In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the emergence of the #MeToo movement, Women in Motion, the initiative launched in 2015 by fashion powerhouse Kering and backed by the Cannes Film Festival, is proving more timely than ever.

The 4-year-old initiative, whose mission is to highlight to role of women before and behind the camera, has already begun to bear fruit. Variety is a partner in the initiative.
Syrian helmer Gaya Jiji, who won the Women in Motion’s Young Talents Award and a grant along with Leyla Bouzid and Ida Panahandeh in 2016, will be back in Cannes this year to present her feature debut “My Favorite Fabric” in Un Certain Regard.

Aside from paying tribute to iconic women in the industry such as Olivia de Havilland and Isabelle Huppert, Women in Motion has also been turning the spotlight on emerging women filmmakers, including Jiji.

“Kering was the first group to commit to making a change in the cinema industry,” says CEO Francois-Henri Pinault. “We raised, loud and clear, on a large scale, the question of gender equality in cinema four years ago when no one — or so few! — talked openly about it. I know we have made a difference. Our pledge is to keep on aiming higher because the change won’t happen overnight.”

He cites Women in Motion honoree Jiji as a “fantastic young female talent.”

“The prize was a big encouragement for me; it kept me going in this fight and drew the attention of my project,” says the director, who as a woman helmer in Syria, is a rarity. “Making a first film is always a very long process and a crucial milestone in the career of a director. You always need others to believe in your project.”

Although there are now several initiatives highlighting the role of women in the industry, Kering has managed to have a greater impact than most.

“Kering’s Women in Motion has succeeded in raising awareness by attracting many high-profile talent and stars to talk about these issues at the Cannes Film Festival. They’ve allowed the debate to reach mainstream audiences,” says Marianne Slot, the Paris-based producer who will be attending the festival with Lars von Trier’s “The House That Jack Built” (which she co-produced) and Benedikt Erlingsson’s “Woman at War,” a female-powered action film that will world premiere in Critics’ Week at Cannes.

Participants in Kering’s Women in Motion talks have included Jodie Foster, Robin Wright, Agnes Varda, Juliette Binoche, Huppert, and Salma Hayek, who is also Pinault’s wife and an outspoken feminist.

Slot, who is on the advisory board of non-profit female-centric production company We Do It Together, says there is still a long way to go before reaching a fair representation of women filmmakers at festivals, but notes that Cannes has made some progress.

Thierry Fremaux, the artistic director of Cannes Film Festival, has credited the Kering initiative, along with Jessica Chastain, Agnes Jaoui and Maren Ade, for raising his awareness about gender parity.

“What I can say is that for the last four years, I’ve become much more concerned about the presence of women at the festival,” says Fremaux, who adds that the festival has been hiring more women as festival staff and within selection committees.

Cate Blanchett is the Cannes jury president, the 11th woman to be tapped for this role in the festival’s 71-year history. The competition lineup includes three women filmmakers: Nadine Labaki, Eva Husson and Alice Rohrwacher.

“I always had two strong convictions: that if the media and the general public gave gender equality the attention it deserves, things would change, and that the world of cinema — be it on- or off-screen — is instrumental in making this transformation happen,” Pinault says.

But beyond Cannes, “where the global attention is so high,” the “conversation must never die down, so that gender equality never goes back to the limbo it was kept in for much too long,” says Pinault. He has also created the Kering Foundation, whose mission is to fight violence against women, 10 years ago.

Kering has started to expand the footprint of its Women in Motion program at the Sundance Film Festival and has teamed up with French film promotion organization UniFrance to host events at several festivals around the world.

Isabelle Giordano, who runs UniFrance with Serge Toubiana and moderated some panels during last year’s edition, says the Kering talks were necessary to shed light on injustices.
“Even if I have heard hundreds of interviews with Isabelle Huppert, I was actually surprised by some of her answers during her talk at Cannes — some well-known actresses can also be victim of obvious injustices,” says Giordano.

Pinault says the “#MeToo movement, the scandals, the demonstrations, the speeches, etc. have helped break the chain of silence at last.”