Women directors take rightful place at Venice film fest

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With women directing 21 of the 52 films being shown at this year's Venice film festival, organisers said the time for international recognition of women's contribution to cinema has finally come.

"I think it's a sign of the times," festival director Alberto Barbera said.

"Cinema for over a century was a very male-dominated environment. Finally, even cinema has realised that there is female creativity," he said.

The festival opened with "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" by Mira Nair and four of the 18 films vying for the Golden Lion award are directed by women -- in contrast to the Cannes festival where there were no women in the running.

"We did not have a quota for women directors. We chose the films without any prejudices and we realised later that a third were by women," Barbera said.

At a conference on the theme in Venice, Nair said she had always believed in female potential and never saw being a woman as an obstacle to her work.

"I am beyond gender, inspired by art," Nair said, although she pointed out that women could access unknown realities from which men are excluded.

She gave as an example her 1985 documentary "Indian Cabaret" about two strippers in Mumbai but stressed that creativity was neither male nor female.

Some of the women directors taking part said being singled out made them uncomfortable, however, and they just wanted equal treatment in a tough sector.

"I think it's limiting to say: 'I'm a female director'," said Zoe Cassavetes, the daughter of US actor-director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands and the director of a short called "The Powder Room".

"It's very difficult for anyone trying to make a film.... I think the faster we can put to the side that we are women directors, the bigger chance we have," said Cassavetes, best known for her 2007 film "Broken English".

But Giada Colagrande, the wife of Hollywood veteran Willem Dafoe, said the situation in Italy was very different from the United States.

"In Italy only five or six percent of directors are women. I think we should have a greater consciousness of this because it's really a problem," she said.

Women "are slaves of a prejudice that affects your mentality, your approach," said the director, who also brought a short to Venice.

While actresses are often the stars of the red carpets in Hollywood or Cannes, women directors are still relatively rare at international festivals.

Cannes festival president Gilles Jacob said earlier it was "shameful" that only one woman -- Jane Campion ("The Piano Lesson") -- has won the Palme d'Or.

Festival director Thierry Fremaux said: "It is not in Cannes in the month of May that we have to ask ourselves the question, it's year-round."

The four women in competition in Venice are Francesca Comencini ("Un giorno speciale"), Jessica Woodworth as co-director ("La cinquieme saison"), Rama Burshtein ("Fill the void") and Valeria Sarmiento ("Linhas de Wellington").

Argentinian director, producer and screenwriter Lucrecia Martel said she could not understand what all the fuss was about since she said that in Argentina starting in the 1980s women have been a major presence in filmmaking.

"For the women of my generation, being a director or a producer was completely normal," she said.

She added: "Many times the obstacles in history that seem giant can be stupid and can be easily changed."

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