Who does not remember the 82 women who made history at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival when they took over the red carpet to protest gender inequity. The women symbolically represented the 82 female film directors whose films were included in the Festival’s main program during its 71 year history, but whose names remained almost unnoticed behind the veil of the other 1645 male directors.
And now, 71 years later, Cannes was finally remembering them, thanks to a group of women led by the legendary French film director Agnès Varda, the female members of the 2018 jury (numbering 5 out of 9, the greatest female representation in the festival’s history) and its President, Australian actress Cate Blanchett.
The women spoke about the necessity of a paradigm shift, as they gracefully and confidently walked up the stairs of the Cannes Cinema Palace to attend the screening of Eva Husson’s Girls of the Sun about a battalion of Kurdish women fighting against a group of extremists who conquered their town.
The applause at the end of the screening was interrupted by loud booing, and the morning after reviews of the movie both in the media and among festival-goers were mixed, with some describing it as an unsuccessful and weak film. Questions arose about what value the “protest through the art form” has, if its substance is unimpressive.
However, the bigger question worth addressing, is whether the festival is really the forum to solve gender inequality, given that the origins of the problem lie in education, in film production and perhaps in the process of selecting applications.
In answering this question, we should remember that a film festival celebrates one of the most important people in filmmaking – the director. As long as little girls, who have not yet decided what profession to choose, only see actresses on TV, they will rarely develop the urge to join the ranks of the unseen women directors. The same can be said about the steadily growing number of women parliamentarians, for instance, which has the potential to dramatically improve the legislative field and the state of the country overall, but will also serve as an identification platform for women, leading to a further increase in the number of women in legislative bodies.
This point of view suggests that a festival can indeed have an impact on the issue of equal representation in general. It is based in this belief that the 50/50 x 2020 movement calls for equal representation of women in the film industry by the year 2020. Many prestigious festivals across the world, from Cannes to Venice and Berlin have already pledged support for this cause.
Yet the concern here is whether or not this will have a negative impact on quality.
In the short term quality may decline. However, years later, when equal representation is no longer an issue, quality is bound to once again prevail. And this doesn’t apply to film directors only.
Festivals are required to have gender equality in high management positions and staff, as well as their selection committees. This will ensure that at every stage of the process the perspectives of both genders are present, thus slowly, but surely leading to more “objective” decision-making and organization.
In reality, equal representation across the board is quite a utopian idea, because even if men and women are distributed equally, this might leave out the LGBT community and it still will need to strive for equal racial representation, equal representation of residents and immigrants, etc. As festivals focus their attention on the “overlooked” and “oppressed” layers of society, and given that across the board equality is practically impossible and, even if possible, absurd, modern history suggests that this objective can be pursued not through a package solution, but rather a phase-by-phase approach. For example, the festivals’ and Academy Awards’ focus on LGBT issues was followed by a spotlight on immigrants, after which was the #OscarsSoWhite movement, which preceded #MeToo, with attention now turning to gender equality. This doesn’t mean that this sequence obediently followed the above-mentioned algorithm: it was at times mixed and occurring in parallel to each other, but nonetheless certain areas of focus were always in the foreground.
Armenia has been no exception from the rest of the world. Female representation in the arts is rare and this applies to various forms of art from painting and architecture to photography and cinema…To this day, the general population cannot name a single Armenian woman filmmaker from the 20th century.
Of course there have been some changes in the 21st century with the rise of new names, however, in general the scale is far from balanced.
While preparing for the upcoming 16th Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival, and having as an example the gender and equal representation policies of leading European film festivals, the organizers were also contemplating whether it would be wise to implement quotas or at least some unofficial regulations in keeping with the current focus of international film festivals. However, simply going through the list of applicants was enough to come to an astonishing conclusion. In the “director’s name” column, 60 percent of Armenian submissions was occupied by a female name. This is surprising, considering that according to official statistics, out of all directors of the world only 7 percent are women.
The applications Golden Apricot has received from women directors feature a variety of genres and cover a wide range of subjects. Alongside films about women’s issues, we have many other submissions, including fiction and documentary, short and feature-length films.
Is it possible that global processes occurring far away from Armenia have had their direct or “mediated” conscious or unconscious effect?
Time will tell.
For now, however, one thing is clear…Without any regulations or other type of interference to support the greater participation of women, the festival has organically found itself in a situation many European film festivals and international organizations dream of being in; a situation many forgotten women could never have dreamt of. Now the only concern we have is that with such a proportion in numbers, male applicants, left in the minority, might start feeling under-represented.