The Venice Film Festival is a coveted venue for renowned filmmakers to premiere their latest works. But in its 75th year, it’s coming under fire for a string of arguably sexist incidents.
The first came with the revelation of its line-up, which included only one female filmmaker. That means in competition there are 20 films made by men, and then Jennifer Kent’sThe Babadook follow-up, The Nightingale. “The numbers are getting worse, not better,” Deadline pointed out, “While women directors made up 22% of the competition in 2012, that percentage has decreased or stayed the same each year since. It has dropped to 4.5% the last two years.”
Women’s advocacy groups implored the Venice Film Festival to make a pledge for diversity in their selection, as Cannes and Locarno have, and asked they train their selection staff in detecting “unconscious bias” that might be keeping out female filmmakers. In 2017, Venice Film Festival director Alberto Barbera had refuted such an idea, saying, “If we impose quotas or gender equality needs I will quit.” However, on the third day of the 2018 festival, Barbera was in attendance and smiling during a news conference where he announced the fest would be doing just that, signing a pledge on gender parity. However, Variety reports this pledge includes no quotas. So frankly, this might just be PR.
Paolo Baratta, president of La Biennale (the parent organization of the festival), scoffed at accusations that the Italian festival’s abysmal numbers regarding female-made films promote toxic masculinity. He said:
“If the Venice festival is an example of toxic masculinity because they have just one film by a woman in competition, then I don’t understand why a festival that instead has two should not be considered toxic. In that case, all we would have to do is have three women in competition next year and the problem would be solved. This would be ridiculous!”
Bad news for Baratta. This seemingly half-hearted gender parity promise won’t fix the perception that the Venice Film Festival has a toxic masculinity issue. You need to look no farther than its red carpet to see that. That is where a man proudly posed for the photographers in a t-shirt that read “Weinstein is innocent.”
Fixed that for you, Twitter Moments. pic.twitter.com/FhKITez1jH— Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko) September 6, 2018
This is Luciano Silighini Garagnani, who Vanity Fair has identified as “a right-wing Italian provocateur.” There are a slew of photos of him displaying his t-shirt that proclaims Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual misconduct, sexual assault, and rape by a long list of female colleagues, is innocent. There are photos of other fools grinning and pointing at his audacity, not all of them male. And these photos have zinged around the world, getting headlines and their own Twitter Moment, bringing Garagnani exactly the kind of attention he so desperately wants. And it’s a moment the Venice Film Festival allowed by not kicking this attention-seeking creep’s ass off the carpet of the Suspiria premiere.
Not surprisingly, the only female filmmaker at Venice would not be spared a gross display of sexism at her own screening. After The Nightingale screened for press, reports arose that a yet-to-be unidentified member of the Italian press called Kent a “whore” as her name came up in the end credits.
Here’s what happened, according to Twitter.
To the ignorant (male, of course) “credentialed” coward who screamed an epithet I won’t repeat in the dark when the female director of the film I just saw came up in the credits: you automatically disproved any arguments concerning the ostensible excessiveness of that film.— Glenn Kenny (@Glenn__Kenny) September 5, 2018
Oh wow: several people are tweeting that someone yelled in Italian,at the end of the very first press screening of THE NIGHTINGALE by Jennifer Kent, something like 'You suck, whore!' referring to the director - Speechless #Venezia75— Gabriele Capolino (@gabrielecapo) September 5, 2018
At the end of the press screening of Jennifer Kent’s “The Nightingale” appalling shoutings that seems perfect to confirm the accusations of Italian machismo that have been going on on the press recently. #Venezia75— Samanta Telleri (@telleris) September 5, 2018
If Venice could identify the Italian press member who bellowingly called Jennifer Kent a whore at last night's screening of THE NIGHTINGALE, and revoke their accreditation going forward, that would be a good start.— Guy Lodge (@GuyLodge) September 6, 2018
And that’s not all. Some say that the violence enacted against an Aboriginal character led to discomforting cheers from some of the crowd.
So Jennifer Kent’s THE NIGHTINGALE premiered in Venice, and there appear to have been two incidents - one misogynist: https://t.co/x6nw2YVeec— Laurence "Laura Dern" Barber (@bortlb) September 6, 2018
The other, I’m going to assume, racist, given one of the story’s main characters is an Aboriginal tracker. https://t.co/hkMqZSnr4s— Laurence "Laura Dern" Barber (@bortlb) September 6, 2018
Reports are “The Babadook” director Jennifer Kent’s THE NIGHTINGALE screened for press in Venice to rave reviews, but an ugly screening crowd who cheered at an act of racial violence and someone called Kent a variation on ‘whore’. Yikes.— Garth Franklin (@darkhorizons) September 6, 2018
Despite the bad behavior of the Venice Film Festival’s audience, Nightingale is gaining buzz.
Make no mistake: Jennifer Kent's sophomore film #TheNightingale is not The Babadook 2. It's not even horror. It's a straight up revenge thriller that works as what the formula of the genre dictates. At least that is obvious when audiences cheer and clap towards the end. #Venice75— Nauval Yazid (@carnauval) September 5, 2018
Jennifer Kent's The Nightingale is absolutely extraordinary. Harrowing and gut-wrenching - yet also touching, and with genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Sound design is brilliant too. If there's a better film at Venice, I don't know what it is.#TheNightingale #VeniceFilmFestival— Sam Golding (@samuelmgolding) September 5, 2018
#Venezia75 #TheNightingale Out of the park? Jennifer Kent knocked it out of the fucking Lido island! This black Irish feminist ballad will fly you to the highest notes ever reached beyond the dirtiest bloodiest outbacks we "the civilized" come from. My Golden Lion.— Lorenzo Ciorcalo (@rotovisor) September 5, 2018
Raves for Jennifer Kent's The Nightingale from Venice. Come on other fall festivals add the the film to your programming now! pic.twitter.com/nAEjMBkUZM— Murtada Elfadl (@ME_Says) September 6, 2018
There’s not yet been a comment from Kent on the outbursts during one of the film’s screenings. However, in an interview with Deadline ahead of The Nightingale’s premiere, she was asked how she felt being the only female filmmaker at the Venice Film Festival. She countered by asking if the male filmmakers have been asked how they feel about it, then said:
If you ask me personally how it feels to be a woman in competition, if I’m really honest, I don’t think of my gender in these situations. I’m not thinking about my gender most of the time. It is a part of me, it’s not all of me. So I’m not thinking about it when I write. I’m not thinking about it when I direct. You know, I would love in a future world to be thought of as another filmmaker in competition. I know that given the nature of this year I can’t, but that would be the ultimate emancipation: to be seen just as a filmmaker.
But if you’re asking me how I feel about the need for more attention on the feminine voice in this festival or any festival, it is a primary concern of mine. Of course, I feel it’s important that we even the balance. We need to not just for storytelling. I think there needs to be a greater respect for the feminine voice across the planet. It’s a real issue and it’s something that affects all of us, not just women. If we can respect women it will help everyone else as well. For me it’s vital. It could not be more important.
Set in 1825 Tasmania, The Nightingale focuses on a female convict who teams with an Aboriginal tracker to get vengeance against the British officer who wronged her. Kent grounded the story in a period piece but believes her tale of violence offers a modern message. She explained:
I think we’re at a really crucial time in world history where I feel like the feminine force across the planet is being disrespected and ignored. So for me that ties into a lot of reasons why we have so much violence in the world and I think it’s really crucial now that we start to respect that force in regards to women, in regards to nature. In all the ways that the feminine exists in our lives, it’s crucial for our survival. I ask the questions, ‘How do we retain our humanity in very dark times; how do we focus on qualities such as love, compassion, empathy, kindness when it’s not easy to do that?’ because I think that’s the only thing that will save us.
The Venice Film Festival runs until September 8.
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