NEW YORK >> Asia Argento said he raped her during the Cannes Film Festival. Mira Sorvino said he chased her around a hotel room at the Toronto International Film Festival. Rose McGowan’s encounter happened at the Sundance Film Festival.
Just as Harvey Weinstein did at the Oscars, the disgraced movie mogul lorded over the festival world, which provided the glitzy, champagne-flowing setting for many of his alleged crimes. And in the aftermath of Hollywood’s sexual harassment scandals, film festivals have done some soul searching.
Codes of conduct have been rewritten, selection processes have been re-examined and, in many cases, gender equality efforts have been redoubled.
When the curtain goes up on the 17th annual Tribeca Film Festival on Wednesday, the festival will boast more female filmmakers than ever before. After last year accounting for a third of the slate, films directed by women make up 46 percent at this year’s festival.
Jane Rosenthal, co-founder of the festival and chief executive of Tribeca Enterprises, particularly wanted to launch this year’s festival with the premiere of a film directed by a woman, about a woman. Lisa Dapolito’s “Love Gilda,” about the comedienne Gilda Radner, will kick things off Wednesday at New York’s Beacon Theatre. The first episode of Liz Garbus’ Showtime documentary series “The Fourth Estate,” about the New York Times covering the first year of the Trump administration, will close the festival. On April 28, the festival will hold a day’s worth of conversations with Time’s Up, including Ashley Judd and Julianne Moore, to benefit the legal defense fund and gender equality initiative.
“For us it was, on one hand, business as usual,” said Rosenthal, pointing to previous efforts Tribeca has made to promote female filmmakers, like its Nora Ephron Award. “But we tasked ourselves early on with: Can you get to 50-50? Can we have 50 percent women filmmakers at the festival? We got to 46. I would say that it was fairly easy for us. Those pictures would probably have been in the festival without that kind of mandate.”
Efforts to improve the movie business’ record on gender equality have been ongoing at many, though not all, major film festivals in recent years. Pursuing parity has seemed at times like an arms race with various festivals touting their male-to-female ratios. The festival world is far ahead of the industry (only 8 of last year’s top 100 films at the box office were directed by women) and the Academy Awards (where Greta Gerwig became just the fifth woman ever nominated for best director this year).
Thirty-seven percent of the 122 features at this year’s Sundance were directed by women, including “Seeing Allred,” about women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred. For the first time, all four of the festival’s directing prizes went to female filmmakers. The festival’s top prize, the Grand Jury Prize, went to Desiree Akhavan’s “The Miseducation of Cameron Post.”
At SXSW in March, eight of the 10 films in the narrative competition were directed by women. At last fall’s Toronto film festival, one third of entries were made by female filmmakers and a five-year, $3 million campaign dubbed “Share Her Journey” was launched to support female filmmakers.
The Hot Docs Festival , a well-regarded documentary festival held annually in Toronto, reached gender parity for the first time this year. A year after a program featuring 48 percent of female-directed projects, this year’s 246 films and 16 interdisciplinary projects are 50/50 on gender. The festival on Tuesday also added the premiere of Barry Avrich’s Weinstein documentary “The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret.”
Shane Smith, director of programming at Hot Docs, which begins April 26, said reflecting the diversity and the demands of the audience is imperative for “cultural gatekeepers” like film festivals.
“We were hoping we could get to gender parity,” said Smith. “Once we started screening the work that was coming in, and the quality of the films and the stories that were being told by female filmmakers, we saw that it was a goal that was achievable this year,” Smith said. “We weren’t going to force this to happen if the work wasn’t there. But given the strides that have happened in the last few years, it was easy, actually.”
The Cannes Film Festival, which opens May 8, has applied a different strategy. Its artistic director, Thierry Fremaux, has regularly responded to complaints about the number of female filmmakers selected for its prestigious Palme d’Or competition by saying it’s not a festival’s place to consider anything but a submission’s merit — that progress can only come further up the pipeline at studios and production companies.
Critics say Cannes’ track record (only one female filmmaker, Jane Campion, has ever won the Palme) speaks for itself. Fremaux last week announced Cannes’ main slate with three female filmmakers — Nadine Labaki, Alice Rohrwacher and Eva Husson — disappointing some who thought Cannes might adapt in the age of #MeToo.
“The question of a quota in no case concerns the artistic selection of a festival. Films are chosen for their quality,” Fremaux said in a press conference last week. “There will never be a selection made by positive discrimination.”
Weinstein, who has denied allegations of sexual assault, was for years a dominant wheeler-and-dealer at Cannes. His fall was felt acutely there. “The Cannes Film Festival will never be the same again,” said Fremaux, who vowed to re-examine the festival’s own gender parity in salaries and jury selections.
Other festivals have had even tougher questions to answer. Last September’s Fantastic Fest, the Austin-based genre film festival, caused a backlash after it was revealed that the festival’s host, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, had rehired blogger Devin Faraci a year after he stepped down following an accusation of sexual assault. Fox Searchlight pulled “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” from the festival.
Weinstein had less of a connection with the Tribeca festival, but the scandal still hit close to home. The Weinstein Co. is based in the same Tribeca building as the Tribeca Enterprises headquarters. “It was: ‘Who’s the stranger next door?’” said Rosenthal, Robert De Niro’s longtime producing partner.
But as a Time’s Up member herself, Rosenthal is hopeful that the industry is waking up to overdue change. Festivals don’t have direct sway over what gets made and what sells, but they can play a vital role in showcasing filmmaking talent and sparking conversation.
“I’ve had a women’s lunch for 15 years at the festival,” said Rosenthal. “Now, it’s going to be very crowded.”