival faced great public criticsm after including only one woman in its official competition two years running, this year with Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale. There was much international media scrutiny, including an article from The Hollywood Reporter questioning the larger issues in Italy, which launched an extended debate in the country.

The festival initially repeated its argument against quotas, although no one was requesting a specific quota for female-directed films, least of all female directors. But after critics slammed several films from last year’s festival for including poorly reviewed films which they saw as an over-the-top parody of the male gaze, or from directors who were public #MeToo offenders, many questioned how these films still ended up in the lineup if the only measure of judgement for acceptance was on their "quality." 

Barbera previously doubled down on previous comments that it was not a festival’s job to do anything toward finding a solution toward gender inclusion, saying he would “rather quit,” than be forced to enforce a quota. Rather than discuss the THR article he responded by saying he didn’t know whether he should “laugh or cry” over its argument. And according to reports, he initially refused to sign the charter, citing that the Biennale already hired a majority of women (75%) and it was not necessary.

But by the time the festival started, it was clear that local groups were making progress, along with the international attention on the topic. At the festival's opening press conference, Barrata announced that he would investigate any potential bias in the selection process. And jury president Guillermo del Toro called for 50-50 gender parity split in festivals and industry positions by 2020.

"There will be a moment in future film festivals when all this will be examined in-depth," said Barrata on Friday, also noting that there will be a seminar to discuss the topics next year. "I think we have to look at the whole issue of training of the younger generations." He brought up the example again of the Biennale College which mentors young filmmakers. Two of the three films in the festival this year from Biennale College are from female directors. Venice is also launching a Writers College to help develop the next generation of screenwriters. 

Barbera also greatly changed his tune from previous statements. “There is a total lack of prejudice in the festival and the organization,” he said at the signing, noting that 46 percent of his curatorial board is female. "Quality is the only criteria, although we know it is not objective in a festival. Having said that, we know that the problem is there."

Pointing to the women sitting next to him, he said they all deserved a fair chance in the industry: "That cannot and should not be denied. There are problems to access.”

"There are some very strong prejudices," he continued. "Some believe that women don’t have the necessary control over a set. … That will change.”

“Everyone must have a role in the solution. We are here to prove that we believe in this,” he added.