Cannes jury chief Jane Campion attacks ‘inherent sexism’ in film industry

Jane Campion, only woman director to win the festival's top honour, says there's so few like her because men in movie industry 'eat all the cake'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 10:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 8:28am

Cannes jury head Jane Campion - the only woman ever to win the festival's top prize - has blamed the lack of woman filmmakers on "inherent sexism" in an industry increasingly under fire for the lack of women in its top ranks.

"I think you would have to say that there's some inherent sexism in the industry," the New Zealand screenwriter and director said on the first day of the Cannes Film Festival.

"It does feel very undemocratic and women do notice. Time and time again we don't get our share of representation," she said, adding that men seemed to "eat all the cake".

Campion's forthright comments followed equally frank words from Amy Pascal, co-chair of Sony Pictures, who told Forbes magazine last year that "the whole system is geared for them (women) to fail".

Campion, whose New Zealand-set movie The Piano about a mute pianist and her daughter won the Palme d'Or in 1993, is also one of only four women filmmakers ever to have been nominated for a best director Oscar.

Campion made her name portraying complex, strong-willed female protagonists.

She said there were so few women working in movies today that it tended to come as a surprise to the world when a woman filmmaker did come along with "a more feminine vision".

Her latest work, the television miniseries Top of the Lake about a woman detective who returns to her hometown and finds herself investigating a child abuse case, was a hit with audiences and also won a string of awards.

Martha Lauzen, of the US' Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film, said the lack of women behind the camera was getting worse.

"There has been an active and substantial dialogue on the issue at grassroots level for more than a decade, but there has been a profound lack of leadership on women's under-employment among the film studio heads and union leaders," she said.

Research by the centre, at San Diego University in California, has showed that women made up just six per cent of directors working on the top 250 grossing US films last year, down from nine per cent in 1998.

She said the idea that women chose lower-key projects because they were not interested in working on blockbuster movies was nonsense. "There may be some women filmmakers, just as there are men filmmakers, who are not interested in working on these high-profile and often career-making features.

"But plenty of women directors have gone on the record in interviews as saying that they would like to have these opportunities, but that they are not available to them," she said.

The 18 films competing for this year's Palme d'Or include only two by women directors - Japan's Naomi Kawase ( Still the Water) and Italy's Alice Rohrwacher ( The Wonders).

Last year there was one, while in 2012 there was not a single film made by a woman. Only seven per cent of the 1,700 films submitted to Cannes this year were by women.

Organisers say they recognise the problem, but that doing anything other than selecting on merit would be an insult to the people they were trying to help.

Artistic director Thierry Fremaux last year told entertainment industry website ScreenDaily the lack of women was a "fundamental problem".

But he added that it was not a battle he could "wage as a Cannes selector".