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In an interview published yesterday in The Guardian, Cannes Festival President Gilles Jacob addressed the issue of the 2012 edition’s lack of female directors in Competition, saying, “I am sure that next year the chief selector, Thierry Frémaux, will look more carefully to find films by women.” Countering critics, he said that the festival does aim for some sort of gender balance in its selections. “The job of feminists and of people like me who like the work of female film-makers is to say to [Frémaux]: ‘Are you sure there isn’t somewhere a film by a woman that deserves to be competing?’ That is always the conversation we have here.”

However, Jacob’s comments get a bit dicier when he blames some of this year’s criticism on the expectations generated by the presence of four women directors in last year’s Competition.

From The Guardian:

“That was maybe a wrong move,” he said. “Now everyone this year was expecting five films, then six, then seven. In France nowadays, they speak of parity. They want parity in government, parity everywhere, so why not at the Cannes film festival?”

Last Monday at Cannes I moderated a panel on American Pavilion panel on U.S. film festivals featuring reps from the New York Film Festival, Sundance, the Los Angeles Film Festival and Tribeca. I asked the panelists to comment on the criticism directed at Cannes about its lack of female representation, and a number of points were raised. (I won’t quote anyone directly because it’s near-impossible to take notes on a panel you are moderating, and I’m not able to get a transcript.) One point was that the true extent of this year’s omission won’t be known until Venice and Toronto, at which point we’ll see films by female directors that may have been submitted to and rejected by Cannes. We discussed issues like female representation on selection juries, whether quotas are an appropriate response to the issue, and the specific identity of the Cannes Official Selection which, by highlighting a specific variety of highbrow “author cinema,” often by returning Cannes masters, may automatically limit the number of entries by women.

I understand the latter view and am wary of taking potshots at Cannes without knowing what was turned down. I also think that critics of festivals on this issue should equally invest themselves in promoting works by women who choose to work outside the male-dominated domains of both Hollywood and arthouse cinemas. For example, Eve Sussman’s whiteonwhite: algorithmicnoir, which played Sundance’s New Frontiers this year and was featured in our Winter issue, is a major work, but I haven’t seen it championed as much outside the art world as it should be.

All of that said, the argument that Cannes just goes for the best of the auteurs, gender be damned, was undermined this year by some of the festival’s official selections. John Hillcoat’s Lawless, for example, is a perfectly good movie… if you discover it on HBO late one night. A standard-issue period crime drama about rival bootleggers, it actually would have been better served by cutting its women — Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska — out of the film; they function only as perfunctory love interests for the male stars. And then there were minor works, like Abbas Kiorastami’s Like Someone in Love, by directors who’ve brought more significant work to Cannes in the past. Could better films providing greater gender diversity have been selected this year? I suspect so, but I’ll wait for Venice to guess which ones those might have been.

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