Annette Bening Addresses Lack of Female Directors at Venice: ‘Things Are Changing’

Annette Bening, in Venice to preside over the film festival’s competition jury, said Wednesday at the festival’s opening press conference that female filmmakers needed to concentrate on making movies with broad appeal in order to raise their profile in the industry.

Asked to comment on the dearth of female directors represented in the competition — only one of the 21 films is in competition is helmed by a woman — the American actress avoided criticizing the festival directly, saying that she “didn’t count the number of films that were directed by women….I didn’t approach it that way.”

But, she added, “as women, we have to be sharp, shrewd and creative in what we choose to make. Sexism does exist and there is no question about it. But things are changing.

The more we can make films that speak to everybody, the more we will be regarded as filmmakers,” she said, adding that she knew a lot of veteran and new filmmakers who are struggling to get their movies made “whether they are men or women.”

Bening, who spoke alongside festival director Alberto Barbera, is the first woman to preside over Venice’s competition jury since 2006. At on point, she turned to Barbera and asked how many movies he had watched to come up with the selection. Upon his reply that 2,000 films had been watched, Bening laughed and said: “Wow, I can’t imagine what it would be like!”

The actress acknowledged that there was still a long way to go to achieve gender parity, and not just in the film world. She said she had just visited the Venice Biennale, where she discovered the work of a woman who was listed as a feminist artist. “It made perfect sense that she was listed as a feminist artist,” she said, “but if a man had made the same drawings he would not have been labeled a feminist.”

Bening ended her comments on an optimistic note, saying she was confident the “direction we’re going [in] is positive.”

Barbera was asked about the selection of two titles from Netflix — “Our Souls At Night” and two episodes of “Suburra” — that will screen on the Lido, following the widespread backlash in May that the Cannes Film Festival’s artistic director, Thierry Fremaux, faced upon selecting two Netflix movies for that festival’s competition roster. The controversy resulted in a new rule demanding that all films in competition at Cannes must have a theatrical release in France.

Barbera noted that Venice premiered Netflix’s “Beasts of No Nation” in 2015 and “nobody had anything to say about that.”

He added that the “Cannes episode” was due to a law that “doesn’t exist in any other country,” a reference to France’s release schedule, which doesn’t allow subscription-based streaming services like Netflix to access films for the first 36 months after their theatrical release.

Barbera, who has addressed the issue of Netflix several times over the last few months, said it was not the role of a festival to discriminate against a movie because of where its production originated or where it was to be distributed.

“Netflix and Amazon are now major players in producing and distributing films…and they’re investing a lot of money in these films,” Barbera said.

“If directors like Scorsese or the Coen brothers decide to work with them, I don’t see why festival directors should discriminate against [certain films] simply because they’re not going to be distributed in theaters.”

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