Women directors are out of the picture at Cannes

Men-only Palme d'Or shortlist provokes condemnation from French film-makers

The super yachts have only just begun to moor up along the French Riviera but already the Cannes Film Festival has been plunged into controversy over the complete lack of female directors vying for this year's coveted Palme d'Or.

Just days before the festivities kick off, a group of prominent French filmmakers have written an open letter to organisers condemning them for failing to award women who stand behind the cameras instead of in front of them.

One of the most glittering events on the global calendar for European and Hollywood stars, the red carpet at Cannes will be filled with a host of starlets as they start arriving for tomorrow's opening nigh.

Two of those expected to draw excitable shouts from the waiting paparazzi are Angelina Jolie and Madonna, both of whom have sat on a director's chair this year. But in a letter published in the weekend edition of Le Monde and brimming with sarcasm, the female filmmakers remarked that all the 22 directors shortlisted this year are male, adding: "Men love their women to have depth, but only when it comes to their cleavages."

Signed by Baise Moi director Virginie Despentes, filmmaker Coline Serreau and actress Fanny Cottençon, the letter condemns judges for overlooking women in 63 of the past 65 Cannes festivals. So far the only woman to have won the Palme d'Or was Jane Campion for her 1993 film The Piano.

This year's shortlist stands in stark contrast to the previous year when an unprecedented number of female directors were given the nod – France's Maiwenn, Australia's Julia Leigh, the Scottish director Lynne Ramsay and Japan's Naomi Kawase.

"Last year, no doubt it was an accident, four women managed to slip in among the 20 in the official competition," read the text which was published by La Barbe [the Beard], a prominent feminist collective. Continuing their ironic theme they added: "Sirs, you have returned to your senses and we thank you for that. This selection sends a strong signal to the profession and the public around the world. Whatever we do, we must not let young girls believe they could one day have the nerve to direct films and climb the steps of the festival palace other than on the arm of a prince charming."

The festival organisers have hit back at any accusation that Cannes fails to recognise female directing talent. Thierry Fremaux, the head of the committee which selects Cannes films, said the judges "would never select a film that doesn't deserve it just because it is directed by a woman."

He added: "When it comes to cinema there is no doubt that the role of women must be increased. But this problem does not just exist in the month of May during Cannes, it's all year and always... Accusing the festival serves no purpose."

While the shortlist is overwhelmingly male, those who have been tasked with picking the films are a gender balanced group. The Palme jury is lead by the Italian director Nanni Moretti – a man – but there is an equal gender split with four female judges on the panel including the British director Andrea Arnold.

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