Female Directors on the Croisette – No Cannes Do?

     |    Thursday May 15th, 2014
2014 Cannes jury president  Jane Campion

2014 Cannes jury president Jane Campion

Cherchez la femme in Cannes is easy to do – when you’re looking at what’s going on in front of the camera. Female stars galore “grace“ screens and red carpet defilés (pun intended with no apologies to Nicole Kidman and Olivier Dahan regarding the best forgotten biopic opening the festival). But when it comes to saluting  female vision behind the camera, Cannes’ record is extremely spotty. This year’s jury president Jane Campion is the only woman to have ever won a Golden Palm (in 1993 for “The Piano”) and she had to share it with Chen Kaige (for FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE). Campion is judging a competition with two out of 18 films directed by women. On the plus side, Naomi Kawase (“Still the Water”) and Alice Rohrwacher (“The Wonders”) are also emerging or mid-career filmmakers, whereas the men competing for the Palm are largely veterans or at least established directors from Europe and North America: Jean-Luc Godard, David Cronenberg, Olivier Assayas, the brothers Dardennes, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, second-time director Tommy Lee Jones, plus Oscar-winners Michel Hazanavicius and Bennett Miller. In terms of gender diversity, 2014 is an improvement over 2013, which boasted one female director in competition (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and saw such leading lights as Claire Denis and Sofia Coppola presenting their latest in the Un certain regard sidebar.  

Other A festivals such as Venice and Berlin have been somewhat more appreciative of female directors. Four women have won Golden Bears (Larisa Shepitko, Marta Meszaros, Jasmila Zbanic, whose ON THE PATH  is on realeyz.tv, Claudia Llosa) or Golden Lions (Margarethe von Trotta, Agnès Varda, Mira Nair, Sofia Coppola).

Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win an Academy Award for directing, may still be the female helmer that first springs to many people’s minds, but it goes without saying that throughout the history of film and more than ever today, women directors are advancing the art of cinema with their achievements. Sarah Polley (AWAY FROM HER), Andrea Arnold (WUTHERING HEIGHTS), Doris Dörrie (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TÜRKE; NOBODY LOVES ME; HOW TO COOK YOUR LIFE), Helen Hunt (THEN SHE FOUND ME) and Jessica Hausner (LOURDES; her latest film is screening in the 2014 Un certain regard) are just a few outstanding female fiction directors represented on realeyz.tv. Incidentally, like Bruni Tedeschi, Arnold, Polley and Hunt began their careers as actresses. In the realm of documentary, where it has been traditionally easier for women filmmakers to make their mark, films by acclaimed directors Kim Longinotto, Lucy Walker, Karin Jurschick, Helena Trestikova and Elfi Mikesch (who works in both documentary and fiction) are available on realeyz.tv.

Cannes festival director Thierry Frémaux continues to state that the “best films” are selected for the Cannes competition. Judging by the abundance of quality films directed by women and their appreciation at other events and occasions, this begs the question whether Cannes is actually the “best festival”. In an ideal world, the issue of a director’s gender should be moot. But until then, let’s promote diversity by highlighting remarkable films by women.