I have been attending the Cannes Film Festival for many years, it offers a wonderful snapshot of world cinema, with a curious mixture of art and commerce.
Some years Cannes leaves me with the impression of a dominant theme, this year I saw the issue of women filmmakers emerge.
The Cannes women jurors: actresses Leila Hatami, Carole Bouquet & Do-yeon Jeon, directors Jane Campion & Sofia Coppola — Iranian, French, Korean, New Zealander, American.
This year the Main Competition jury president was New Zealander Jane Campion, who is the only woman director to have received the Palme d’Or, for The Piano, 21 years ago, and the first woman director to preside over such a jury. She joked that “my biggest problem at the Cannes Film Festival is what to wear”. The jury was composed of 5 women and 4 men, and included 4 directors: Campion, Sofia Coppola, Nicolas Winding Refn and Jia Zhangke.
During the jury press conference, Campion was outspoken about the lack of women directors: “you would have to say that there is some inherent sexism in the industry.” She added that Festival Director Thierry Frémeaux had told her that 7% of the films submitted to Cannes were by women, “and he’s proud that 20% of the films selected are by women… But the guys seem to eat all the cake.”
President Jane Campion during press conference
The figures in Cannes bear her out. Only 2 of the films in the Main Competition were directed by women. The proportion was better in Un Certain Regard (the sidebar competition), where 4 out of 18 films had women directors. Frémeaux has said that the organizers do not consider gender when making their selections. This brings up the question of whether there should be some form of “affirmative action”.
What is true of directing is also true of cinematography, although I am heartened by the rising number of women cinematographers, notably in France.
In the Main Competition, Josée Deshaies shot Saint Laurent by Bertrand Bonello in 35mm. The film recounts the life of the French designer with 3 different lighting looks. (There is another, earlier Saint Laurent movie, which is the “authorized” version)
Excerpt from Saint Laurent by Bertrand Bonello, DP Josée Deshaies
watch on YouTube
In Cannes there were also several examples of upcoming women director/cinematographer duos. Girlhood (Bande de Filles) opened the Directors’ Fortnight, to widespread acclaim. The film by Céline Sciamma was shot in colorful anamorphic on an Alexa 4:3 by Crystel Fournier, AFC, and follows a group of black teenage girls partying and struggling in the poor French suburbs.
Teaser for Girlhood by Céline Sciamma, DP Crystel Fournier
Watch on YouTube
Jeanne Lapoirie, AFC, shot The Trial of Vivian Amsallem for Ronit and Sholmi Elkabetz — an Israeli directing duo — with an Alexa. The story is about a woman who fights to get her marriage dissolved without her husband’s consent. The film was also in the Directors’ Fortnight.
The jury for the Camera d’Or was headed by director Nicole Garcia. It awarded the prize for the best first feature to Party Girl, the trio of directors include 1 man and 2 women: Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis. The film about a bar hostess growing old was shot by Julien Poupard.
The filmmakers discuss Party Girl by Marie Amachoukeli / Claire Burger / Samuel Theis, DP Julien Poupard
watch on YouTube
Campion’s jury awarded the second highest prize to a young woman director: the Grand Prix went to Alice Rohrwacher for The Wonders, with cinematography by Hélène Louvart, AFC. This charming Italian film follows a country girl in a family of beekeepers who is enthralled when a television show starts shooting nearby. The filmmakers fought to shoot the film in Super 16.
Italian Trailer for Le Meraviglie by Alice Rohrwacher, DP Hélène Louvart
Watch on YouTube
During the post-awards press conference, Campion also emphasized the interesting woman characters in some of the awarded films, implying that the kind of stories told about women are as important as the number of women telling them.
The issue of women’s places in other cultures came up both on and off screen during the Festival. Timbuktu by Abderrahmane Sissako, with cinematography by Sofian El Fani, tells the powerful story of the domination of a town by Islamic fundamentalists. The film was produced by Sylvie Pialat, and featured some non-professional actors. It won the Ecumenical award.
Sissako comforted by his actors during the Timbuktu press conference
During the press conference, Sissako’s eyes started to tear up, “I’m not crying for me, he said, I’m crying for the people who have to live through this”. In the excerpt below, the fundamentalists tell a fishmonger that she must wear gloves. She refuses and defiantly tells them to cut off her hands, before they take her away.
French excerpt from Timbuktu by Abderrahmane Sissako, DP Sofian El Fani
Watch on YouTube
The clash of European and Middle-Eastern cultures came up on the red carpet, when Iranian jury member Leila Hatami was greeted by the 83-year-old founder of the Cannes Film Festival, Gilles Jacob, with a kiss on the cheek, as is the French custom. This innocuous European gesture raised a furor in some circles in Iran, and Hatami issued a public apology, explaining that her offered handshake was ignored by cinema’s elder statesman.
Jacques & Juliette
Every year the Festival hosts a Master Class with a filmmaker. This year the event featured French director Jacques Audiard and was moderated by critic Michel Ciment, who founded the infuential film magazine Positif. Audiard is arguably the best director working in France today. He won the Cannes Grand Prix for A Prophet. His other credits include Read My Lips, Rust and Bone, and my favorite, The Beat My Heart Skipped.
Director Jacques Audiard speaks with critic Michel Ciment
Ciment asked Audiard about his early work as an assistant editor. It was interesting to hear Audiard speak about one of his filmmaking mentors, editor Françoise Bonnot. Her credits include Z by Costa-Gavras (which earned her an Oscar), The Tenant by Roman Polanski and Jean-Pierre Melville’s masterpiece, Army of Shadows. “She has a way of editing that’s extraordinary. With her I went to another level, I saw montage as a grammar of construction. I saw that editing is another form of writing.”
Jacques Audiard reflects as Michel Ciment signals the projectionist
Audiard said of his editor: “Juliette and I learned together. She did her first feature with me. We learned to make cinema together.”
As I listened to a leading French director explain how much he owes to women editors who have taught him and collaborated with him, I realized the obvious: many of the “missing” women filmmakers have been working in the edit rooms. Historically that is one place where women found an opportunity to create films.
And now it’s high time for more women directors and cinematographers to also appear on the set.
As an experienced moderator, Ciment brought Audiard in for the conclusion of the Master Class, just as the director finished speaking about his desire to work with an actor. “So, Ciment asked, in the end cinema is about desires?”.
Audiard responded,”No my friend, cinema is about ideas.”
Festival de Cannes: Jacques Audiard Master Class moderated by Michel Ciment
Wikipedia: Editor Françoise Bonnot
imdb: Editor Juliette Welfling
Women filmmakers mentioned in this post:
Marie Amachoukeli – Screenwriter/Director
Françoise Bonnot – Editor
Carole Bouquet – Actress
Claire Burger – Director
Jane Campion – Director
Sofia Coppola – Screenwriter/Director
Josée Deshaies – Cinematographer
Do-yeon Jeon – Actress
Ronit Elkabetz – Actress/Director
Crystel Fournier – Cinematographer
Nicole Garcia – Actress/Director
Leila Hatami – Actress
Jeanne Lapoirie – Cinematographer
Hélène Louvart – Cinematographer
Sylvie Pialat – Screenwriter/Producer
Alice Rohrwacher – Screenwriter/Director
Céline Sciamma – Screenwriter/Director
Juliette Welfling – Editor
The male jurors with their president: Actor Willem Dafoe, directors Nicolas Winding Refn & Jane Campion, actor Gael Garcia Bernal, director Jia Zhangke