As is par for the course, this year's Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica di Venezia commenced with yet another controversy surrounding Alberto Barbera, the festival's Artistic Director— whereas last year Barbera bemoaned the lack of exciting new Italian filmmakers, this year he explained that the lack of female filmmakers screening in Competition is not his fault because Venice is not in the business of producing films.
Though perhaps inelegant, there is both truth and courage in Barbera's statement: festivals should maintain the diversity and creativity of their programming by blind selection rather than by quota-filling. The relative dearth of works by female filmmakers in Competition this year belies the fact that such works were numerous in other sections, such as Orizzonti and parallel sections Settimana della Critica and Giornate degli Autori.
More precisely, that female directors are more proportionally represented in other sections of the festival— those designed for new and emerging voices— speaks to the nascency of programs designed to reverse female underrepresentation in the industry as much as to the present and historical factors that contribute to this reality. To be clear: there should be cultural and institutional programs in place to cultivate young talents by supporting their early works, from conceptualization at the script level to financing and post-production. Strong films from Iranian pioneer Shirin Neshat and exciting young Argentinian filmmaker Natalia Garagiola— who received support from INCAA, the Torino Film Lab, the Doha Film Institute, the World Cinema Fund, and Rotterdam's Hubert Bals Fund— among others, are evidence that these initiatives can and do work.