Is the fact that this year’s Cannes Film Festival had only three women filmmakers in competition the festival’s fault or the industry’s — or, as trolls might suggest, that women don’t make good films? And what’s the solution to jury member Jessica Chastain’s assertion that the 19 films she saw in 10 days left her “disturbed” in their depictions of female characters?
Chastain’s fellow jury member Maren Ade, director of last year’s Oscar-nominated German deadpan family comedy Toni Erdmann, for one, thinks we should all give the festival a break. “I think the sad thing is that the amount of women in the festival, it really reflects the reality. I don’t think it’s [about] the festival especially [deciding not to accept] female filmmakers,” she said at a dinner for Kering’s Women in Motion program to promote women in film. So how could the competition become more gender balanced, then? “There really needs to be a profound change; there need to be more films made by women, period,” said Ade.
But if you look at the output of female filmmakers compared to male filmmakers, she pointed out, it’s much lower. You don’t see women directors churning out movies on the level of a Woody Allen or a Takasi Miike, the Japanese gore-master who celebrated his 100th film at the festival. “We all need to be able to make bad films in order to be in the end that some of us make ten good films over, say, 50 years of the competition. I really think that it’s not the festival’s problem.”
Having spent a year traveling the world releasing, and then being on the awards circuit with, Toni Erdmann, Ade said she’d come to the realization that “we really need a quote on public money worldwide” to support women filmmakers, and that in places like the U.S. where there is not public money for the film industry, that studios would have to join together to follow a voluntary quota. It could only be to everyone’s benefit. “I read something recently that felt true for me,” she said, “that if a woman ends up finally making a film, the chances that it’s a good one, statistically, is very high, because once we get some money in our hands we try not to make something bad.”
And selfishly, she added, “I also want to have an end to this discussion and panels and awards only for women. It really gets on my nerves.” It’s just annoying always having to talk about how there are not enough women in film, or that such and such film failed because of sexism or lack of opportunity. The true sign of equality, Ade was saying, would be for women to be able to fail at an equal rate as men, and then also be forgiven at an equal rate, thus eliminating women who find themselves blackballed if they make one unsuccessful film, while white men who make flops often don’t suffer the same repercussions. Essentially, Ade said, a true sign of progress would be if women filmmakers were judged on their work alone, and we could lose that whole gender qualification before mentioning their job. “I’d rather have it black and white,” she said, “if [a bad film] is our own fault.”