Women’s Groups Blast Venice Film Festival for Lack of Female Representation

The Venice Film Festival has come under fire from the European Women’s Audiovisual Network and several other advocacy groups for virtually shutting out female directors from its competition section. In an open letter, the EWA has also demanded that Venice join the Cannes and Locarno fests in signing a gender-parity pledge. 

“We have seen this film before,” the letter said, referring to the fact that, for the second year in a row, only one out of the 21 competition titles at Venice is directed by a woman: Jennifer Kent’s “The Nightingale.” “Angels Wear White,” by Chinese director Vivian Qu, was last year’s lone competition title directed by a woman.

The EWA took issue with Venice artistic chief Alberto Barbera, who, while pledging to try to do more to boost female representation, said recently that he would quit “if we impose quotas or gender-equality needs.”

“When Alberto Barbera threatens to quit, he is perpetuating the notion that selecting films by female filmmakers involves lowering standards,” the letter said. “Sorry, but we don’t buy this anymore. We know it has been proven that instead of preventing meritocracy, targets and quotas help to promote it by widening the pool of candidates.”

There was no immediate response from Venice to the open letter.

At the unveiling of the Venice lineup last month, Barbera and Paolo Baratta, president of the festival’s parent organization, said that only about 21% of the 1,650 feature films submitted to the festival were directed by women. But the selection of one female-directed movie in an overall lineup of 21 competition titles amounts to an even lower proportion of 4%, the EWA noted.

“When Paolo Baratta or Alberto Barbera say that there are not enough women’s films and that this is a reflection of the broader film industry, they are also saying that this is not Venice’s problem – regardless of the fact that, like most European film festivals, their team is not trained in gender bias or in unconscious bias, for that matter,” the letter said. “So with a shrug of a shoulder, Venice, and all the festivals showing a lack of gender balance or regard for equality, can avoid taking a closer look at their selection processes and committees.”

Besides the Strasbourg-based European Women’s Audiovisual Network, the missive was signed by Women in Film & TV International, WIFT Nordic, WIFT Sweden, and the Swiss Women’s Audiovisual Network (SWAN), which was instrumental in persuading the Locarno festival to sign the gender-parity pledge. Significantly, however, the signatories do not include Italy’s two advocacy groups for female directors, Dissenso Comune and Women in Film & TV Italy, which sources say are in talks with the film festival’s parent organization, the Venice Biennale, over the gender-parity pledge.

Initiated by France’s 5050 by 2020, which aims for equal gender representation in front of and behind the camera, the pledge calls on festivals to issue statistics on the number of films submitted; to be transparent about the membership of the selection and programming committees in order to quell doubt about a lack of diversity or parity, while allowing festivals to make their editorial and strategic choices; and to set up a timetable of goals to ensure an even gender ratio within the respective terms.

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