At his highly-anticipated talk for the Kering Women In Motion series at the Majestic Hotel, Cannes festival director Thierry Fremaux kicked off proceedings with the statement, “This debate makes me furious.”
He then spent much of his talk bopping back and forth between his view that Cannes gets unfairly criticised for the lack of female filmmakers in the programme, while festivals such as Berlin and Venice avoided such reproach, while also claiming to welcome the discussion that has been sparked around the issue of female inequality.
“Yes, there are discriminations, but these issues are widespread across other cultural industries around the world,” said a disgruntled Fremaux.
“People attack us with extreme aggression, but if there is one place where female directors are welcome, it’s here in Cannes.”
Fremaux cited several factors to support his argument that Cannes supports women, including the fact that juries are, in large part, evenly split between men and women; that the likes of Jane Campion and Isabelle Huppert have presided over the Competition jury; and that French filmmaker Agnès Varda is receiving an honourary award this year.
“We have had many female directors who have screened their films here who have gone on to achieve great success,” Fremaux said.
“My mother was a feminist. I was brought up in this environment, I am very opinionated about this.”
He voiced agreement that women face unfair discrimination in the industry, citing the stinging criticism Huppert faced when the 2009 Jury she presided over awarded the Palme d’Or to Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, with some French journalists claiming it was a deliberate ploy by the actress to be cast in his next film.
“No one would write that about a man,” he said.
Referencing this year’s opening film Standing Tall, directed by Emmanuelle Bercot, and Jane Campion, who remains the only woman to win a Palme d’Or in its 68-year history, Fremaux suggested that women’s place in society has improved, and that the festival is in favour of equality.
“Historically, there have been many women who direct, write scripts and produce – just look at Megan Ellison who is helping to save Hollywood,” said Fremaux about the Annapurna Pictures head.
“France also has many women of power in the French film industry.”
A question was raised around Ingrid Bergman as the face of the official poster, which, it was suggested, fosters the view that the festival treats women as objects.
“The poster is a beautiful photograph, and that is a concept around which the festival is based,” he said. “Last year we had Marcello Mastroianni. Cannes is not a reflection of this type of behavior – we are not political or pornographic.”
In an example of the way his views on the topic seemed to dart from one end of the spectrum to the other, Fremaux subsequently referenced a quote from Francois Truffaut about the director’s love of women’s beauty.
But, the festival head admitted, there was a need to address women and discrimination.
He also brought up “heelgate”, blaming the furore on a single security guard who had forced one woman unable to wear heels because of her medical condition to enter through a side entrance.
“He was very stupid,” he said. “I am sorry for the women who have suffered over this. There are many reasons why women can’t wear heels.”
“Ultimately,” said Fremaux, “a successful festival is what matters. We want to support this debate – and to make sure it goes forward. But Cannes is just part of the chain, it’s not the only ring.”