Cannes, Where Weinstein Reigned, Reckons With #MeToo Fallout

Posted May 15, 2018 6:45 p.m. EDT

CANNES, France — Anyone from Oscar-worthy actresses to stargazing fans can call the Cannes Film Festival’s new sexual harassment hotline, where three women are on hand to field calls until 2 a.m. each day.

Tote bags come with fliers warning that misconduct can lead to prison or a hefty fine. “Let’s not ruin the party,” the handouts say in French. “Stop harassment!”

The main jury has more women than men and is led by Australian actress Cate Blanchett. And on Saturday, 82 women — one for every female-directed film ever selected to compete for the main prize, or less than 5 percent of the total — took over the red carpet for a rally.

“Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of our industry says otherwise,” Blanchett told the crowd in a message that was read out in French by filmmaker Agnès Varda. Standing on the festival’s carpeted staircase, lined with photographers and camera crews, Blanchett added, “Ladies, let’s climb!”

The reverberations of #MeToo are shaking up Cannes, now in the midst of its annual 11-day jamboree, where glitter and megayachts abound. But if the world’s most prestigious cinema competition is reckoning with the industry’s dark past, Cannes also must deal with its own present-day deficits. Of the 21 films vying for the Palme d’Or this year, for example, programmers picked only three directed by women.

The festival, now in its 71st edition, is not just a launchpad for highbrow films. It’s also a freewheeling marketplace for movie deals, and a place of parties and excess that for years served as a commercial and recreational playground for Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein is currently fighting allegations of sexual misconduct made by dozens of women, at least two of them relating to episodes that took place during past editions of the festival. (Weinstein has denied all accusations of nonconsensual sex.)

While he was absent this year, the sexualized atmosphere of his heyday remains. Outside the festival’s seafront headquarters, young women in hot pants roller skate around distributing copies of a fashion magazine. Aspiring actresses appear on and off the red carpet in see-through or low-cut dresses in the hopes of attracting the attention of male producers, directors, talent scouts and photographers.

It is well known among festival attendees that escorts ply their trade in the lobbies of Cannes’ upmarket hotels. Within 10 minutes of entering one, a reporter was approached by two women, one of whom told him she would go back to his apartment in exchange for 600 euros (about $700).

“Cinema is a world that is founded on desire: the desire of producers and directors to make movies with this or that actress, the desire of spectators to watch those movies — and that desire is based, also, on physical attraction,” Marlène Schiappa, France’s junior minister for gender equality, said in an interview. When combined with “power, visibility, notoriety and money,” she said, the result is “a cocktail of factors” that could lead to excesses.

The reports about Weinstein were embarrassing to Cannes when they surfaced in October. The organization’s president, Pierre Lescure, and artistic director, Thierry Frémaux, said in a statement at the time that they were “dismayed” by the charges against someone who was “a familiar figure” at the festival.

“These actions point to a pattern of behavior that merits only the clearest and most unequivocal condemnation,” they said, adding that they hoped the case would “help us once again to denounce all such serious and unacceptable practices.”

But French reaction to the ensuing #MeToo movement has not been as unambivalent. In January, the renowned French actress Catherine Deneuve and more than 100 other women published a letter in the newspaper Le Monde saying that the movement had gone too far. While rape was a crime, they said, “insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime, nor is gallantry a chauvinist aggression.”

And while Frémaux, the artistic director, has acknowledged criticisms of gender imbalance at Cannes, he also has said that films are chosen on merit and that he opposes the idea of pro-women quotas and “positive discrimination.”

The festival has long been a showcase for acclaimed male directors like Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Pedro Almodóvar, and it is nothing if not tradition-bound. At this year’s event, selfies were banned on the red carpet for causing disruption, and Netflix productions were kept out of competition because the company refused to follow the practice of showing Cannes titles in French theaters (which, under French law, would prevent them from being streamed online in France for three years).

Still, a new attitude toward gender equality, and the abuse of power, has been conspicuous throughout the festival. At the American pavilion, an independently operated tent where experienced and emerging filmmakers come together, visitors were required to sign an electronic form warning that their membership could be revoked if they committed harassment.

The hotline is another widely publicized new feature. Operators would not say how many calls they had received, but according to Schiappa, the gender-equality minister, the service had already arranged for a woman to be accompanied to the police station to file a complaint.

And the festival’s choice of Blanchett as jury president was not accidental: She is one of the campaigners who helped establish the Time’s Up organization against sexual harassment.

On Monday, Frémaux and the heads of the festival’s two sidebar sections (Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week) signed a charter committing to gender equality and vowed to publish gender breakdowns of the number of films submitted to the festival each year and to reveal the composition of the selection committees. The organization behind the red-carpet rally on Saturday had been seeking such commitments since 2013.

The French filmmaker Eva Husson, one of the three women vying for this year’s Palme d’Or, said it took her six years to make her first movie, “Bang Gang,” and that it had been tough to raise the 4 million euros needed to make her latest movie, “Girls of the Sun,” the story of female fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan taking on the Islamic State. A male filmmaker making a war movie would raise twice as much, she said in an interview.

One explanation offered for the lack of female directors at Cannes is that they simply produce fewer movies, a fact that has brought calls for government support for female filmmakers in France. While 52 percent of its population is female, only 23 percent of its directors are women, according to the group that staged the rally. “A society that doesn’t represent itself equitably is a sick society,” Husson said.

Even so, she said that a lot of what she had seen at Cannes and beyond gave her some optimism. The day after the red-carpet rally — which included actress Salma Hayek, who has accused Weinstein of harassment — the French culture minister, Françoise Nyssen, announced at the festival that she was ready to introduce rules making film subsidies conditional upon gender-parity and equal-pay targets.

“I’m super-enthusiastic, because the other way of looking at things is that everything remains to be done,” Husson said. “A golden era could now begin. We must seize the moment.”