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Cannes Jury President, Jane Campion, on the State of (lack of) Women Directors

Jane Campion thinks there would be more great stories in the world if women were allowed to tell them. She says that the gender demo in film schools all over the world is 50/50 but that somewhere along the line the line gets partitioned off, women go one way and men are ushered through to potential and greatness.

Campion also said that she felt the collective embarrassment when the Palme d’or winners all got on stage for the 50th anniversary of Cannes ands he was the only female. The bright and talented Campion has long been a pioneer for women in film, refusing to tell only relationship stories, for instance, refusing to stay in her cage, in any cage really. Her films are surreal, challenging, often overtly sexual and always stark in their truth telling. Campion is proof that if you build it, they will come.

Here’s the rub, though. Campion comes from a culture of film that is more supportive to women as artists. In other words, not only is their government actively involved in helping to fortify their artistic community but mothers overall tend to be more valued.

The system needs to change for perspectives to change and for, ultimately, the gender gap to shrink. Kathleen Kennedy said it best last year at the Santa Barbara Film Fest – women are the mothers. They make the choice to raise the kids and stay and home, or not. Kathryn Bigelow, for instance, did not have children. Campion did. You make that choice and it takes a big chunk out of your life’s plans. It has to. Otherwise, what’s the point of having them at all. Women can work on their careers and then have kids (risky) or have kids first then have careers. Either way? It’s tough. Now, why should this be a gender issue? Because it is. Deal with it. Are there men who stay home and raise the babies instead? Sure. But does it almost always fall to the mother anyway? Of course. Are there exceptions? Yes, don’t waste my time. We’re speaking in broad generalities here.

What needs to change: our culture needs to be more accepting of women as mothers bringing that to film sets. Women should have, for instance, daycare on set written into contracts and Hollywood’s five white guys in suits should be okay with that. Why? Because it is the backbone of our society. More acceptance of motherhood on the job would vastly improve so many aspects of our culture and would free women up for contributing those stories we desperately need from them. Sick of films aimed at 13 year-old boys? Me too! Let’s see what women can do if given an at bat.

The second thing that needs to change? We’ve gone over this. Women storytellers should be encouraged to tell universal stories that appeal to men and women. Follow Jane Campion’s lead on that one. But also Sofia Coppola, Ava DuVernay, Kimberly Pierce, Diablo Cody and other women who offer powerful voices into the collective. Let’s just see what they can do.

The third thing? Women need to stop hating on other women and men need to stop hating women for A) not being boner fodder for them (get over it), and B) for daring to challenge their definition of what a women’s story is. To that end, can the majority of male critics and bloggers who cover the beat lean in a little and try to see the world more from the perspective of the other 50%?

Either way, it’s going to be a long slog up that hill. With Campion leading the way, perhaps we can start to inch closer towards the change we seek. Producers like Scott Rudin, for instance, who really do support creative female voices like Lena Dunham. Rudin is in the process of closing a deal with Campion as we speak. That is what we need more of – more powerful forces backing women and then a culture who can support those women without necessarily making them appeal to the 13 year-old boy demographic.

From the interview:

Even so, she recalls with some horror an event she attended for Cannes’ 50th anniversary, when she found herself on a stage with all the other Palme d’Or winners – the only woman there. “It was a shocking moment. It was embarrassing for everyone. I think everyone felt that it was really not right.” She still would be the only woman, but the festival is emphatically not the problem. “My sense is that Cannes is very interested in new voices in cinema, never mind where it comes from or the sex of it. It’s to do with who funds films in the first place.”

“At film schools,” she says, “the gender balance is about 50/50. Women do really well in short-film competitions. It’s when business and commerce and art come together; somehow men trust men more.”

What’s to be done? “My feeling is we need an Abraham Lincoln figure to get in there, and say – especially when it comes to public money – it has to be equal.” Citing the state-funding system in Australia and New Zealand in the 70s, she says: “We are 50% of the population. That’s a good point and [state funding] is where you can push really hard and say something’s wrong here, we want change.” Conversely, though, Campion is wary of the danger of concentrating too hard on ideology. “When I talk to young women film-makers, I say: don’t think about this too much. Being a director is very tough, and you need everything you’ve got just to do your best job. You doing a brilliant job is your best support. Just get on with it.

“Film-making is not about whether you’re a man or a woman; it’s about sensitivity and hard work and really loving what you do. But women are going to tell different stories – there would be many more stories in the world if women were making more films.”