With the international media assembled in Paris Thursday to find out which movies made the cut for this year's prestigious Festival du Cannes, festival president Gilles Jacob began with a heartfelt ode to the glorious history of Cannes and the film industry.
Near the climax of the speech, he asked, then answered, a rhetorical question: "What has a changed in cinema? Everything."
But an analysis of the films competing at the Cannes festival, which starts May 17, this year shows that at least one thing remains the same: the gender of its most prominent directors.
None of the 22 movies eligible for awards like the prestigious Palme D'Or was directed by women. And just two of the films chosen for the "Un Certain Regard" category, reserved for movies by young filmmakers, had female directors.
The lack of female representation is especially disappointing on the heels of last year's Cannes, which was heralded as a high-water mark for gender parity in the history of the festival. Four of the movies in competition last year were directed by women.
But typically, women directors are rarely honored at film festivals like Cannes, said Boston University film studies professor Roy Grundmann.
"Many film festival committees include women among their juries, but festival committees are ultimately just another part of our culture -- and this culture is male-dominated," he said. "In any case, the problem begins earlier, namely with the producer or distributor’s decision which film to submit to a given festival. He’ll have a choice between eight male-directed films and two female-directed films. And if he wants his film to win, he’ll be wary of the fact that women directors almost never win Cannes and other festivals. Call it a vicious circle or self-fulfilling prophecy."
Among American female filmmakers, the news was greeted with a mix of sadness, resignation and anger.
"I was shocked when I found out that there were no women this year," producer/director Eleonore Dailly told The Huffington Post. "I was so happy that there seemed to be progress at the festival last year, so this year's selection is really a shame."
Melissa Silverstein, writing on her blog "Women and Hollywood," was less circumspect:
Cannes is the most prestigious world competition and to have no female directors is just a slap in the face. I cannot believe there were no films worthy of inclusion. I just don't believe it. The whole process is fucked up that women can't even get into the conversations about films that people are even thinking about will be included in lineups.
Nearly 1,800 films were submitted. The list of submissions is confidential, but assuming some were directed by women, why didn't they make the cut?
"When it comes to festival submissions, there's always a race to finish movies," said Dailly. "Every year, there's some worthy movie that doesn't end up in Cannes because it just isn't finished in time."
Kathryn Bigelow, for example, will release "Zero Dark Thirty," her first film since 2010 Best Picture winner "The Hurt Locker," in December, but hadn't finished shooting in time to submit to the festival.
Yet the lack of female-directed films can't be explained by tardiness alone. According to statistics compiled by Martha Lauzen, the executive director of Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, just 15 percent of all narrative films made in the United States in 2011, and 5 percent of the 250 with the highest grosses at the box office, were directed by women.
The reasons for that could (and do) fill entire books. Lauzen said one major factor is the failure of those in Hollywood to recognize the gender imbalance.
"I just don't think that Hollywood views this as an issue. I don't think that large portions of the filmmaking community views the utter lack of diversity as a problem. If it's not a problem, there's no need to fix anything," she told the Huffington Post.
Practically, though, the central problem aspiring female directors face is securing financing.
"When you're talking about Cannes bait, you're really talking about complex dramas, which tend to be difficult to finance in the U.S.," explained director Jacqui Barcos, a boardmember of the Alliance of Women Directors, which works to improve gender parity in the industry. "If they are complex, the only way to get them financed is to have a big-name director, because then the investors are assured it'll be a masterpiece. And many of the most talented female directors are still relatively unproven, so investors don't want to take a chance."
This difficulty leads many female directors to shift their aspirations away from features financed by traditional means, and toward "micro-budget" features and documentaries. Neither category is likely to produce a Palme d'Or-winner anytime soon.
Then again, other film festivals haven't had as much trouble as Cannes attracting female filmmakers. Lauzen found that 22 percent of the features shown at major American film festivals, including Tribeca and Sundance, were directed by women.
"Cannes strikes me as going after very big names, and big names tend to be the most established filmmakers, and those tend to be men," said Desiree Garcia, a professor of film studies at Arizona State University. "Looking at their lineup every year, it doesn't look like they're making very much effort to find female directors."
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