Cannes announces changes to boost female representation

CANNES, France — On the eve of the 71st Cannes Film Festival, the festival’s director held an unscheduled press conference Monday to address the many issues roiling this year’s gathering, from Cannes’ feud with Netflix to the #MeToo movement to the banning of selfies on the red carpet.

Thierry Fremaux, in lengthy, impassioned comments, promised that the festival — long known as a playground for disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein — would adapt to the world’s shifting cultural landscape.

“We want to keep pace with a world that’s changing,” said Fremaux.

While Fremaux reiterated his stance that festival selections should be considered only by their artistic quality and not their filmmaker’s gender, he said the festival would improve the male-to-female ratios of its selection committees, name more women as jury president and, in the future, select more films directed by women. Its jury president this year is Cate Blanchett.

Three of the 21 films competing for the top Palme d’Or prize this year at Cannes were directed by women. Only one female filmmaker, Jane Campion, has ever won the Palme.

“The cinema has always been in the hands of men,” said Fremaux. “There will be more and more (female filmmakers) in the future.”

Fremaux also announced that Saturday at Cannes, about 100 women will walk the red carpet in a symbolic gesture to “affirm their presence.”

Cannes has been closely watched for how it would react to the fallout following the downfall of Weinstein, previously an omnipresent figure at Cannes. This year it launched a hotline for sexual harassment victims and child care for mothers.

“It isn’t just the Cannes Film Festival that’s going to change. The whole world has changed,” said Fremaux.

The director left the door open for improved relations with Netflix. French law requires a three-year window following a film’s theatrical release before it can land on a streaming platform — a prohibition that led to Cannes this year refusing to put Netflix entries into its prestigious competition lineup.

Netflix in turn withdrew its films altogether — including Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” and the Orson Welles film “The Other Side of the Wind” — in a public spat that Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive, recently expressed regret over.

“Days ago in Lille a declaration was made to say ‘We should have been more respectful, diplomatic.’ That’s what I also believe,” said Fremaux.

He added that the Netflix drama, begun in 2017 when the streaming giant had two films in competition at Cannes, could have a third act.

“Last year was episode one. This year is episode two. And next year will be episode three,” he said.

Fremaux also addressed the situations around two controversial directors — Roman Polanski and Lars von Trier.

Polanski, a Cannes regular who premiered a film here last year, was last week kicked out of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Asked if Cannes might do the same, Fremaux hedged.

“These are complicated matters,” he said. “We look at the past with the glasses of today.”

Von Trier was also reinstituted this year after being declared “persona non grata” in 2011 for joking about being a Nazi and having sympathy for Hitler.

“He is not anti-Semitic. He is not anti-Jewish. He is not a Nazi. He was punished, and (festival president) Pierre Lescure along with the board decided that he punishment had lasted long enough,” Fremaux said.

And of course, he also spoke about outlawing selfies from the red carpet.

“It’s horrible to lend this such importance. It’s ridiculous,” Fremaux said. “You don’t come to Cannes to see yourself. You come to Cannes to see films.”

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