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Cannes Film Festival jurors call for greater diversity

The 70th Cannes Film Festival is officially over, with the great and the good of modern cinema departing La Croisette, gongs in hand. One of the biggest surprises of the week was the prestigious Palme d’Or going to outsider “The Square”, a social thriller directed by Ruben Ostlund and starring Elisabeth Moss.

The films in competition faced some criticism for being largely apolitical and dodging current social issues, focusing on broader themes less likely to spark controversy when it comes to international distribution.

The shadow of Netflix also loomed over the Palais des Festivals, following a ruling that from next year films will only be allowed to compete if they are released in theaters in France. Netflix isn’t especially pleased, naturally; they’re behind two of the firm favorites of the week, “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories”. A number of film critics have condemned Netflix for drawing audiences away from cinemas, while others praise the streaming service for financing and supporting projects which otherwise would never get made.

If anything, the inclusion of material from online platforms is a sign that the festival is in tune with contemporary consumption habits — so too is the decision to screen “event television” like David Lynch’s highly anticipated “Twin Peaks” revival.

And as a microcosm of the film industry at large, Cannes was judged and found wanting with regards to its lack of diversity. Juror Will Smith made a not-so-subtle dig at the overwhelming whiteness of the festival, remarking “a couple black folks next year wouldn’t hurt.” Meanwhile, during a panel with female jury members, Jessica Chastain said she was “disturbed” by the current spate of female characters being shown on-screen, and made an impassioned speech about how media represents life, and therefore films need female characters who “don’t just react to the men around them.”

The presence of Jane Campion further illustrated the gender divide at Cannes. As the only female filmmaker in the entire history of the festival to win the Palme d’Or (for 1993’s “The Piano”), Campion walked the red carpet with other directors such as Pedro Almodóvar and David Lynch. Speaking to Vulture, she calls it “insane” that so little female talent has been honored at Cannes. This year, Sofia Coppola became the second woman to win Best Director, with Southern Gothic thriller ‘The Beguiled’. An important step; let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 24 years for the next.

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