Women directors accuse Venice film festival of ‘toxic masculinity’

The Venice film festival was slammed for its "toxic masculinity" as it opened on Wednesday with just one female director represented.

Women directors accuse Venice film festival of 'toxic masculinity'
Venice so male: the line-up for the 2018 Venice Film Festival features only one woman director. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

With Hollywood effectively turning the festival into its launchpad for the Oscars with new films by Damien Chazelle, the Coen brothers, Alfonso Cuaron and Lady Gaga's much-hyped screen debut, feminists have lashed the organisers for choosing only one film by a female director.

It is the second year in a row that Venice has featured just one film by a woman among the 21 vying for the Golden Lion top prize. 

Festival director Alberto Barbera declared that he would “rather quit” than give in to pressure for a quota for women after the Cannes, Toronto and Locarno festivals pledged themselves to gender equality.

But his stance – as Venice bids to rival Cannes as the world's most important festival – was lambasted by an alliance of European women filmmakers.

“Sorry, but we don't buy this anymore,” said the European Women's Audiovisual Network in an open letter earlier this month. “When Alberto Barbera threatens to quit, he is perpetuating the notion that selecting films by female filmmakers involves lowering standards.”

Others blamed a streak of Italian “toxic masculinity” that saw actress and #MeToo campaigner Asia Argento pilloried in her homeland for accusing Harvey Weinstein of rape. Argento has since been accused of having sex with a minor while on a film shoot.  

READ ALSO: 'That time when…': Italian women speak up about sexual harassment

Barbera initially insisted that he chose the films “on the quality and not the sex of the director”, telling reporters that “if we impose quotas, I resign”.

But on Wednesday he seemed to soften his position considerably as the head of his jury, Oscar-winning Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, threw his weight behind the 50/50 by 2020 campaign launched by women stars and directors at Cannes.

“For me the goal is clear and has to remain 50/50 by 2020,” the director told reporters in Venice. “I think 50/50 by 2019 is better. It is not a matter of establishing a quota… [but] it is extremely important to call [under-representation] out. For many decades and centuries it had not been called out.”

Official Competion jury president Guillermo Del Toro. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Campaigners say Venice may now be about to sign up to the greater equality goals in line with other festivals, with Barbera already vowing greater transparency.

He was already under pressure for including a documentary by Bruce Weber, Nice Girls Don't Stay for Breakfast, despite claims of coercive sexual behaviour by the American fashion photographer made by 15 male models. Weber denies any wrongdoing.

Barbera also faced questions over his decision to invite disgraced Hollywood director James Toback to premiere his film The Private Life of a Modern Woman at Venice last year. Toback has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by nearly 400 women, including actresses Julianne Moore, Selma Blair and Rachel McAdams.

“I'm not in a position to judge, to decide if James Toback's behaviour was good or bad,” Barbera said. “I'm not a judge. I'm not a lawyer. I'm a festival director. I knew Mr Toback and I invited him,” he said of the director, who denies the allegations.

“We will see if the courts decide if the accusations are true, and if they're true he'll go to jail.” 

Launchpad for Oscars

But even the row over women directors cannot take the shine off the way Barbera has turned around the world's oldest film festival.

A host of Oscar winners over the past five years have been premiered at Venice including Gravity, Birdman, Spotlight, La La Land and last year's best film, The Shape of Water.

Barbera has stolen some of Cannes' thunder and its stars, with his festival's timing making it a better launchpad for the American awards season.

Venice has also profited from Cannes' feud with streaming giant Netflix, scooping up all of its films which might normally have been shown at the world's biggest film festival.

READ ALSO: Venice Biennale shows the human face of architecture

Venice's staggering line-up this year includes new films by Oscar-winning Son of Saul director Hungarian Laszlo Nemes, Britain's Mike Leigh and Paul Greengrass, Chinese master Zhang Yimou, Emir Kusturica and two of France's biggest directors, Jacques Audiard and Olivier Assayas, who would usually show at Cannes.

The festival kicks off late Wednesday with First Man, with Chazelle teaming up with his La La Land star Ryan Gosling. The Canadian actor plays astronaut Neil Armstrong in the years leading up to 1969, when he became the first man to walk on the moon.

Australian Jennifer Kent is the solitary woman gunning for the Golden Lion with The Nightingale. 

The last time a woman took Venice's top prize was 43 years ago, when German director Margarethe von Trotta won with Marianne and Juliane.

For those who can't attend or get tickets for the festival, and Repubblica are live streaming 16 of the films in the programme for a one-off subscription fee of €17.90 from August 30th. The films will be available for five days after the first live streaming.  

READ MORE: The most spectacular places to see outdoor cinema in Italy this summer


Italy to pay €57m compensation over Venice cruise ship ban

The Italian government announced on Friday it would pay 57.5 million euros in compensation to cruise companies affected by the decision to ban large ships from Venice's fragile lagoon.

A cruise ship in St Mark's Basin, Venice.
The decision to limit cruise ship access to the Venice lagoon has come at a cost. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The new rules, which took effect in August, followed years of warnings that the giant floating hotels risked causing irreparable damage to the lagoon city, a UNESCO world heritage site.

READ ALSO: Venice bans large cruise ships from centre after Unesco threat of ‘endangered’ status

Some 30 million euros has been allocated for 2021 for shipping companies who incurred costs in “rescheduling routes and refunding passengers who cancelled trips”, the infrastructure ministry said in a statement.

A further 27.5 million euros – five million this year and the rest in 2022 – was allocated for the terminal operator and related companies, it said.

The decision to ban large cruise ships from the centre of Venice in July came just days before a meeting of the UN’s cultural organisation Unesco, which had proposed adding Venice to a list of endangered heritage sites over inaction on cruise ships.

READ ALSO: Is Venice really banning cruise ships from its lagoon?

Under the government’s plan, cruise ships will not be banned from Venice altogether but the biggest vessels will no longer be able to pass through St Mark’s Basin, St Mark’s Canal or the Giudecca Canal. Instead, they’ll be diverted to the industrial port at Marghera.

But critics of the plan point out that Marghera – which is on the mainland, as opposed to the passenger terminal located in the islands – is still within the Venice lagoon.

Some aspects of the plan remain unclear, as infrastructure at Marghera is still being built. Meanwhile, smaller cruise liners are still allowed through St Mark’s and the Giudecca canals.

Cruise ships provide a huge economic boost to Venice, but activists and residents say the ships contribute to problems caused by ‘overtourism’ and cause large waves that undermine the city’s foundations and harm the fragile ecosystem of its lagoon.