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Women Directors Nearly Shut Out From Venice Competition for Second Year Running

For the second year in a row, only one out of the 21 competition titles at the upcoming Venice Film Festival is directed by a woman: Jennifer Kent’s “The Nightingale.” But while pledging to try to do more to boost female representation, artistic director Alberto Barbera said Wednesday that he would quit if a quota were imposed on the world’s oldest film fest.

“I’m going to say this a bit bluntly: The day in which I had to choose a film solely because it’s made by a woman I would change jobs,” Barbera said after unveiling the lineup for the 75th edition of the festival.

He acknowledged that female-directed films on the roster “are definitely a minority” – 15 out of about 70 officially selected titles – but blamed the scarcity on the low number of submissions. Although Barbera and Paolo Baratta, president of the festival’s parent organization, the Venice Biennale, are still examining the numbers, they estimated that only about 21% of the 1,650 submitted feature films were directed by women.

“The problem exists,” Barbera said, adding: “We don’t look at films based on [the director’s] gender. We look [and select] them based on quality.”

“This is the exact opposite of a form of discrimination,” said Barbera. “It’s a form of maximum respect….If we start to operate in terms of quotas or numbers or percentages, I think the first to be humiliated would be women themselves.”

By contrast, though the Toronto lineup has yet to be finalized, Toronto chief Cameron Bailey says he expects roughly a third of the films will be by female directors. Five of the 17 films announced Tuesday are directed by women, and half a dozen are by directors of color.

Baratta pledged to do more to try to close the gender gap. “We need to make sure that women have the tools and opportunity to make films,” he said.

He noted that the festival’s Biennale College program, which is dedicated to shepherding micro-budget movies, this year spawned two entries directed by a woman and one by a man. “Aside from any specific gender-related considerations, we have tried to respond [to the gender problem] with the tools at our disposal,” Baratta noted. 

He also called for “more statistics” and pledged to gather them.

“How do directors get their first movie made? How did they get there? What can we contribute?” he said. “We need to look at this more in-depth, starting from the gender gap in new directors.”

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