28 Jul 2018 | BY Sarah Thomas - @SarahTtheWriter
It’s an incredible achievement: Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent’s new feature, The Nightingale, will have its world premiere in competition at the 75th Venice Film Festival, which kicks off late August.
Kent’s drama, set in 1820s Tasmania and starring Aisling Franciosi (The Fall) and Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games), will sit among new works by big-hitters such as the Coen Brothers, Damien Chazelle, Paul Greengrass, Mike Leigh and Alfonso Cuaron.
The story sees Franciosi as an Irish convict, hunting a British officer (Claflin) in revenge for act of violence against her family. She enlists an Aboriginal tracker (Baykali Ganambarr), who also shares a violent backstory.
The Nightingale, written and directed by Kent, comes four years after her breakthrough success with critically acclaimed psychological horror The Babadook. It is one of the first projects to receive funding as part of Screen Australia’s Gender Matters program, launched in late 2015 to support more female-led works.
“It’s a dream come true to be premiering The Nightingale at Venice in official competition,” said Kent. “I owe a great deal to my exceptional cast and crew, who were wholeheartedly devoted to making this film the very best it could be.”
But The Nightingale’s inclusion at Venice has been overshadowed by the fact that Kent is the only female filmmaker in competition, sparking fresh debate over levels of representation and diversity.
Similarly last year at Venice, there was one only female director selected for the competition line-up (Vivian Qu’s Angels Wear White), in a list that included Australian Warwick Thornton with Sweet Country.
Festival director Alberto Barbera bluntly told the Hollywood Reporter that it was a reflection of the industry and not the selection process.
“The problem is that there is still a lot of prejudice in the industry and things need to be changed. They will change I think. It takes time, of course,” he said. “But sooner or later everybody will realise that female directors are as good and as creative as their male colleagues. But this is something that needs to be changed at the beginning of the chain, not at the end, not to guarantee for example, a quarter of film festival slots to women.”
He added: “You need to change the possibility to approach the profession, to give women the same possibilities that are given to men now, and this is something that is out of our hands.
“Venice can’t do anything about that. It’s not up to us to change the situation. It came too late in the process of filmmaking.”
The Nightingale was produced by Causeway Film’s Kristina Ceyton, who also produced The Babadook, and Made Up Stories’ Bruna Papandrea (Big Little Lies) and Steve Hutensky.
Also representing Australia at Venice are two virtual-reality short films, Michael Beets’ The Unknown Patient and Lynette Wallworth’s Awavena.
Sarah Thomas is an entertainment writer and contributing editor at The FIERCE. @SarahTtheWriter