The festival organisers have faced criticism for years for not choosing more films by women. In fact the last time they opened with a film by a woman was in 1987, with Un homme amoureux, directed by Diane Kurys. The last decade of Cannes has been particularly poor when it comes to representing female-directed films: according to Indiewire blog Women in Hollywood, no more than four films by women have been selected in any one year, with some years featuring none at all.
This year French director Emmanuelle Bercot's film La Tete Haute will open the festival, telling the story of an adolescent who is saved from a life of crime by a judge, played by veteran actress Catherine Deneuve.
Two more female filmmakers (also both French) have been selected for competition: Valerie Donzelli with Marguerite et Julien and Maiwenn with Mon Roi.
According to the BBC, the festival selected an opening film that is more in line with the values of its global audience: "It is a clear reflection of our desire to see the Festival start with a different piece, which is both bold and moving. Emmanuelle Bercot's film makes important statements about contemporary society, in keeping with modern cinema. It focuses on universal social issues, making it a perfect fit for the global audience at Cannes."
Also competing for the Palme d'Or are 1950s drama Carol by Todd Haynes, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara; Gus Van Sant's Sea of Trees, starring Matthew McConaughey and Naomi Watts; Denis Villeneuve's thriller Sicario with Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin and Emily Blunt; and Italian Paolo Sorrentino's second foray into English-language filmmaking, Youth, starring Rachel Weisz and Michael Caine.
The fourth feature film by a female French director appears in the Un Certain Regard section: Maryland, by Anna Winocour. Natalie Portman's feature-film directorial debut A Tale of Love and Darkness, which is based on Israeli writer Amos Oz's memoir, is also in this year's line-up but not competing for a prize.
Cannes is well known for celebrating the beauty and glamour of the film industry's female stars on its magnificent red carpet. Now it's time to celebrate the women behind the scenes — those creating incredible feature films that deserve to be recognised alongside the work of male directors.
And perhaps things are changing. Cannes organisers recently announced a new "Women in Motion" initiative, in association with corporate partner Kering, consisting of a series of events taking place at this year's festival. These will include talks on the representation of women in film and the future for women in the film industry and, from 2016 onwards, prizes will be given to female filmmakers.
Cannes Film Festival 2015 runs from May 13 to May 24.
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