Women Filmmakers Make Steady Progress in France

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As Unifrance’s Daniela Elstner sees it, the wealth of talent in this year’s Venice slate imparts a good bill of health for the French industry writ large. “Today, festival directors look to France in a slightly different way,” Elstner says. “We can find eminences like Frederick Wiseman alongside [emerging talents] like Alice Diop. That’s the strength of a good selection: You need names, you need surprises, you need to mix it up.”

Alongside Diop and Wiseman (whose “A Couple” is in French, if not a majority French production), this year’s Venice roster also includes “Other People’s Children” from Rebecca Zlotowski and “Our Ties” from Roschdy Zem — together forming a delegation perhaps more notable for the fact that none had competed in Venice before than for the almost incidental gender parity of the mix.

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That seems very much the point for the film promotional body. “That so many women are making films and bringing them to competitions is very specific to [this country],” says Elstner. “Women directors now work at a similar pace to men, [and we’ve seen improvements in financing] so the differentiation is no longer made.”

As female directors have dazzled the festival circuit over the past few years, garnering attention, acclaim and some the biggest prizes of all, in cold data, the number of filmmakers in the Gallic industry building perennial remains at the same 10%- 15% notch for the past 10 years.

And so, as she readies for a busy festival tour — backing a project with further high profile berths in Toronto, New York and London coming up after Venice — “Saint Omer” director Diop feels it particularly important to strike a singular tone with an eye on the future.

“In France there are still a number of fantasies and projections that weigh on what a black woman filmmaker should be or what she can do,” Diop says. “So in order for our new voices to become permanent, we must take care of each one, to treat each one in an individual way. We need to be considered as filmmakers full stop, and not to be assigned a place that reassures, that confirms the fantasies about what a black woman filmmaker should, can, and is expected to do.

“To continue to make films, we must consider ourselves as filmmakers with singular gazes that, when placed side by side, present a new way of looking at France,” she adds. “Because we have new stories, completely untold, about what it means to be a French woman.”

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