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Cannes more inclusive, boosts number of female directors

Heavyweights in world cinema nominated for fest top prize

LOS ANGELES, April 20, (Agencies): In 1946, the inaugural year of the Cannes Film Festival, Barbara Virginia’s surrealist film, “Tres dias sem Deus” debuted in competition. Over the subsequent seven decades, as it has grown in stature to become one of the world’s premier film gatherings, Cannes hasn’t matched that early promise in highlighting female artists.

 Finally, the powers that be at the Cannes Film Festival appear to be getting the message. After being criticized for failing to spotlight female directors, four will have their work in the main competition in 2019 – “Atlantique” by Mati Diop, “Little Joe” by Jessica Hausner, “Sibyl” by Justine Triet, and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” by Celine Sciamma. That may seem like a paltry number, but it’s the best showing since 2011 and represents more than 21% of the 19 competition entries that have been announced so far. That’s up from 14% in 2018 and 16% in 2017. It could also improve if more competition titles are added at a later date, as is often the case.

 Overall, 13 female directors are represented in the 47-film official selection unveiled by artistic director Thierry Fremaux. (Two of the women were co-directors on the same film.)

 Cannes’ numbers lag behind those of other prominent film festivals. For instance, women directed 46% of the competition films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and 40% of the competition titles at the Berlin Film Festival.

 But Cannes’ new lineup offers a sign that, in its 72nd year, the festival is beginning to foster a more inclusive environment for artists of different genders, races, creeds, and sexualities. In a nod to the changes afoot, the fest’s official poster features an image of pioneering filmmaker Agnes Varda, showing her perched precariously on the back of a technician in order to get a shot for her first film, “La Pointe Courte”, which she made in her 20s.

Representation

Any progress in terms of representation of female filmmakers is partly attributable to protest and pressure. Last year, 82 women walked the red carpet at Cannes to sound off on the lack of representation for female directors. Their ranks includes Ava DuVernay, Kristen Stewart, Marion Cotillard and Salma Hayek. The star-packed group listened in solidarity as Cannes jury President Cate Blanchett and Varda read a statement that said: “Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of our industry says otherwise. As women, we all face our own unique challenges, but we stand together on these stairs today as a symbol of our determination and commitment to progress.”

Cannes Film Festival organizers announced its 2019 line-up, pitting leading names in world cinema including Ken Loach and Pedro Almodóvar against each other in competition for the top prize, the Palme d’Or.

Festival veterans Loach and Almodóvar, as well as the Dardenne Brothers, Jim Jarmusch, Terrence Malick and Xavier Dolan – all of whom have previously won accolades at the French Riviera festival – will return for the May 14-25 event.

Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die”, a zombie comedy starring Adam Driver, Bill Murray and Chloe Sevigny as police officers protecting a small town, will open the festival on a starry and surreal note.

This is not the first time Jarmusch has competed for the Palme at Cannes using the undead – his 2013 “Only Lovers Left Alive” featured erudite vampires. Jarmusch is in the running along with other Americans including Malick, who returns after “Tree of Life” won the Palme d’Or in 2011 with the long-awaited “A Hidden Life”, about an Austrian anti-Nazi conscientious objector who was executed in 1943. Memphis-born Ira Sachs will present “Frankie” starring Isabelle Huppert.

There was dismay that Quentin Tarantino missed out from being included with the highly anticipated “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie. Cannes Artistic  Fremaux lamented to critics during the press conference that the movie was still in editing – explaining that Tarantino’s insistence on using laborious 35mm will delay its completion.

Spanish director Almodovar will be back on the festival’s red carpeted steps with the new film “Pain and Glory” – a self-referential movie about an aging filmmaker played by Antonio Banderas, alongside longtime muse Penelope Cruz.

It’s been compared to Italian filmmaker Fellini’s masterpiece “8-1/2”.

Oscar-winning director Alejandro Inarritu will be jury president although the jury members have not yet been announced.

Other highlights of the festival will include a biopic of singer Elton John called “Rocketman”, which will be screened out of competition and was directed by Dexter Fletcher. The aging rocker will bring his own inimitable brand of star power to the festival when he attends the screening.

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