Cannes board rebuts sexism claim

Films must stand on their merits, not the identity of their makers, says film festival board.

Jessica Chastain has backed the board. Yves Herman / Reuters
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The Cannes film festival board has hit back at charges of sexism in its official line-up, saying it would continue to select pictures based solely on merit.

Although there are no female filmmakers among the 22 competing for the festival's top award, the Palme d'Or, and just two among the 17 in the new talent section, the board for the world's top cinema showcase said in a statement that it was committed to diversity - on its own terms.

"The Festival de Cannes - in order to maintain its position and remain true to its beliefs rooted in universal rights - will continue to programme the best films from around the world 'without distinction as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status'," the board said, quoting from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

More than a thousand female filmmakers and others from countries including Australia, Brazil and India have signed a US petition in support of French feminists protesting against the lack of female directors in competition.

The petition, headlined "Where Are the Women Directors?", was launched last week by 250 signatories including the Toy Story 3 producer Darla K Anderson and the feminist icon Gloria Steinem.

The French feminist group La Barbe (The Beard) wrote a scathing op-ed article on the issue in last weekend's Le Monde newspaper.

Last year's festival featured a record four women in the competition, sparking hopes that female directors were making lasting inroads.

The British filmmaker and Cannes juror Andrea Arnold said she would hate to be selected on gender grounds, stressing that the line-up simply reflected a lack of women directors in general.

The US actress Jessica Chastain, appearing in two films at Cannes this year, called the debate "silly" and said pictures must speak for themselves. * AFP