Have Film Fests Cleaned Up Their Act? – The Hollywood Reporter

“I was raped by Harvey Weinstein here at Cannes,” Italian actress Asia Argento told a shocked crowd at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. “I was 21 years old. The festival was his hunting ground. I want to make a prediction: Harvey Weinstein will never be welcomed here ever again. He will live in disgrace, shunned by a film community that once embraced him and covered up for his crimes.”

When it comes to Weinstein, currently serving a 23-year prison sentence for rape, Argento was certainly right. Five years after the #MeToo movement kicked off an avalanche of revelations of abuse and assault, the global film community has washed its hands of the once all-powerful producer. A Weinstein comeback is not in the cards. 

But what of the climate, the “hunting grounds” of the international film festivals? As Argento and others have pointed out, for years the attitude in Cannes (and in Venice, and Sundance, and Berlin) was “anything goes.” The combination of raucous, late-night parties and a culture of tight-lipped secrecy —what happens at a film festival stays at a film festival — could prove toxic. Weinstein, as always, was the most egregious offender. The actresses Judith Godrèche, Emma Loman, Emma de Caunes Alice Evans, Annabella Sciorra and Zoë Brock have all come forward with allegations of abuse by Weinstein in hotel rooms during the Cannes festival. Rose McGowan and Louisette Geiss had similar stories out of Sundance. At the 1995 Toronto International Festival, Mira Sorvino alleges Weinstein tried to give her a massage and chased her around the room when she rebuffed him. 

But he wasn’t the only one. Daniele Elstner, head of French film promotion agency UniFrance came forward in 2018 with details of her sexual assault by an unnamed but well-known figure in the French film industry at a festival 20 years prior. Encouraged by #MeToo to detail her painful, personal experience, Elstner subsequently launched Speak Up, a European version of Hollywood anti-harassment group Time’s Up. 

“I think a lot has changed at the festivals but [also] in the industry in general in the last five years [since #MeToo], Elstner tells THR. “We’ve seen a feminization of the entire film industry, with more women in positions of authority, which has created a greater awareness of these issues [of harassment and abuse]. Behavior that would have been accepted, or at least not commented on, just isn’t anymore. Asking someone back to your hotel room for a meeting, for example, just isn’t how things are done now.”

The film festivals have also made concrete changes in response to #MeToo. Cannes and others now have sexual harassment hotlines to report abuse. Berlin tightened its anti-discrimination code of conduct, requiring everyone attending the German festival — including industry executives at Berlin’s European Film Market — to abide by rules that proscribe “any acts of violence, abuse or harassment of any verbal, physical, sexual or other kind towards its employees, visitors, guests and partners” and gives the festival the right “to deny (digital and physical) access to the festival, its facilities, events and venues without prior notice” to anyone who violates these rules. TIFF has a similar code of conduct and Spain’s San Sebastian festival is discussing introduction one for future events. 

No one has yet been kicked out of Berlin or Toronto for breaking the code but, say many attendees, having official regulations on the books has helped contribute to a safer and more secure environment. 

“We’ve had festival staff tell a prominent guest: ‘your behavior is not appropriate, stop it.’ That would never have happened in the past,” notes a source close to the Berlinale.

Some of the changes, like introducing child care services to encourage people with young children to attend the festivals — something Locarno and Berlin pioneered that has now become standard at A-list events — have been less dramatic but just as effective in de-toxifying some fests’ old boys’ club culture. 

When allegations of abuse do emerge, festivals have become quicker to respond. TIFF this year dropped Ulrich Seidel’s Sparta from its schedule, just hours before the film’s world premiere, after a report in German magazine Der Spiegel alleged that children were exposed to violence and nudity on the film set during the making of the movie. In a statement, TIFF said it still considered Seidl to be “an important contemporary filmmaker” but given the seriousness of the allegations could not give the film a festival platform. 

The increased media scrutiny around issues of abuse and inappropriate professional conduct within the film industry, a direct result of #MeToo, has made it harder for festivals to maintain their traditional neutral stance when it comes to artists’ personal lives. 

Venice came under fire this year for giving a posthumous world premiere to Kim Ki-duk’s final film, Call of God, despite the multiple sexual abuse allegations the late Korean auteur faced prior to his death. Asian fests including Tokyo and Busan, events Kim once lorded over as a regional artistic titan, passed on the film.  

Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera defended the decision, telling THR the festival “was not a tribunal” and could only judge the quality of a film, not the “personality of the man or woman” who made it. 

Five years ago, a festival declaring they separate the art from the artist would have read like canonical wisdom. In the wake of #MeToo, however, everything’s changed. 

More broadly, the #MeToo movement has energized efforts to achieve gender parity at film festivals. All the major European and North American film festivals have now signed gender parity pledges along the lines of the one drawn up by drawn up by the French group 50/50 by 2020, requiring fests to make their selection process more transparent and to push for an equal balance between men and women, among festival staff, in their executive boards, and in the directors chosen for official selection. 

Since 2018, the Venice Festival, a 50/50 signatory, has held an annual seminar during the Biennale to present the latest data on female participation in the European film industry and to discuss ways of improving gender parity. 

“I think the 50/50 pledge has had a major impact,” says Elstner. “I was just in Toronto and we had a dinner for our [French] directors. Five of the six filmmakers at the table were women. [More] women are making films and more female directors are getting to make their second, third or fourth film than they did in the past.” 

It’s only at the very top, Elstner notes, that festivals still look much as they did pre-#MeToo. “Most A-list festivals are still run by men [as festival directors], but I think that will change quite dramatically in the next few years.”

This story first appeared in the Sept. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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