Cannes pays tribute to Wertmüller but lacks women

Alexia Muiños Ruiz
Alexia Muiños Ruiz

Cannes, 21 films out of 78 are not enough

The expectations were quite high after not only last year's announcement of the Gender Parity Pledge during a very enthusiastic event that took place in La Croisette, but also the strong feminist activism showing throughout the Festival. However, the numbers scarcely reach 19% in competition, 39% in Un Certain Regard and merely 28% counting also special screenings,  Director's Fortnight and Critics' Week (21 films directed by women out of 75).

This year's Berlinale proved that there are plenty of good films directed by women when one is willing to search for them. Berlin's festival nearly reached gender parity throughout the competitions and co-production market.

Yet, despite featuring renowned auteurs and a global outlook, Cannes is still short on women directors, particulary on the official competition, where only 4 out of the 21 films competing for the Palme d'Or have female directors, a scanty 19% slightly higher than last year but still far from equal share.

On the other hand, the Festival has made the effort to bring a few new names to the Official Competition and selected twelve women to compete for the prestigious Caméra d'Or, which awards the best first film throughout the competitions in Cannes.

Women directors on the Official Competition

Céline Sciamma - Portrait de la jeune fille en feu, France

Céline Sciamma’s latest film  will be her first foray in the main competition despite her being a Cannes regular after Water Lilies debuted in Un Certain Regard in 2007 and Bande de Filles and Ma vie de Courgette (as a writer) also premiered in la Croisette.

Storyline : On an isolated island in Bretagne at the end of the eighteenth century, a female painter is obliged to paint a wedding portrait of a young woman.

Justine Triet - Sibyl (France)

Filmmaker Justine Triet will also ascend to the Competition section after having attended Critics’ Week sidebar with the 2016 rom-com In Bed With Victoria and ACID. Triet shot her first feature film in 2012 with the political dramedy Age of Panic, part of Cannes’ ACID program.

Storyline : A jaded psychotherapist returns to her first passion in order to become a writer.

Jessica Hausner - Little Joe (Austria, UK, Germany)

With this sci-fi about genetically modified plants, Cannes regular Jessica Hausner finally breaks into the main competition after not only three participations in Un Certain Regard (including her 2014 Amour Fou), but also one participation in the Cinéfondation section as well as serving as a Jury.

Storyline : Alice, a single mother, is a dedicated senior plant breeder at a corporation engaged in developing new species. She has engineered a very special crimson flower, remarkable not only for its beauty but also for its therapeutic value. Alice takes one home as a gift for her teenage son, Joe. They christen it 'Little Joe' but as it grows, so too does Alice's suspicion that her new creations may not be as harmless as their nickname suggests.

Mati Diop - Atlantique (France)

This time around, the festival is making room for a relative newcomer : actress-turned-director Mati Diop, the only director making her debut to compete for this year's Palm d'Or. She is the niece of the late, great Senegalese cinema pioneer Djibril Diop Mambéty and star of a generous share of films including Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum.

Synopsis : In a popular suburb of Dakar, workers on the construction site of a futuristic tower, having gone without pay for months, decide to leave the country by ocean for a better future. Among them is Suleiman, the lover of Ada, promised to another.

As regards to Special Screenings, there are three more women filmmakers in the lot.

Pippa Bianco - Share

Pippa Bianco debuted her first feature Share at Sundance in January and after a stop at New Directors/New Films, she’s bringing it right back to where it all started: Cannes. This film is Bianco's adaptation from her 2015 homonymous short which won the Cinéfondation First Prize.

Synopsis : After discovering a disturbing video from a night she doesn't remember, sixteen-year-old Mandy must try to figure out what happened and how to navigate the escalating fallout.

Waad Al-Kateab & Edward Watts - For Sama  

For Sama premiered at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, where it picked up best documentary honors. For Sama is Waad Al-Kateab’s first feature-length film and it depicts a deeply personal accounting of her own experiences in Syria, from the rising to the point at which she was forced to abandon the country.

Storyline : A young woman's struggles with love, war and motherhood over the span of five years in Syria.

Leila Conners - Ice on Fire

Documentarian Leila Conners is back to Cannes, ten years after screening her climate change documentary and debut The 11th Hour. In the 11 years since premiering that film at the festival, she’s directed and co-directed twelve documentaries, including the feature films We the People 2.0 and The Arrow of Time.

Storyline : Can we reverse climate change? Ice on Fire explores the many ways we reduce carbon inputs to the atmosphere and, more importantly, how to "draw" carbon down, bringing CO2 out of the atmosphere and thus paving the way for global temperatures to go down.

Tribute to Lina Wertmüller

The world's most prestigous festival pays a tribute to Lina Wertmüller, the first woman who ever nodded a nomination as a Best Director at the Oscars in 1977 with Pasqualino Settebellezze. For the occasion, Pasqualino Settebellezze will be screened in a restoration carried out by Cinema Communications Rome, from the 35mm original.

Un Certain Regard

Women's presence escalates considerably in Un Certain Regard but yet, 39% is less than last year's 47%. The sidebar competition in Cannes rewards women's presence with Nadine Labaki heading the jury. She will help choose a winner among the 18 contenders in this competition, which tends to include works from offbeat and up-and-coming filmmakers. In this year's edition, seven films directed by eight women will be screened.

Zabou Breitman, Eléa Gobé Mévellecv- The Swallows of Kabul, France

The veteran filmmaker and actress Zahou Breitman jumps into her first animation film with Eléa Gobé Mévellec, an experienced animator in her first directorial credit.

Storyline : Summer 1998, Kabul in ruins is occupied by the Taliban. In love despite the daily violence and misery, Mohsen and Zunaira want to believe in the future. But a senseless act by Mohsen will upset their lives forever.

Monia Chokri - A Brother’s Love (Canada)

A Brother’s Love is Chokri's feature directorial debut after attending Cannes as a star in Dolan's Laurence Anyways and Heartbeats.

Storyline : Sophia, an unemployed academic, is forced to change the way she thinks and lives her life when Karim, her beloved brother, falls in love.

Danielle Lessovitz - Port Authority (US)

Prolific short film director Danielle Lessovitz moves to feature film for this Cannes entry, starring Dunkirk breakout Fionn Whitehead. Among the list of impressive producers, there's no less than Martin Scorsese.

Storyline : Port Authority is a love story set in New York's kiki ballroom scene, and follows Paul, a 20 year old midwesterner, who quickly catches eyes with Wye, a 22 year old girl voguing on the sidewalk. But when Paul discovers Wye is trans, he is forced to confront his own identity and what it means to belong.

Mounia Meddour- Papicha (Algeria)

Produced alongside her husband and creative partner, filmmaker Xavier Gens, Papicha is Meddour's debut, a project that suggests a timely story with a personal edge.

Storyline : Algiers, 1997. The country is at the hands of terrorist groups seeking to establish an Islamic and archaic state. Women are particularly affected and oppressed by primitive diktats, which seek to take control of their bodies and control their passage through the public space.

Maryam Touzani - Adam (Morrocco)

Another first-time feature filmmaker hitting Cannes this year. Her previous shortfilms, When They Slept and Aya Goes to the Beach, played well on the festival circuit.

Annie Silverstein - Bull (US)

Annie Silverstein returns to Cannes after her short Skunk won the festival’s Cinéfondation section in 2014. Shot with a mostly non-professional cast, Silverstein’s feature directorial debut includes Silverstein’s experience as a youth worker and media educator.

Storyline : In a near-abandoned subdivision west of Houston, a wayward teen runs headlong into her equally willful and unforgiving neighbor, an aging bullfighter who's seen his best days in the arena.

Directors' Fortnight

Many renowned authors and Festival regulars in the Quinzaine but only four films directed by women among the 25 in the line-up, which makes a 16%.

Une Fille Facile, by Rebecca Zlotowski

The young filmmaker, already Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, visited Un Certain Regard with Grand Central and served as a jury for Cinéfondation and short films sections of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

Storyline : Naima is 16 years old and lives in Cannes. While she gives herself the summer to choose what she wants to do in life, her cousin Sofia who has a more attractive way of life, comes to spend the holidays with her. Together, they will live an unforgettable summer.

Canción Sin Nombre by Melina León

Another directorial debut in Cannes for a film launched with a crowdfunding campaign on kickstarter.

The Orphanage, by Shahrbanoo Sadat

Shahr is an Afghan female writer and director, based in Kabul. She's a Cannes regular since her first short fiction Vice Versa One was selected at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight in 2011. Her second feature film, Wolf and Sheep was developed within Cannes Cinefondation Residence in 2010; Shahr, who was 20 years old at the time, was the youngest ever selected. The film won the Art Cinema Award at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight 2016.

Storyline : The 3rd feature film by Sadat deals with a 15-year-old ticket scalper in Kabul dreams of Bollywood until the Soviets force him into a state facility.

Sem Seu Sangue (Sick, sick, sick), by Alice Furtado

Her first feature film tells the story of an introspective young girl who falls for the new boy in class, an outcast who is also a hemophiliac.

Critics' Week

Among the 11 selected features, there are eight first and three second films. There is also a massive gender gap in the competition.

Ceniza Negra by Sofia Quirós

Discovered at Critics' Week in 2017 with her short film Selva, the Costa Rican director Sofía Quirós Ubeda is back with her first feature Ceniza Negra (Land of Ashes). The only film directed by a woman competing for the Critics' Week award.

Storyline :  Selva, thirteen years old, discovers that when we die we just shed our skin. We can turn into wolves, goats, shadows, or anything as long as your imagination allows it.

On the other hand, the jury presided by Ciro Guerra is dominated by women, with French-Bristish actress Amira Casar, Producer Marianne Slot, (Woman at war and Lars von Trier's films) Belgian-Congolese journalist Djia Mambu and Italian director Jonas Carpignano.

Additionally, there will be two special screenings of films directed by women, both first fiction feature films.

Aude Léa Rapin, Les héros ne meurent jamais (Heroes Don’t Die)

Hafsia Herzi’s Tu mérites un amour where the actress discovered in Abdellatif Kechiche’s The Secret of the Grain directs a passionate love story.