Well, what a saucisson fest the competition for the Cannes Palme d’Or is turning out to be. Again. A group of feminists under the name La Barbe expressed their extreme displeasure in an open letter. How I wish they had not. Their rhetoric is deeply unhelpful, served with a sneer that immediately puts me against them. The assumptions are overwhelming. My main gripe is that they are harking back to a venomous feminism, one that is misplacing anger at men rather than non-feminists. Accusing the male board of the Cannes Film Festival of only being interested in women as far as the depth of their cleavage and of using certain women as their figureheads in publicity, most recently Marilyn Monroe. Male chauvinism at its worst. Why assume that just because a woman is directing a film, this is somehow a worthier entry than that made by a man? I would much rather watch a powerhouse performance from Vicky McClure in a Shane Meadows piece than Meryl Streep rack up awards in a questionable Phyllida Lloyd yarn. To repeat, having a female director does not make your film feminist. Being a woman does not make you a feminist. This is the saddest fact and one that I would rather overlook as well but La Barbe are not doing anyone any favours by pointing to an obvious problem and providing an old, unworkable solution. The greatest fact, our only hope, is this – anyone can be a feminist, regardless of their gender.
I do not want to deny the hideous situation that is the current film industry, where female directors may be overlooked purely on the basis of their sex and gender. Strangely, film seems to be one of the few industries where men, directors especially, are actually commended and celebrated for exhibiting typically feminine traits – emotional awareness, creativity, empathy. However, they may have to have a blistering, perhaps bossy, ego – typically male traits – to draw things together, be taken seriously and be successful. If a woman shows this then well, she must be too big for her boots.
But I hesitate to apply this to the Cannes Film Festival as a whole. The jury is nearly half women – getting there, what a joy for it to be a majority or just women one day – and many of the films featured in the festival and in the competition portray complex, inspiring female characters and feminist story lines. Wunderkind Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways received a standing ovation. A film about a transgender protagonist welcomed and lauded. Are the components of the film world – the press, the punters, the perceivers – really as anti-feminist as La Barbe want to point out?
Please permit me to hazard at a shadowier problem, one particularly specific to the film industry, that runs parallel to contemporary sexism, that La Barbe are totalement coupableof – auterism. Audiences will generally first and foremost relate to the characters and context on screen. The success of a film – initially intrigue, leading to emotional engagement and then eventually critical and financial success – often hinges on this connection. This connection can be made irresistible given that it is steered by a particular director. For some reason it remains that directors are the most visible workers from behind the camera. For example, despite producers and other crew members being just as worthy winners of BAFTAs, the BBC cuts down all BAFTA Acceptance speeches to make the event ‘TV friendly’. For this read fast because of course no one these days has the attention span for a film, let alone a whole acceptance speech… Various other categories, such as Best Short Film also have their coverage severely cut. Why? Because people just do not want to know, apparently. There are only a few awards that the public is interested in, only a few awards that will garner further revenue for the winning films. But who has asked the public? Why should those interested be left to seek out the ‘lesser awards’? When is a BAFTA not a BAFTA? Acynical cycle is created, where surrounding media assume that the public will only care about certain figures so only give exposure to them, aiming for a certain result rather than to expand awareness.
From the small spot of the film industry I work in, it is clear to see that everyone works as hard as each other. Much of the beauty of film to me is that it is a collaboration between a variety of people with a multitude of skills to create a single piece. It is a miracle that any film gets made with that many different personalities and motivations pushing and pulling. That any skill or trait is somehow more inherently valuable is a fallacy. The best performances go to waste if the gaffer is off and no one will appreciate the intention behind your mise-en-scene if that mise-en-scene is collapsing. If film were to be structured in a more collective sense, particularly financially and especially in terms of public awareness, perhaps there would be a shift in consciousness as to the worth of each artist – because each person working on that film is creating a piece of art, not simply the director. This inward focus on directors as ventured by La Barbe is harming not only the chances of future female directors but also the women working in all areas of film right now.
As someone once said in one of Ms Monroe’s finest pictures, nobody’s perfect – but that does not mean that we cannot try our best for liberty, equality and humanhood. And how to do that? Delve deeper into your desire for film. If we are fans, why not be fanatical? Seek out not only the directors and actors you admire but producers, cinematographers, writers, collectives, costume designers, sound designers, stunt co-ordinators, script editors, all editors… The list goes on. There is a whole world out there, filled with outstanding people. Yep, women and men – and everyone else.
Aux armes, cinephiles.