Several days after the Cannes festival ended, industry parents delivered a letter to director Thierry Fremaux to notify him of all the ways in which the event could be more accommodating to children. This year, complaints were filed over mothers being turned away from the Marche du Film for their kids not having badges as well as being forced to breastfeed outside.
At press time, the letter had been signed by more than 340 people, including Amazon’s Ted Hope, Oscar-nominated writer Robin Swicord (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), filmmaker Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenager Girl) and Sundance Institute’s Liz Manashil. (The Cannes press office, closed for vacation through June 6, could not be reached for comment.) Drafted by Agnes Films’ Alexandra Hidalgo, Moms-in-Film founder Mathilde Dratwa and Directed by Women activist Barbara Ann O’Leary, among others, the letter lists easy steps for Cannes to take that can lead to more inclusivity, from letting parents know where they can and cannot bring children to providing child care, dedicated breastfeeding venues and meet-ups for parents.
Reads the letter: “There were a number of cases of parents receiving mixed information about attending with children and being sent away because they had babies in their arms.”
THR spoke with one of the authors about their hope for the letter, Dratwa, who said that the festival can take great strides by taking three steps: “Prioritization,” by showing that festival organizers care about parents; “communication” in letting parents know what the rules are for where you can bring children and where you’re not able to; and “facilitation” through providing childcare (a lofty dream, she added), dedicated venues for breastfeeding or meet-ups for fellow parents.
“There is a clear and direct link between gender equality and family-friendly practices that are easily overlooked,” she continued. “Festivals are where careers are launched. If you’re alienating parents at a festival, you could be hurting their career down the road. This is really just about offering solutions and helping to move the industry forward a little bit.”
A rep for Cannes did not return a request for comment as of press time.
The full text of the letter can be found below.
Parents in the Palais: An Open Letter to the Cannes Film Festival
Dear Cannes Film Festival Organizers,
We, a group of filmmakers, actors, film critics, film festival organizers, distributors, scholars, audience members, and activists, are writing to show our concern over the way in which parents, in particular mothers, were treated at the 70th Cannes Film Festival when arriving with their children to the event. As a way to help Cannes resolve this issue, we also provide a number of models used by other film festivals to welcome parents and children. There were a number of cases of parents receiving mixed information about attending with children and being sent away because they had babies in their arms.
As Women and Hollywood reported, both Sofia Coppola and Nicole Kidman were absent from the awards ceremony because they had returned home to their children. The entire Cannes Film Festival community is short-changed when award-winning talent cannot stay because they may not be able to bring their families to participate in their success.
As Marian Evans reported, director and producer Annemarie Jacir, who has previously had two films in competition at Cannes, was unable to attend a meeting because her one-year-old did not have a festival badge. Jacir was later told that dogs and babies needed special badges. However, when she went to request such a badge, she learned that there were no badges available for babies at this year’s festival.
Jacir’s was not an isolated case. As Women and Hollywood reported, Anna Tatarska, a Polish journalist, was not allowed to pick up her badge with her five-month old in her arms. She too was given misleading information. First she was told that babies required special badges and then that no such badges existed. She ended up having to nurse on a park bench outside the film festival instead of being able to escape the heat inside the Palais. This indicates a lack of clarity from festival organizers, which places the burden of labor on delegates who are already managing a child, as well as their work.
Parenting is a reality for many filmmakers, distributors, critics, and other workers in the film industry, and it often enriches the stories they are able to tell and their approach to their work. Particularly for parents of small children, being unable to bring them to film festivals when they have a film on the circuit can prove traumatic-as well as economically unviable-for both parent and child. Not to mention that most nursing mothers cannot be away from their babies for more than a few hours.
￼As Making it Possible, a 2016 UK survey by Raising Films shows, 79% percent of parents and carers felt that their caring responsibilities had a negative effect on their careers in the film and television industries. As well as the long-hours culture of film production, parents and carers pointed to the lack of access-both practically and economically-to festivals for those with caring responsibilities. The survey showed that women continue to bear a disproportionate burden of primary caring responsibilities, and thus that the exclusion of parents and carers from the industry has an exponential effect on women’s presence and the sustainability of their careers.
Through this letter, we hope to not only bring attention to the issue, but to also provide some examples of film festivals and organizations that are handling the presence of parents in welcoming ways. Here are some possibilities that we hope Cannes will consider for the future:
● Moms-in-Film piloted a free, mobile child care unit at South by Southwest this year. In addition to providing childcare, the unit was also a place to nurse, pump, and meet other parents. South by Southwest had an additional “mother’s room” in the convention center for pumping and nursing. Moms-in-Film is now discussing bringing bespoke childcare models to a number of other film festivals, tailoring them to the specific needs of each festival, and would be happy to discuss ways to incorporate other parent-friendly practices, including communication with parents planning to attend, with Cannes.
● True/False Film Festival offers a community crèche for delegates (supported by crowdfunding).
● Sheffield Doc/Fest offered crèche places for delegates in 2016.
● Locarno Film Festival offers on-site childcare for programmers and delegates.
● The Athens International Film and Video Festival provided free film badges for filmmakers’ children and free coloring books with the film festivals’ poster artwork and crayons to all attending children. They also featured a number of child-friendly films that allowed parents to enjoy screenings with their children.
World-class film festivals offer world-class care and attention to guests, delegates, and industry.
Cannes, as the world’s premiere film festival, should be leading, not following, on these developments. Any of these initiatives or a combination of them would help avoid the situations that Jacir and Tatarska found themselves in this year-not to mention the situation of talented filmmakers, critics, and distributors who, knowing how they would be received chose not to bring their children, or those who were unable to attend because they couldn’t leave their children at home.
We hope that next year’s festival organizers will be willing to try some creative solutions in order to establish a more welcoming space for the filmmakers, actors, press members, distributors, and other attendees who have made the Cannes Film Festival one of the most vibrant and influential film events in the world for seven decades.
A version of this story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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