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How the Berlin Film Festival Sent a Message to Cannes, Venice on Film Parity

The future of film is female: a photo snapped in February at the Berlinale’s climax, when the Juliette Binoche-led international jury met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, may be the most important film photo of 2019 — or even the decade. The image is a signpost of where we want to be as women in film and as a film community at large. And that it’s attainable.

As Americans become mired on how to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of #MeToo and Trump, on the way to 50/50 in 2020, the Berlinale jury showed what the future could look like with a female jury president — and a female government leader. Embrace the change — the Berlinale showed us how (and stepped ahead of rivals Cannes and Venice in so doing).

“The picture clearly captures a life-highlight moment for all of us who were there [hopefully the chancellor as well],” says Rajendra Roy, Berlin jury member and MoMA’s chief curator of film. “[But] the real significance lies in what was discussed in the nearly 90-minute meeting that followed. Mrs. Merkel had serious, and extremely poignant, questions about the state of the industry, the rise of streaming platforms [one in particular, but she wanted to understand the differences between them] and the cultural importance of the theatrical experience,” Roy says.

“To be totally honest, we were more star-struck than she was [or let on] and we came away feeling like we had engaged in a conversation that would lead to concrete regulatory and financial measures.”

Jury member and Los Angeles Times (and former Variety) film critic Justin Chang says: “It meant a great deal that Chancellor Merkel took the time to sit down with us and discuss everything from the film industry to climate change; in doing so, she asserted the importance of the arts in public life and the value that artists bring to the conversation.”

The photograph, with its female majority, men of color and LGBTQ inclusion, reflects cultural creators, curators and journalists engaged in an ongoing dialogue that’s coming to fruition.

“Despite the conservative backlash, there’s been a sea change in who gets to choose and who gets to tell their stories,” says Beth Barrett, Seattle Intl. film festival’s artistic director.

The photo validates and advances an inclusive worldview. “To see that engagement between the jury and Merkel, who is the leader of the free world … she’s not a super artistic chancellor and yet she appreciates the role of arts and culture in the world and how it betters the country and its communities,” Barrett says.

“Having Juliette Binoche as the jury chair, she’s able to lead the discussions in a way that is collaboratively combative. There’s no antagonism and yet at the same time each one of these people is going to have their opinions heard, respected and discussed. That’s huge when talking about the history of women and men of color in groups.”

These historically marginalized voices are assuming leadership roles and showing how the game can be changed, one jury at a time, one festival at a time. “To be on that Berlinale jury, on that level of international A-level festival, is a statement about how you are perceived within the industry. It’s also a responsibility: you’re able to take on that role of being able to choose: to push someone forward or push forward the status quo,” she adds.

Liliana Rodriguez, artistic director of the Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival, responded to the photograph with its composition of women at the forefront, and a sense both playful and serious that these empowered artists are forward-looking and seizing the moment: “I’m reassured and hopeful that we as a society are moving in a direction where women and people of color casually occupy these spaces that have historically been occupied by white men. I’m hopeful one day these will be the norm. For now, this feels revolutionary.

“Despite the nightly news real change is possible,” Rodriguez says, “It just takes time.”

Chang concludes, “While it would be amusing to compare the responsibilities of running a film festival jury and leading the free world, I don’t think the symbolic importance of a meeting between two brilliantly accomplished women — Chancellor Merkel and Juliette Binoche, our jury president — was lost on any of us. Maybe it was a happy coincidence; maybe it was an astonishing snapshot of what progress can look like.

“Certainly it was a reminder that the Berlinale has done as much as any major film festival to advance the cause of gender parity, as evidenced by the fact that seven of the 16 films in our competition pool were directed by women. I’m reminded that so much of the discourse on movies, especially on movies being made outside the confines of the Hollywood studios, begins at film festivals, and so it’s natural that inclusion must begin there as well — among filmmakers, decision-makers and journalists.”

As evidenced by this single photograph, the strides made by the Berlinale offer a signpost of where many in the industry want to be as women in film and as a film community at large. Not only is it attainable, it sends a message to Cannes and Venice: this is the bold collaborative future of film.

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