Tempo Scaduto

[Content warning: This essay includes a discussion of sexual violence.]

The line-up has been announced for the 76th Venice International Film Festival, which will be held from August 28 to September 7. The event has historically underrepresented female directors, and of the 21 films in competition this year, only two are helmed by women: Haifaa al-Mansour‘s THE PERFECT CANDIDATE, and Shannon Murphy‘s feature debut BABYTEETH.

Al-Mansour’s groundbreaking work sprang from illegal shoots as the first Saudi Arabian female director. Her debut feature, WADJDA, was the country’s first film to be submitted to the Academy Awards. It won numerous accolades, including collateral awards at the 2012 Venice Film Fest. She has since helmed the features MARY SHELLEY and NAPPILY EVER AFTER, and was announced as a member of the first-ever class of ReFrame Rise directing fellows. “I want to make films that travel to as diverse and as far-reaching an audience as possible,” al-Mansour says. “I want to continue to make films about strong women from across the globe, and to celebrate stories of tolerance, perseverance, hope, and understanding.”

Director Shannon Murphy’s feature debut BABYTEETH is an Australian film based on the play of the same name by Rita Kalnejais. Murphy, an alumna of the country’s National Institute of Dramatic Art, has been named the most influential graduate of the decade by Sydney Magazine. A veteran stage director, her theatrical work has earned her a Sydney Theatre Award, the Mike Walsh Fellowship, and the Instyle and Audi Women of Style Scholarship. Her short films KHARISMA and EAGLEHAWK have been selected for festivals including Cannes, TIFF, Palm Springs, and Berlin Interfilm.

It’s been reported that by including two female filmmakers in competition, this year’s festival has actually doubled the amount of women selected in previous years. This extremely low standard of demonstrating a commitment to parity is only one part of a bigger problem. Also in competition at the festival, the film J’ACCUSE (a.k.a. AN OFFICER AND A SPY) will premiere, offering more accolades to its director, convicted child rapist Roman Polanski. If festivals are to be considered arbiters of taste and talent, then it is worth investigating why festival gatekeepers continue to lionize demonstrated predators while relegating women to the back burner.

Alberto Barbera, who has been the festival’s director since 2012, praised Polanski for his latest film, calling him, “at the top of his game. He is one of the last great masters of European cinema….” Elsewhere in the film industry, Polanski’s crime has incurred some professional ramifications. Decades after his trial, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expelled Polanski (along with Bill Cosby) from its ranks, fifteen years after awarding him with the Best Director Oscar for THE PIANIST. This was part of a series of reactions in Hollywood to the #MeToo movement, which Polanski has referred to as “total hypocrisy.”

Indeed, there have been many valid criticisms of too-little, too-late repercussions for unacceptable behavior that had gone unchecked for generations in our industry and others, once the public outcry became too loud to ignore. Defenses of Polanski and others have continued to ring out from numerous high-profile individuals. Harvey Weinstein himself penned (before facing his own reckoning): “Whatever you think of his so-called crime, Polanski has served his time.”

There is important academic and professional discourse to be had about evaluating the merits of art independently from the actions of the artist. As a feminist and lover of film, I personally grapple with this, appreciating the impact of a film like THE PIANIST having been made by a survivor of the Holocaust, or the raw violence of Polanski’s MACBETH—his first film following the gruesome murder of his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate. [For the latter, I turn instead to Kurosawa’s THRONE OF BLOOD when in the mood for a cinematic retelling of The Scottish Play.]

Regardless, we know that media does not exist in a vacuum. And the lived experiences of filmmakers are relevant, especially when Barbera defends the dearth of female filmmakers in competition at his festival by saying, “…portraits of women, even when they are directed by men, reveal a new sensibility geared towards the feminine universe, as had rarely happened in the past. This is a signal that perhaps the polemics of recent years have made an impact in our sensibility and our culture.”

“Total hypocrisy,” and how. Last year, Barbera and the president of La Biennale di Venezia, Paolo Baratta, signed the 5050×2020 pledge, declaring a commitment to transparency, diversity, and equality.* The second week of the festival will also be hosting a ‘Seminar on Gender Equality and Inclusivity.’ “I don’t believe in quotas… what counts here is the quality,” Barbera said upon the festival’s alignment with 5050×2020. “The only thing that matters is what is inside the frame not that which is out.” So, do films exist wholly detached from the people who make them, or can they “reveal a new sensibility” in how they portray the feminine universe?

If you’ve experienced sexual misconduct while working in the entertainment industry, call the Women In Film Help Line. Our responders can help you cope, and provide referrals to pro bono lawyers, a free support group, and sliding scale trauma-informed therapy in Los Angeles. 855.WIF.LINE

Katherine Spada
Communications Manager
Women In Film, Los Angeles

* 5050×2020 is a French organization that began at Cannes; La Biennale di Venezia signed the pledge alongside the organizations Dissenso Comune and Women in Film, TV & Media Italia.

Women-directed films screening at the festival in other categories are:

Out of Competition: Fiction
VIVERE (TO LIVE), Francesca Archibugi

Out of Competition: Non-Fiction
WOMAN, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Anastasia Mikova
CITIZEN ROSI, Didi Gnocchi, Carolina Rosi
THE KINGMAKER, Lauren Greenfeld

Out of Competition: Special Screenings
ELECTRIC SWAN, Konstantina Kotzamani

NEVIA, Nunzia De Stefano
REVENIR, Jessica Palud

Orizzonti Short Films
ROQAIA, Diana Saqeb Jamal
DELPHINE, Chloé Robichaud
SH_T HAPPENS, David Štumpf, Michaela Mihályi

Venice Classics
MAURI, Merata Mita


Biennale College Cinema
THE END OF LOVE, Keren Ben Rafael
LESSONS OF LOVE, Chiara Campara

Venice Virtual Reality – Interactive
LOVESEAT, Kiira Benzing
PAGAN PEAK VR, Ioulia Isserlis, Max Sacker
THE KEY, Celine Tricart

Venice Virtual Reality – Linear
PASSENGER, Isobel Knowles, Van Sowerwine
THE WAITING ROOM VR, Victoria Mapplebeck
BLACK BAG, Qing Shao

Best of VR
THE COLLIDER, Miss M Abdalla
TO THE MOON, Laurie Anderson, Hsin-Chien Huang
LE CRI VR (THE SCREAM VR), Sandra Paugam, Charles Ayats
TRAVELLING WHILE BLACK, Roger Ross Williams, Ayesha Nadarajah, Felix Lajeunesse, Paul Raphaël

Biennale College Cinema VR
SUBLIMATION, Karolina Markiewicz, Pascal Piron