The fight for female representation on the Croisette

Widely regarded for its critical acclaim and cultural cache, the Cannes Film Festival is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. Its red carpet melds the film and fashion worlds, with Naomi Campbell’s annual Fashion for Relief show and the eminent AmFar Gala being highlights of the week. All of the top models — Bella, Kate, Lara, and Co. — come to shine amongst the cinematic elite. Cannes will never see a shortage of women in front of the camera, but the glamorous gowns often overshadow the lack of female representation in the directorial seat.

“We as women have to support female directors. That’s a given,” said Nicole Kidman yesterday at a press conference promoting her role in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled. French actress Isabelle Huppert echoed Kidman’s sentiments, telling BBC, “A good film is a good film. But we have to create the best possible conditions so there are more female films.” The film industry is continuously derided for its lack of diversity over racial, gender and cultural boundaries; Cannes, in particular, is largely a boys club. While its Women in Motion program underscores female contribution in film, only two of the nineteen films up for Cannes’ illustrious Palme d’Or award had a woman behind the lens. Contrarily at April’s Tribeca Fest, the Tribeca Chanel Women’s Filmmaker Program specifically supports female directors, and of the 98 festival selections, one-third were directed by women.

Venerated by the fashion and film world alike, Coppola’s contending picture, The Beguiled, shifts from her signature saccharine aesthetic into the male-dominant realm of wartime thriller. The remake of Clint Eastwood’s 1971 movie depicts a wounded Union soldier taken to a Virginia boarding school for girls. Featuring Colin Farrell alongside Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst (who will also star in the Rodarte girls’ directorial debut this year) and Vogue’s latest cover girl Elle Fanning, her adaptation puts leading ladies at the forefront of its previously misogynist plotline.

Japanese Naomi Kawase is the other female filmmaker on deck this year. Radiance, her fifth feature film in Cannes’ competition is a poetic tale of the magic of cinema. A serendipitous encounter binds the protagonists Misako, a film writer for the visually impaired and Nakamori, a photographer losing his eyesight, over a mutual appreciation of aesthetics and storytelling. As Kawase is quoted on the festival’s site, “Without light, there are no colours, without light, there are no images, without light you cannot make a film. You could almost say that cinema is light.” This is, after all, the beauty of any aesthetic medium, from fashion to art to film. They act as a visual language, sparking conversation and inspiration for those who so choose to engage. The more variety in perspectives, the more thought-provoking the dialogue will be. Hopefully, as the inclusivity in the arts expands, so too will the light shed on the female director.

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