The Venice Film Festival followed Cannes and Locarno in signing a pledge on gender parity Friday, but festival organizers insisted that the practices in the protocol are already in place and bristled at suggestions that the Lido had been infected with Italy’s “toxic masculinity.”
The pledge was signed at a news conference attended by Alberto Barbera, the festival’s artistic director; Paolo Baratta, the president of La Biennale, the fest’s parent organization; and the Italian groups Dissenso Comune and Women in Film, TV & Media Italia. The pledge, initiated by French organization 5050×2020, matches those signed by the Cannes, Locarno and Sarajevo festivals, and commits Venice to transparency in the festival’s selection processes and gender parity in the organization’s top management.
“The Venice festival is already quite far ahead,” said Italian actress Jasmine Trinca of Dissenso Comune, who participated in the signing ceremony.
Not included are quotas, which Baratta told Variety was a first principle in talks over the pledge. “From the start, I wanted there to be clarity about the fact that no festival has signed any pledges regarding quotas [in] selections…and nobody has ever asked them to,” Baratta said. “Because we agreed on that basic principle, the dialogue with the [women’s] movements has been serene and constructive.”
The festival has been sharply criticized for selecting only one film by a woman for the official competition for the second year in a row, alongside 20 competition titles by male filmmakers. Baratta rejected suggestions that Venice was an outlier, or that Italian culture was somehow at fault.
“If the Venice festival is an example of toxic masculinity because they have just one film by a woman in competition, then I don’t understand why a festival that instead has two should not be considered toxic,” he said in an interview. “In that case, all we would have to do is have three women in competition next year and the problem would be solved. This would be ridiculous!”
The Cannes Film Festival had three films from female filmmakers in competition this year.
Negotiations over the pledge were complicated by the fact that La Biennale is a multidisciplinary organization extending to other arts beyond film, such as architecture and dance. The protocol signed Friday applies to those sectors as well.
“We are an institution that operates in many cultural fields, and the film festival is just one of them,” Baratta told Variety.
He said that 75% of La Biennale’s top management are women, and that Barbera’s team, the film festival’s commissions and the juries are all about 50-50 male-female. At the same time, he acknowledged that the percentage of submissions by female filmmakers needed to be improved.
Baratta committed his organization to publishing its internal statistics on gender and to hold a seminar at the film festival every year to analyze the numbers and discuss their implications. “Instead of just signing the pledge to appease and get it out of the way, we’ve tried to bring the discussion forward,” he said.