Cannes: A female director at the head of jury, solidarity red carpet walks for gender justice and an anti-sexual harassment hotline have made it sure that the annual Cannes film festival this year is like no other film festival before.
The first major festival after the 'MeToo' and 'Time is Up' movements began last October, the 71st edition of the influential Cannes festival has changed the way festivals across the world would function in the coming years.
The Cannes festival appointed a female director to head its prestigious competition jury that hand over the Palme d'Or, the top prize of the festival. Australian actor Cate Blanchett, who played the title role in Shekhar Kapur's 'Elizabeth', is the president of the jury, which has five women and four male members.
"The selection committee of the Cannes festival has more women on board than before," said Blanchett while addressing a press conference. "We need to have gender parity," she added.
"Things must change," said Khadja Nin, a singer from Burundi and another women member of the jury. "The stigmatisation and harassment of women have to stop. We also must talk about the kinds of roles given to black people," said Nin.
Other women members of the competition jury headed by Blanchett include American actor Kristen Stewart and American director Ava DuVernay.
"The world is not the same as before because of the 'earthquake'," said Cannes festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux, referring to the sexual harassment cases that broke out in the global film industry in the recent months.
"The Cannes film festival won't be the same again," added Fremaux.
Though the competition section has only three films by women directors, compared to 18 by male filmmakers, there are seven women-directed films in Un Certain Regard section of the festival besides many movies that have women-centric themes.
The two films representing Indian cinema in Cannes this year are directed by women. 'Manto', the story of iconic Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto, is made by actor-director Nandita Das while 'Sir', which is part of the parallel section of Critic's Week, is directed by Rohena Gera.
'Manto', the only Indian film in the Cannes official selection, dwells deep into the women-oriented theme of Manto's works, like his famous stories surrounding the Partition trauma such as 'Khol Do' and 'Thanda Gosht'.
"Many of Manto's stories dealt with the struggles of women for a place in the society," said Nandita Das. Both Das and Gera joined several female actors and directors in the global film industry to walk the red carpet at the Cannes festival on May 12 to declare solidarity with women victims fighting for gender equality and justice.
The presence of women-oriented films in Cannes are also adding further misery to female filmmakers and actors. 'Rafiki', the first Kenyan film ever to be screened in the Cannes festival, has been banned by the Kenyan government after it was selected to the Cannes festival this year. Directed by Wanuri Kahiu, 'Rafiki' tells the story of the relationship between two girls.
"I don't know why anyone should be arrested for telling a love story," said Kahiu, who faces legal challenges when she and her actors return to Kenya. The film received a 10-minute-long standing ovation from the international audience in Cannes.
The festival, which began on May 8, also witnessed the screening of a film on the female Kurdish fighters in the competition section. 'Girls of the Sun' by French women director Eva Husson tells the story of Bahar, the commander of a female battalion of Kurdish fighters trying to liberate a village from the hands of extremists in Iraq's Kurdistan territories.
Lebanese director Nadine Lebaki is also part of the competition section with her new film,'Capernaum', while Italian director Alice Rohrwacher is back with her latest venture, 'Happy as Lazzaro'.
The feature film competition in Critic's Week, which includes Rohena Gera's 'Sir', has four films that are directed by female filmmakers, compared to three by male directors. Gera's 'Sir' tells the story of a young woman from a village who aims to dream big in the city of Mumbai where she works as a maid.
On the first day of the festival last week, a sexual harassment hotline was launched by the organisers to report incidents of sexual abuse, in a first by the festival.