This year’s Cannes Film Festival, keeping up to its morbid traditions has continued to be very unfriendly to women, particularly women with children. In its 70th edition, complaints were filed over mothers being turned away from the Marche du Film for their kids not having badges as well as being forced to breastfeed outside.
The staff’s wonted reply being “no badges for babies and dogs.”
As if the controversies mounting over the Cannes’ run-of-the-mill sexist film selections, weren’t enough, by denying entry to filmmakers whose films are being at the festival no less, the most sought after film festival hit its all-time low.
Enter ‘Parents in the Palais’ – an alacritous online feminist movement led by a group of filmmakers (some of whom are mothers) that called out the double standards of these film festivals. In an interview with Women and Hollywood, Alexandra Hidalgo, editor-in-chief agnès films said: “As a filmmaker who is also a mother and attends film festivals with her children, where they have always been welcome with open arms, I was quite shocked to learn about Anne Marie [Jacir] and Anna’s [Tatarska] plight at Cannes. (…) We thought that if film industry professionals and activists from around the world came together to bring up the situation to Cannes and to provide models for strategies that are currently working at other film festivals, they might listen and make a change.”
She clarified that, “This isn’t only about Cannes but about film festivals around the world waking up to this issue. If we want more women making films, we also need to accept that many of them may need to bring their children with them to film festivals. The more positive the experience, the easier it will be for them to continue telling stories behind the camera.”
— Sabana Grande (@SabanaGrandePro) April 10, 2017
Parents in Palais soon became topical as many filmmakers from all over the world pitched in by signing the open letter which Alexandra, along with fellow activists Sophie Mayer, Mathilde Dratwa, Barbara Ann O’Leary, and Marian Evans crafted as a response to the situation. More than 340 people including, Oscar-nominated writer Robin Swicord, Amazon’s Ted Hope, Indian filmmakers Deepa Dhanraj, Leena Manimekalai and others, signed the letter which was then submitted to Cannes director Thierry Fremaux.
This is not an obfuscated ‘phenomenon of the west’ any longer. The holler for equal rights is turning tides and shifting paradigms all over the world. While on the one hand there is a steady brouhaha over women championing cinema, it is quite disconcerting to have the rugs pulled from under us, and denied opportunities over nugatory reasons. When I got talking to a lot of my filmmaking friends there was a shared frustration over the regressive stand of Cannes.
Filmmaker mom Miriam Chandy, who made the globe trotting gem of a film ‘Lyaari notes’ thinks it is quite strange that Cannes would do such a thing. She says,
“Parenting is a reality for many of us in the film fraternity. The Cannes film festival has been recognising the talent of Women directors with the top awards, it goes without saying they ought to then respect what this means, right from creating creche facilities or making certain award ceremonies child and family friendly. Seems like other much smaller festivals have already taken the lead so Cannes needs to step up and put its most progressive foot forward…or the famous red carpet will seem all the more superficial than what it should be: a true celebration of cinema”
Pakistani filmmaker, educator and gender rights activist Madeeha Raza doesn’t mince words when she says
“I find this not only disappointing, but also surprising. If we say we need more women making/partaking in films, it is crucial to ensure working mothers are accommodated at film festivals, so that they feel more welcomed, and not discouraged. High time Cannes woke up to this issue.” And when I prodded her if she would be willing to put herself through it and she reckoned, “Absolutely not! Being a filmmaker mom, I can fully relate to this, and would be disgusted at such mistreatment.”
Filmmaker mom Anu Menon, who made a lovely indie film ‘Waiting’ deplores all forms of oppression against women but thinks the issue is far more deep-rooted.
“The whole work culture across industries hasn’t taken into account the needs of a working mother. It is seen as a nuisance – Oho – she will be off for 6 months – then she will need time off when the baby is sick or run off to PTA. We have to start developing working cultures that take this as a given – a woman has to reproduce – for both men and women and so we better start figuring how to make it work.”
At the Cannes ironically last year too, Lauren Grant, a Toronto-based film producer who was trying to get to her meeting on time, hit a roadblock because she held her 9 month old baby in her arms. She told the Hollywood reporter: “There’s got to be a difference between someone who is 16 and 7 and almost 9 months old. I know the festival is trying to be better with women. This is not okay. I had to do my meetings in the Pavilion and then breastfeed on a bench outside of security.” Grant continued: “There’s this big concern that there’s not enough women in the film industry. But this is the thing: If I’m a woman with a child, should I not have come to Cannes and tried to find financing for my movies and delayed those films for a year because I couldn’t feed my baby? That actually makes no sense.” Makes the case for ending this recurring menace, doesn’t it?
One thing became obvious after open letter gathered traction: there are umpteen number of groups, organisations and collectives that have been fighting against the rotten system, by providing resources, aid and support to filmmaking moms. The vibrant Raising Films in the United Kingdom and Moms-in-Film in the United States, whose Wee Wagon initiative at SXSW and #BudgetTheBaby campaigns were such a hit! I also sincerely hope that, taking the lead from the west, such support groups pop up in many other countries too. Together, we must be able to get the festival’s staff along with the entire fraternity to radically rejig their medieval, despotic ways, to a more equitable society that insists on mutual respect and focusses on the art.
Meena Longjam, the National award winning documentary filmmaker doesn’t care of any gathering that propagates hate and violence, she reaffirms,
“After fighting centuries of oppression on our capabilities that limited us to just our childbearing roles, we have come a long way. We have been balancing being a mother and also racing ahead our own niches in many fields. As a single mother of two kids, and as an independent filmmaker I condemn the nonsensical ideas of Cannes. I would never be part of such strenuous, unfriendly and sexist festivals.”
Here’s hoping that the 71st edition would be friendlier, and the women of the world come together to kick patriarchy through the side door.