When Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar, I noted: "we must remember that there is still a long battle ahead. This is a great step that only marks change in the industry if women continue to stay in the spotlight with critical and box office success. This could, very easily, become a fluke in Hollywood's boys' club. As it stands, 2010 doesn't seem to have the same femme-centric punch as 2009." Well, forget about punch. When it comes to Cannes Film Festival, there's barely a murmur.
Last week, Cannes announced their film lineup for next month's festivities. After the fest kicks off with Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, the Cannes Competition lineup (competing for the Palme d'Or) features notable filmmakers like Kiarostami, Inarritu, and Leigh, but not one woman. If you jump to the Official Selection list, there is one -- Agnes Kocsis and her film Pal Adrienn. And only the Special Screenings gets more balance with Sophie Fiennes' Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow, Sabina Guzzanti's Draquila: Italy Trembles, and Luciana Bezerra's involvement in 5 X Favela Por Nos Mesmos. There are four slots left, but unless the tide turns, we're looking at 20 male directors and not one female.
Juliette Binoche's poster light-writing might put a femme face to this year's festival, but it's quite superfluous and begs the question: Has anything really changed since Bigelow's 2009 whirlwind?
Of course, time must be given for change. Features take a long time to develop, so it's not like someone can become inspired by Bigelow's win earlier this year and get a film made for competition at Cannes only a few months later. However, there's more than just potential new female directors to consider. With the festival's Competition picks, they're suggesting that there isn't one female filmmaker with a film worthy of competition globally.
One must assume that Sofia Coppola's Somewhere will not be ready. That Julie Taymor's gender-bending twist on The Tempest is sitting in Miramax limbo. That The Whistleblower's reshoots are keeping it from at least hanging with the likes of the out-of-competition picks from Allen, Assayas, Frears, and Stone. And what of The Beaver? While it may not be a competition film, Jodie Foster's dark comedy would be prime for some festival love. It's not like Cannes is only for the creme de la creme. ...unless flicks like Southland Tales are undiscovered masterpieces. And that's only listing some of the bigger female directors slated to bring us films this year. There are additional features like Massy Tadjedin's Last Night and Roselyne Bosch's La Rafle., plus foreign films not yet listed on IMDb to consider.*
One can't speak definitively to the why. Most likely, it's the result of a number of aspects, such as: the number of films Cannes receives (they surely don't have a covert ops organization to weed out every great film in the world both on and off the radar), the quality of said films, and the personal preferences of those in charge. This could easily be a case of voter prejudice, or simply the large need to foster burgeoning female filmmakers. (Is there a need for more female voices to make a bigger Cannes impact, or are current voices being drowned out?)
But history also comes into play. As Movieline points out: "Since 2000, the Cannes Film Festival has screened 212 films in competition. Of those: Seventeen titles were directed by a total of 14 women; two titles -- Shrek and Persepolis -- were co-directed by women; the last year to feature no women directors in competition was 2005 (and before that: 1999)." They also note that the record number of women to compete in one year was three -- last year's trio of Jane Campion, Isabel Coixet, and Andrea Arnold. In fact, there has only been one female filmmaker to ever win the prestigious Palme d'Or: Jane Campion for The Piano.
Taking each of these aspects into consideration, it seems extremely unlikely that there wasn't one suitable female filmmaker amongst the bunch. One in twenty -- a mere 5%. Many will probably cling to the usual knee-jerk reaction that female filmmakers must not be good enough. (It's a response that often seems to pop up, people preferring to cling to the idyllic notion that omissions must only be the result of a lack of talent, and not a number of personal and societal influences.) But the films listed in this post alone, and the talent behind them, are proof that after The Hurt Locker, the cinemascape is not a barren wasteland of lacking female filmmakers.
Therefore, as great as Bigelow's 2009 achievements are, they're nothing if we can't keep actively interested in the myriad of notable and engaging women making movies; if we let the spotlight fizzle and fade in the blink of an eye. And while Ms. Bigelow might hate to discuss her sex in regards to her work, I'm sure it would be a lot more annoying to see The Hurt Locker framed as an anomaly, rather than as a great achievement and step forward for women in Hollywood.
In cases like these, it seems that we need to speak out -- not only to note glaringly obvious disparity, but also to show our interest in female filmmakers. As much as critical complaint is a sometimes annoying form of dissent, it also speaks to a great interest in the subject matter at hand.
*Most of the listed films comes from IMDb's first 450 titles listed for release in 2010. That's out of 6,704. Further notable titles for the year include: Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right, Nicole Holofcener's Please Give, Shari Springer Berman's (with Robert Pulcini) The Extra Man, Gurinder Chadha's It's a Wonderful Afterlife, and Debra Granik's Winter's Bone.