Cannes 2012’s Female Troubles: Directors, Jurors Weigh In

"Men are fond of depth in women," an open letter to Cannes charges, "but only in their cleavage"

Criticism over the absence of women in the main competition at Cannes continues to be an issue at the festival, with a scathing open letter decrying the situation and a couple of notable filmmakers discussing the issue as well.

Before the festival began, an open letter ran in the French newspaper Le Monde. "Men are fond of depth in women," read one line of the letter, "but only in their cleavage."

Getty ImagesThe letter, which was signed by the feminist action group La Barbe ("The Beard"), including directors Fanny Cottencon and Virginie Despentes, was originally published in French and then translated into English by the Telegraph.

(Left: Cannes jurors Diane Kruger and Andrea Arnold)

"With great understanding of the monumental importance of such an event, you were able to dissuade women from aspiring to set foot in this closely-guarded world," said the sarcastic letter, which is addressed to Cannes organizers.

"Above all, never let the girls think they can one day have the presumptuousness to make movies or to climb those famous Festival Palace steps, except when attached to the arm of a prince charming."

Also read: Cannes 2012: It's a Man's World (But at Least the Man Isn't Lars von Trier)

Pointing out that only once has a woman director won the Palme d'Or – Jane Campion in 1993 for "The Piano" – the writers said last year's unprecedented roster of four women in competition for the main prize was "doubtless due to a lack of vigilance."

"Women, mind your spools of thread!" the letter concludes. "And men, as the Lumière Brothers did before you, mind your film reels! And let the Cannes Film Festival competition forever be a man's world!"

(The full letter, in French, is available at Le Monde, and the English translation at the Guardian.)

At the press conference announcing Cannes jurors on Wednesday, the jury of five men and four women was asked about the controversy.

"I'd absolutely hate it if my film got selected only because I'm a woman," said Andrea Arnold, the one woman on the panel who is not an actress, and a director whose films "Red Road" and "Fish Tank" showed at Cannes in 2006 and 2009, respectively. "I would only want my film to be selected for the right reason, not out of  charity.

"There were three, was it three films last year directed by women?" she added, understating the number by one. "So obviously it was a good year … It's true the world over in the world of film that there are not many women film directors. I guess Cannes is just a small pocket that represents how it really is out there in the world. And that's a great pity and a great disappointment."

Another juror, German actress Diane Kruger, pointed to the fact that "Lily Sometimes," a film directed by Fabienne Berthaud in which Kruger appeared, closed the Directors Fortnight section of Cannes in 2010. (Directors Fortnight is run independently from the main festival.)

"My impression," Kruger said, "is that women are made welcome in Cannes."

Similar criticism was leveled at Cannes the year "Lily Sometimes" screened, because that was another year in which no films from women directors were in the official competition. That year, a petition circulated during the festival, drawing more than 1,000 signatures by the time the Palme d'Or went to "Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives."

Getty ImagesLucy Walker, a British-born director whose films include the Oscar-nominated feature "Waste Land" and short "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom," was represented at Cannes that year with her film "Countdown to Zero," which screened out of competition but in the official selection.

(Walker, left, with Meg Ryan and producer Lawrence Bender at her Cannes screening)

TheWrap asked Walker if she'd care to comment on this year's absence of women directors, and she took the long view of the issue in a lengthy email:

"Regardless of whether the problem is that there are no female-directed films for Cannes to select, or whether the problem is that female directed were not selected, the statistics about the dearth of female film directors are remarkable and deserving of attention and action," she wrote. "I believe that the former is the important problem, and that women are not getting sufficient opportunities to direct films at all. 

"I was born in the 1970s, and I grew up being told that the old problem of sexism had been solved, gender inequality was a thing of the past, and I could choose any career I wanted. I could look around and see that it was true, because little girls and boys were obviously equally talented. Cut to today, to find myself in a career in which five percent, not 50 percent of films in Hollywood last year were directed by women. And my personal experience is that this is getting worse, as the statistics also suggest. 

"If you would permit me to be offensively immodest for a moment, I would say that I believe myself to be more skilled and qualified than many male directors whose films are greenlit and subsequently invited to Cannes. But I've never gotten any of my fiction films greenlit.

"I can also say that when I had a film in the Official Selection at Cannes, there were a couple of episodes which I would describe as sexist and disappointing – such as the male producer [of 'Countdown to Zero'] being handed the microphone at the screening, instead of the director as at every other screening.

"This was much-remarked-upon and protested at the time, but unfortunately it is not unique to Cannes. If my career was the kind where you would bring inequality lawsuits, I'd have a few jaw-dropping cases for every project I've directed. And those are the projects that I actually got to make. What about the films I've worked on that never got made? Was sexism a factor there?"

Even if Cannes is indicative of a far wider problem, the festival does have a certain old-school style and mindset. That much was clear, Andrea Arnold pointed out, when moderator Henri Behar introduced the jury at the press conference by starting with the women.

"I don’t know if I should say this or not," she said, "but it was very interesting when we were being introduced that you introduced the girls first. I wondered if maybe it should be alphabetical for everyone."

"Well, I'm French," explained Behar.