When a male reporter at the jury press conference for the 71st Cannes Film Festival directed his question—“Why do movies still matter?”—to the mostly male filmmakers onstage, jury president Cate Blanchett cut in.
“So actresses,” she said sarcastically, glancing at jury members Kristen Stewart and Léa Seydoux, “dont answer that, because you have no idea how to answer that.” A ripple of nervous laughter ran through the crowd.
Hollywood has spent decades overlooking, underestimating, and abusing women. But that wont happen on the Croisette now that the #MeToo movement has reached a full crescendo—not on Blanchetts watch, at least.
Such was the refreshing, no-nonsense tone that Blanchett set Tuesday at the Palais des Festivals and Congresses. As the 12th female president of the Cannes competition jury, Blanchett found herself fielding questions from reporters about gender issues at the festival that she was clearly not responsible for. But that did not stop the Oscar winner from delivering the kind of deft, articulate responses that proved her the perfect leader—no offense, Cannes director Thierry Frémaux—to guide the flawed French festival through its Times Up-era evolution.
When a reporter wondered whether this years jury was the most female-centric in the festivals history, Blanchett immediately responded, “No.” Before accepting the position of jury president, Blanchett said that she had laid out her own stipulations to Frémaux.
“It was one of my first questions to Thierry . . . I said we really need gender and racial parity [in the jury],” revealed Blanchett. “And he said, We do [have that].”
Indeed, in addition to Stewart and Seydoux, the jury this year is rounded out by Ava DuVernay, Taiwanese actor Chang Chen, French director Robert Guédiguian, Burundian singer-songwriter Khadja Nin, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, and __Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev.
When the jury was asked about the fact that only three of the 21 films in competition were directed by women, Blanchett responded, “A few years ago there were only two, and I know the selection committee has more women on board than in previous years, which will obviously change the lens through which the films are chosen. But these things are not going to happen overnight . . . would I like to see more women in competition? Absolutely. Do I expect and hope that is going to happen in the future? I hope so.”
As a jury, though, Blanchett said, “We are dealing with what we have this year, and our role in the next almost two weeks is to deal with what is in front of us. . . . Im not looking at the filmmakers as an Iranian filmmaker, or a Chilean, or a Korean, or a female, or a transgender [filmmaker]—We dont have any transgender directors this year. Oh my god, we failed already. Were dealing with what we have in front of us. And our job, as industry professionals away from the festival, is to work towards change.”
A reporter asked whether the #MeToo movement would change the industry and festival—and Blanchett prompted her male jury members to speak up first. “Gentlemen?”
After Villeneuve offered his take, Blanchett added her own eloquent response. “For profound, lasting change to occur, it has to take place through specific actions—not through generalizations, not through pontification. Its about addressing the gender gap and addressing the racial diversity and equality and the way we make the work. And of course that is going on in many industries.”
“Is [#MeToo] going to have a direct impact on films in competition this year?” she continued. “Or six, nine months on? Not specifically . . . the women here are not here because of their gender. They are here because of the quality of work. And we will be assessing them as filmmakers, as we should be.”
Blanchett made a point to clarify that no one—not even 87-year-old filmmaking icon Jean-Luc Godard, whose film, The Image Book, is in competition—will get preferential treatment this year.
“Its a level playing field, isnt it? If you remove everyones names—its hard, when someone has been so profoundly influential on international cinema, not to bring their body of work into your experience [as a jury member], and he continues to experiment,” Blanchett said. “But who knows what this particular experiment will be, and Im sure his body of work will stand with or without the Palme dOr.”
While answering the press conferences tough questions seemed to come easily to her, Blanchett said that she would have a more difficult time with another element of her jury-president job.
“Its very hard to sit in judgement of other artists . . . that is going to be the most challenging, most painful moment for all of us,” said Blanchett. Speaking about the somewhat ridiculous task of picking the “best” piece of work in a medium so subjective, Blanchett said, “You have to accept that the task is impossible . . . without having a single conversation about any of the films here, I can say that we will disappoint and confound. The fascinating and wonderful thing about Cannes is that you have a set of people—practitioners, artists—in the jury, then you have the critics response, and then you have the audience . . . each of those groups of people might find something different.”
Having attended previous Cannes Film Festivals as an actress, Blanchett said that awards are not the end-all, be-all: “[In past years] Im not just interested in the film that won the prize, but one that Ive heard about by word of mouth . . . as an artist myself, Im actually not that focused on the awards . . . Im much more process-driven.”
And then Blanchett took on the role of reporter to ask the inevitable follow-up question: “Why did I become the president of the jury if Im not interested in awards?”
Without waiting for anyone to catch up, she responded. “In the end its not only about being in extraordinary dialogue with these artists in the jury, but also in dialogue with [the audience and critics].”
Asked about the festivals emphasis on gorgeous actresses and red-carpet glamour—which seems incongruous with the current cultural reckoning—Blanchett said, “Being attractive doesnt preclude being intelligent. I think this is by its very nature a glamorous, fantastic, spectacular festival full of joie de vivre, full of great, good humor, full of discord and disharmony.”
That said, she added, “Making art is not always going to be harmonious. We are not always going to be in concord agreement. The world would be terribly boring if it was. I think the [glamorous] aspects of the festival are things to be enjoyed in an equal, fair, and equitable way.”
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Julie MillerJulie Miller is a Senior Hollywood writer for Vanity Fairs website.