Shailene Woodley, Jessica Chastain, Naomi Watts, Ludivine Sagnier, Diane Kruger and Joana Vicente in Cannes the other night. Photo by Eugene Hernandez

Listen to our podcast interview with Columbia University professor/writer Annette Insdorf:

How do you say 'sausage party' in French?

That's the charge that has been leveled against organizers of the Cannes Festival Festival ever since the lineup for this year's event was announced last month. Observers and critics have been buzzing about the lack of women in competition at this year's festival. An online petition has even surfaced protesting the situation. The absence of female filmmakers is so striking because last year the festival invited four women into its prestigious competition.

The composition of the Cannes Film Festival competition, twenty-two feature films meant to highlight the annual masters of cinema, sends a message to international film community. As the largest and most important film event of its kind anywhere in the world, the Festival de Cannes faces a significant burden, some would say even a major responsibility. But does the lack of women in competition say more about the state of filmmaking overall? And what can be done to change the situation for the future? These are some of the questions being asked in the early days of this year's event.

“There are not many women film directors,” explained filmmaker Andrea Arnold, a competition juror at this year's festival. She was asked about the lack of women the other day during a press conference on the opening day of the event (see below).

“I guess Cannes is a small pocket that represents how it is really out there in the world and that's a great pity and a great disappointment because I think women are obviously half of the population and have voices and things to say about life and the world that probably would be good of us all to hear.”

Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux defended his event in remarks earlier this week.

“I don't select films because the film is directed by a man, a woman, white, black, young, an old man,” Thierry Frémaux told the Associated Press. “I select films because I think they deserve to be in [the] selection. It wouldn't be very nice to select a film because the film is not good but it is directed by a women.”

“I would absolutely hate it if my films got selected because I was a woman,” agreed Andrea Arnold, who was in competition three years ago with Fish Tank. “I would only want my film to be selected for the right reasons, not out of charity.”

The absence of women has been widely noted, particularly at a recent event intended to celebrate the contributions of women in film.

New York's IFP partnered with Calvin Klein to host a glittering hillside villa party celebrating women in film. Last year's party toasted the four women in competition but this year's event was important as a way to raise the issue and recognize the contributions of many women at the festival, explained Joana Vicente, a longtime film producer who heads the nonprofit organization for independent filmmakers.

“Sadly, there were no films directed by women [in competition] at this year's festival,” Vicente noted in brief remarks at the party. “This is all the more reason for us to be here tonight: to celebrate the incredible female talent that has always been an essential part of film, both behind and in front of the camera. To recognize that we are not just a small minority, but an important and vital part of this industry.”

With famous faces like Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Alec Baldwin and others watching, she stood alongside a number of notable actresses who are here at the festival, including Shailene Woodley, Jessica Chastain, Naomi Watts, Ludivine Sagnier and Diane Kruger.

Despite the frustration many are feeling this year, some say there's hope for the future.

“What I see is that the female representation in terms of directors at this years Cannes Film Festival is enormous, it's simply that you don't see it in the competition,” elaborated Annette Insdorf in a podcast interview with the yesterday. Insdorf and I also spoke last year in Cannes when there were numerous women in the competition.

This year, Insdorf encouraged critics to look at the festival's entire Official Selection to find a few bright spots. There are three women with films in the Un Certain Regard section for emerging directors and no less than five with documentaries in the festival. Women are also well-represented in the Critics' Week and Directors' Fortnight sidebar sections. Not to mention a number of female filmmakers in the short film and Cinefondation programs. She sees all of these as sections that will feed the Cannes competition for years to come.

“Maybe this year we don't see that many in the competition, but this bodes very well for the future,” said Insdorf, a writer and professor at Columbia University who has been coming to this festival for decades. “I don't want to just be one of those doomsday naysayers attacking the festival when my research suggests that, if you look at the totality of the festival, it is rich with female representation.”

“I am guessing that within a year or two you are going to see a higher number,” Insdorf summarized.

In his remarks, Thierry Fremaux explained that Cannes doesn't deserve the blame for the lack of women in film. “It's not the fault of Cannes,” he told the AP, elaborating, “If we really want to solve the problem it's not here, and not in accusing Cannes. It is in asking the same question in January, everywhere in the world and every month.”

“The pendulum swings,” noted Annette Insdorf, explained that this could be a “consciousness raising moment” and festival programmers and film organizations can do more.

“There needs to be a slightly more enlightened attitude, not a quota system,” advised Insdorf. “I think its important for selection committees to make a special effort to look at the work that exists out there by women directors.” They must both encourage women and solicit their work, she added.

She is optimistic.

Filmmaker and Cannes jury member Andrea Arnold responds to a question about the lack of female filmmakers in this year's competition during a press conference:

Eugene Hernandez is the Director of Digital Strategy at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (@filmlinc) and a founder of indieWIRE. Follow him on Twitter at @eug.

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