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How the Cannes Film Festival hopes to navigate the post-Weinstein era

The prestigious festival’s opening day was marked by discussions about gender parity and #MeToo.

'Everybody Knows (Todos Lo Saben)' & Opening Gala Red Carpet Arrivals - The 71st Annual Cannes Film Festival
Jury president Cate Blanchet attends the opening gala during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival, flanked by Robert Guediguian and Denis Villeneuve.
Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Harvey Weinstein is far from dead. But he’s dead to the film industry, and his ghost looms large over the first day of the Cannes Film Festival, where he famously held court with stars and luminaries for years while also allegedly sexually harassing and assaulting a number of women.

So it seems poetically fitting that on Tuesday, just as a judge in Delaware was approving the sale of the bankrupt Weinstein Co. to a Texas-based private equity firm, the 71st edition of Cannes Film Festival was getting underway. As at Sundance, which battled to find its footing in a post-Weinstein era earlier this year, Cannes spent its first days in the sun trying to define what the fallout meant for the world’s biggest, glitziest festival.

Like other festivals this year, including Sundance, Cannes has opened a hotline via phone and email for festivalgoers to report incidents of sexual harassment and misconduct. The festival promoted the hotline in a few ways, including emails to accredited attendees and (French-only) pamphlets in the festival bags with instructions: “Good behavior is required” and “Don’t ruin the party. Stop harassment.” The pamphlets also include the hashtag #NeRienLaisserPasser (“don’t let anything happen,” roughly).

On Monday, the day before the festival, festival director Thierry Fremaux addressed #MeToo and the first post-Weinstein Cannes before a gathering of journalists. “It’s not just the Cannes Film Festival which has changed since the Weinstein scandal; it’s the whole world,” Fremaux said, as reported by Variety. “After the revelations, we immediately issued a release to express our surprise because we didn’t know — the police knew but we didn’t — [and to] condemn [Weinstein’s alleged actions] and express our solidarity with the victims.”

Discussions about Weinstein and the broader problem of sexual harassment and assault in the industry have often led to discussion about gender disparities in Hollywood, both among the filmmakers who helm projects and with the pay gap that women in the film industry often experience. And the 71st Cannes will be full of conversations about that issue.

Cannes 2018 is attempting to course-correct for a post-#MeToo world

'Everybody Knows (Todos Lo Saben)' & Opening Gala Red Carpet Arrivals - The 71st Annual Cannes Film Festival Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

In announcing the selection of the jury members in April, Fremaux noted the gender disparity of past Cannes juries and said that part of his goal with this jury was an attempt to correct that. “For the last four years, I’ve become much more concerned about the presence of women at the festival. I’ve been having discussions with intelligent women like Jessica Chastain and have listened to their advice about ways to improve certain things.”

Last year, Chastain (who was on the festival’s jury) said that she found the way women were portrayed in many of the festival’s main competition films “quite disturbing.”

The 2018 main jury, which will select the winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or, is presided over by Cate Blanchett and comprises five women and four men: Blanchett, American director Ava DuVernay, American actress Kristen Stewart, French actress Lea Seydoux, and Burundian singer Khadja Nin; and Taiwanese actor Chang Chen, French writer Robert Guediguian, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, and Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev.

On the whole, though, the festival world after Weinstein may turn out to be trickier to navigate at Cannes than it has been elsewhere. While the #MeToo movement has had its own iterations in France (with the evocative hashtag “#BalanceTonPorc,” which means “expose your pig”), there’s a high-profile flip side, too. In January, 100 French women, including cinema luminary Catherine Deneuve, signed an op-ed criticizing the movement that ran in Le Monde, the leading French newspaper. (Deneuve later apologized.)

The letter prompted sharp criticism from other French women artists and leaders, but it was emblematic of a kind of cultural resistance to the #MeToo movement that has cropped up more in France than in the US (though the movement has its American critics as well).

Cannes seems to be indicating more thoughtfulness about women’s place in its vaunted history. A group of about 100 women filmmakers and actresses are slated to walk up the red carpet on Saturday, and a number of panel discussions are scheduled with feminist groups and cultural leaders throughout the festival to discuss gender parity, discrimination, harassment, and more.

Yet only three women filmmakers are represented among the 20-film competition slate — still low compared to festivals like Sundance, which have nearly reached gender parity. At the jury press conference, Blanchett addressed the overall lack of women on the roster of directors head on, noting that “for profound changes to occur, it needs to take place through specific actions.” Concerted efforts like the Time’s Up initiative are a good start, she said, but the proof will be in the actions that are taken.

She said later: “There are several women in competition. They are not there because of their gender. They are there because of the quality of their work. We will assess them as filmmakers, as we should be.”

But it seems like Blanchett, along with some of her fellow jury members, might also be trying to send a message to the festival’s selection committee, the way women like Chastain have in years past. “Would I hope to see more women in competition?” she asked. “Absolutely.”

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