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Cannes 2017: Diversity Takes Center Stage At Multiple Events

By: Marjorie Galas

As lines of eager hopefuls circled around the Palais anxious to take in a screening, many other Cannes attendees turned their focus to the issue of diversity, particularly diversity in filmmaking.

For the second year in a row, the Swedish Film Institute sponsored a panel promoting their initiative: 50-50 by 2020.  In 2016, Anna Serner, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, presented the groundwork laid by Sweden during the premiere 50-50 by 2020 panel.  At that time, Sweden had already implemented a structure that presented half the country’s film funding to women in the roles of scripting, directing and production.

In the past three years, Sweden has actively engaged in an action plan that includes updating the digital knowledge bank with contemporary women filmmakers and an increase in listing professional categories behind as well as in front of the camera.  Sweden has also ramped up additional efforts, including conducting qualitative surveys to discover what films women get the opportunity to make and why and presenting an annual film education seminar focusing aimed at children and young people as well as a digital gender seminar created for a mass audience.  One reliable, yet unsubstantiated source, announced that there has been a 30% increase in women in Sweden’s production community within the past year.

On Saturday, May 20th, Lerner kicked off the 50/50 by 2020 panel with an incredibly encouraging announcement.  Due to the success Sweden’s model has exhibited, three countries, Canada, Ireland and Norway have announced their committed to embracing their model.  Joining Lerner at the 50-50 by 2020 panel were James Hickey, CEO of the Irish Film Board, Sindre Goldvog, CEO of the Norwegian Film Institute and Michele Maheux, Executive Director/COO of the Toronto International Film Festival.  The three representatives shared their respective country’s commitment and first steps towards ending gender disparity.

The following day, at the Radisson Blu, a non-profit org called Beyond Borders: Diversity in Cannes held their fourth annual daylong showcase aimed at highlighting diverse content creators. Their “independent platform” was created to ensure underrepresented members of the production community are ensured a means of showcasing their short films, giving their stories and works a chance to be seen at “the world’s most prestigious film industry event.”

The day-long event featured panels such as “Women in VR” as well as showcases highlighting selected entries that were chosen from 231 submissions representing thirty countries.  Attendees to the showcases cast their vote for favorites as well – and this year’s top film won both the juried and audience choice award.  That film was “All I Want” by Venika Mitra.   Mitra’s win marks the first time an Indian, as well as an Indian woman, has won top honors at the independent sector of the fest.

“All I Want” follows a seven-year-old street urchin who’s determined to do what it takes to purchase one juicy, ripe mango.  During a brief Q&A after the showcase that included her winning film, Mitra stated the inspiration for her film was motivated by the perspective of poverty.  A fan of mangos, Mitra one day was struck by the idea of not being able to afford her favorite, low cost indulgence.

“Despite mangos being cheap, not everyone can afford them,” said Mitra.  “This is what motivated me.”

Mitra, a professional assistant director and sound designer in the Indian film community, was unable to secure financing for her project.  Undeterred, Mitra turned to crowd-funding and, ultimately, self-funding her project.  She also received the additional benefit of a crew willing to donate their skills to her production, including Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty.

“I was very discouraged (when no one) in Mumbai was willing to produce my short,” said Mitra.  “I decided to produce it myself.  My crew were friends I’ve worked with, and they were encouraging and supportive throughout the process.”

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