The Spoke / Women Come Up Short at Film Festivals Subscribe

German Golden Bear Awards winners
In this piece, Codruţa treats the topic of the role of women in the film industry and how, in the #metoo era, their recognition from the industry can come with unwelcome consequences.

When Touch Me Not, Adina Pintilie’s first feature film, won the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale, the recognition was met with much surprise and some skepticism. The film approaches the subject of intimacy, sexuality, physical disability and the human relationship to the body, blurring the lines between fiction and documentary, mixing the clinical setting with realist performances by stage actors. It also blurs the lines between full frontal nudity and voyeurism. Indeed, this graphic display of physicality became a point of focus for critics who took issue with the decision of the jury presided by Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run). If the award was considered controversial, it was less because of the film’s subject matter, or its idiosyncratic presentation, than because of the particular historical moment that marked the 2018 edition of the festival. In his opening speech, festival director Dieter Kosslick acknowledged that the Berlinale maintained full solidarity with the #MeToo movement and endorsed all the consequences for the film industry that came with it. Awarding the major price to a woman writer-director was seen by many as one of these “consequences.” Such responses, unwittingly or not, diminished the merits of Pintilie’s decidedly unconventional attempt to negotiate a delicate topic.

In fact, the Romanian Pintilie is the second woman in a row to win the Golden Bear; last year it went to the Hungarian Ildikó Enyedi. This year’s award marks the sixth recognition of a woman filmmaker in the festival’s sixty-eight-year-old history. If this number seems scandalously meager, we should bear in mind that the two other major film festivals, Cannes and Venice, have been even more paltry in their acknowledgment of women directors. Jane Campion won Cannes’s Palme d’Or in 1993 and to this day is the only woman to receive the honor; the Venice Golden Lion has gone to a woman on two occasions, to Agnès Varda in 1985 and Sofia Coppola in 2010. Of the combined two hundred and twelve iterations of the three most prominent film festivals, only nine grand prizes have gone to women filmmakers. As glaring as this disparity might seem, the consequences are even more noteworthy. The recognition at such a major film festival may well enhance one’s artistic cachet; above all, though, it increases one’s visibility and viability on the international market.

As early as 1990, the Cannes festival jury was equally composed of men and women. By and large, in the following years it continued to maintain this parity and engage a diverse membership of the industry, from directors and producers, to composers, actors, writers, and occasionally even film critics. Venice and Berlin have operated along similar lines. While the selection in the main competition continues to strive for gender parity, jury decisions tell a different story. The awards scene across the Atlantic is scarcely any more encouraging. Emma Stone’s joke at this year’s Oscars that “four men and Greta Gerwig” were nominated for the best director award was considered by many observers to be unnecessarily strident. But there was truth in the claim, for men have dominated successful Hollywood films both behind and in front of the camera. The Shape of Water was the first film focused on a woman protagonist to win the Oscar for best picture since Million Dollar Baby (2004).

The New York Times article from October 5, 2017 on the Harvey Weinstein scandal has catalyzed strong and lasting reactions: expansive movements on social media, echoes in many different sectors of the public sphere, riveting acceptance speeches at various award ceremonies, and yes, divisive responses from men and women who work in the film industry. Among the significant consequences of this timely mobilization referred to by Kosslick, one surely wishes for a more prominent presence of women on the festival scene and their well-deserved recognition as equal members of the profession.


Photo Credit: Cineberg, "Berlin, Germany - February 24, 2018: Bianca Oana, Philippe Avril, Adina Pintilie and Tomas Lemarquis pose with the Golden Bear Award for Best Film 'Touch Me Not' at the Award Winners press conference," via Shutterstock, 14 March 2018.