Venice Jury Head Guillermo del Toro Calls on Festivals to Hit 50-50 Gender Split

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Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro says everyone in the industry has a responsibility these days to make an effort to promote women in film, and Venice is now set to sign the 5050x2020 festival gender parity pledge on Aug. 31.

At Wednesday's opening press conference for the 75th edition of the Venice Film Festival, organizers were once again questioned about the lineup, which for the second year running features only one female director, namely Jennifer Kent with The Nightingale.

The Hollywood Reporter posed a question to Biennale president Paolo Baratta and jury president Guillermo del Toro if in the post #MeToo world festivals have a responsibility to work to represent women or people of color in their competition lineups, not in terms of establishing a quota, but in looking at how festivals choose their lineups.

Baratta admitted that gender inequality is a problem, but it's a problem across all areas of art under his umbrella at the Biennale in dance, art, theater, architecture and in film, of course. He maintained that his team has been open about its statistics, receiving only approximately 21 percent of submissions from female directors, before once again discussing quotas.

The Biennale head also agreed to open up an investigation if requested into whether there has been any gender bias or other biases in the past in terms of how films have been chosen. As Venice under artistic director Alberto Barbera's leadership has transformed the festival into one of the best in the world today in terms of the quality of its films, it has received much greater global attention in recent years. And when a film flops on the Lido, especially from an established name, critics are often vocal that a precious competition slot could have been given to a more deserving film, male or female. 

"As far as the [suspicion] that the festival has a bias, we will provide any possible information that is needed to see and to check whether this is true. I am absolutely open to it, but I am also against any idea that quotas are the solution to this."

He also spoke of Biennale College, the festival's program to encourage young filmmakers from start to finish, where the final product is presented in the festival. 

"We are very active, and we consider the Biennale an institution that has taken care of these questions years ago and has been transparent about its behavior since 1895," he said referring to the Biennale's founding year.

The Hollywood Reporter previously reported that Venice initially rejected the Programming Pledge for Parity and Inclusion in Cinema Festivals, which was introduced by the 5050x2020 movement in Cannes in May. The Locarno and Cannes festivals have both signed on to the pledge to agree to transparency in film festival submissions, curatorial boards, and to reach 50-50 parity in executive leadership as soon as possible. 

Del Toro went much further than the Venice heads and spoke openly about his belief for the need for festivals and the industry at large to take more of an active role in inclusion goals and why now is the precise moment to do so.

"For me, I think the goal has to be clear and has to remain 50-50 by 2020," he said referencing both the movement that began in Cannes and a larger movement in the industry to promote 50-50 male and female leadership throughout Hollywood companies. So far Vice Media have agreed to 50-50 gender parity and pay parity, and the major talent agencies have agreed to reach gender parity on their boards by 2020. 

"I think if it's 5050 by 2019, better," he added emphatically, although admitting that didn't sound as snappy. "It's a real problem we have in the culture in general. Many of the voices that should be heard, need to be heard. I believe it's important that it’s not a matter of establishing a quota. It's a matter of in this time, precisely in this time of the conversation. It’s extremely important to call it out and to question it and to name it and to make it known."

Del Toro continued: "I think that it's necessary because for many decades if not centuries, that it has not been called [out]. It's not a controversy. It's a real problem. It needs to be solved in every one of our pertinent departments with strength and resolve."

He reinforced that everyone in the industry has a responsibility to make an effort, even down to the detail of choosing the lineup members of a festival jury. 

The director also spoke about his own initiatives. "For example as a producer, I’m producing five movies right now, three of them from female directors, two of them from first-time directors," he said to much applause in the press room. 

"It's about bringing that in a significant way when conversation is in a significant stage, as it is right now. It’s beyond a gesture. It’s a need."

Sources say that recent conversations with local organizations including Italy's own #MeToo movement, Dissenso Comune, have steered festival organizers to change their minds on signing the Festival Gender Parity Pledge 5050 x 2020. The pledge is scheduled to be signed by local representatives and the festival on Aug. 31, with Venice Days and Critics Week also participating. 

For those in Venice worried about the dreaded "Q" word, signing the pledge does not tie the festival to any lineup quota. It will however force them to reexamine their own curatorial boards, how they will program in the future, distribute submission numbers publicly to compare with other festivals, and eventually achieve gender parity in festival leadership. Venice will be the third A-Level festival to sign on to the pledge. Supporters of the pledge maintain that bringing on more women curators and diverse storytellers can only result in more quality lineups overall.