Star-studded Venice film festival opens amid uproar over inclusion of Roman Polanski

VENICE (AFP) – The glitzy Venice film festival opens on Wednesday (Aug 28) with fury over the inclusion of controversial directors Roman Polanski and Nate Parker, adding to criticism about a lack of women directors in the running for its top prize.

The rows threaten to take some of the sheen off a selection featuring a bumper crop of major stars, including Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Kristen Stewart, Meryl Streep and Scarlett Johansson at the festival.

Having been pilloried for including only one woman director in 2018, the festival has two women out of 21 in the running for this year’s Golden Lion top prize.

Festival director Alberto Barbera said last year that he would rather quit the 11-day event – where three of the last five Oscar best picture winners were premiered – than give in to pressure for quotas.

This year, the row over gender disparity has been compounded by a selection that has sparked particular fury – that of Polanski, who was convicted for statutory rape of a 13-year-old in 1978.

The inclusion in a sidebar event of director Parker, who was embroiled in a rape trial while still at university, has also sparked criticism.

Ms Melissa Silverstein, founder of Women And Hollywood, has accused the festival organisers of being “completely tone-deaf”.

Mr Barbera has defended the line-up, saying that “numerous films this year deal with the theme of the feminine condition in the world which, even when directed by men, reveal a new sensitivity”.

Saudi Arabia’s Haifaa al-Mansour is one of the two women directors vying for the top prize. Her film The Perfect Candidate tells the story of a doctor trying to become her town’s first female candidate in elections in the conservative kingdom.

Newcomer Shannon Murphy is the other female contender, with her Australian comedy-drama Babyteeth.

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