Jacques Audiard, the Palme d’Or-winning French director whose latest film, “The Sisters Brothers,” was warmly received at a press screening on the Lido, delivered a passionate plea to film festivals Sunday to have greater representation of women. And he didn’t spare Venice, where his film is playing in competition.
“When I saw that the competition had 20 films and only one directed by women, I wrote a message to my peers working on the selection, and the reaction was not fantastic,” said Audiard, who’s part of the feminist movement 50/50 for 2020, which is behind the pledge for gender equality signed by Cannes, Locarno and Venice.
“My idea is not to put the president of this festival and the Biennale on trial…but the answer I got – ‘we’re doing our job honestly; we don’t care if the film is directed by a man or a woman’ – proves that we’re not asking ourselves the right question,” said Audiard, who was flanked by “The Sisters Brothers” actor-producer John C. Reilly and screenwriter Thomas Bidegain, as well as Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat.
“The right question is ‘Do festivals have a gender?’ And the answer is yes. I’ve been attending festivals for 25 years with my films and don’t see women. I often see the same men, though. And that’s not OK,” said the director, who also criticized the lack of transparency in the selection process of festivals.
“Equality can be quantified in numbers, and justice has to be applied,” Audiard added, drawing loud applause, which he interrupted by saying: “No, we don’t applaud. We act.”
At the same time, Audiard’s own film in Venice has hardly any female characters in it, and not one in a leading role. Based on Patrick deWitt’s novel of the same name, “The Sisters Brothers” follows two brothers, Eli (Reilly) and Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix), who are hired to kill a prospector. The story takes place in Oregon in 1851. Reilly and Phoenix star opposite Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed.
Reilly, who optioned the book years ago and co-produced the movie with his wife, Alison Dickey, said that although “The Sisters Brothers” has almost no female characters, it says a lot about “masculinity and the gender balance.” Reilly also noted that women made up at least half of the crew.