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May 16, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

They are an accepted element of the annual Cannes Film Festival: protests and demonstrations, either involving those attending the festival or groups who are mindful of the fact that the international news media turn out by the hundreds to cover the event. Official security staff plan for the prospect of disruptive activities for months in advance and are conspicuously present in imposing numbers as well, armed with metal detectors, badge readers and the like, and also ready to thwart any potential extremist plot, or not-so-peaceful protest. This year they particularly were determined to prepare for the possibility of any copycat execution of the terrorist deed that occurred in nearby Nice last year when were 85 persons were killed, including three Americans, and hundreds injured when a fanatic, driving a truck at high speed, plowed into pedestrians celebrating Bastille Day along a crowded street. Next to the sidewalk in front of the Palais des Festivals, for example, security personnel deposited huge cement tree planters; attendees had to squeeze between them to reach the entryway to the huge auditorium and festival headquarters.

In this “MeToo” year, it was perhaps inevitable that a demonstration by women would take place at Cannes, where accused sexual abuser Harvey Weinstein had been such a powerful presence for decades. What was perhaps not so predictable was that the demonstration that attracted the most attention focused not so much on sexual misconduct but on professional discrimination by film executives — and by the festival itself — towards women. It was restricted to 82 female filmmakers, that number intended to symbolize the number of films directed by women that have been selected to compete at the festival over its 71-year history, compared with 1,645 films directed by men. Only one woman, New Zealander Jane Campion, has ever won Cannes’ top prize, the Palme d’Or, for her 1993 drama, The Piano.

The group was led by Cate Blanchett, who is presiding over the jury for the main competition at the festival this year, and included fellow jury members Kristen Stewart, Ava DuVernay, Lea Seydoux, and Khadja Nin as well as Salma Hayek and Jane Fonda, Wonder Woman filmmaker Patty Jenkins and French director Agnes Varda. Blanchett and Varda read a statement to the gathered crowd (Blanchett in English, Varda in French).

“Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of the industry says otherwise,” their statement said. “We stand together on these steps today as a symbol of our determination to change and progress.” It concluded: “The stairs of our industry must be accessible to all.”

The demonstration was organized by the French movement 5050×2020, which is dedicated to achieving gender equality by 2020. On Monday, top executives of the festival, including director Thierry Frémaux, signed a pledge in which they promised to compile statistics on the gender of filmmakers and their crews submitted for awards consideration. They also promised to list the names of members of the festival’s selection committee. The 5050×2020 group has said that Cannes represents only their first victory in the film business and that they intend to persuade directors of other international festivals to make similar commitments.

“It’s about uniting, not dividing,” Blanchett said at the signing ceremony on Monday.