A hotline set up to report claims of sexual harassment at this year’s Cannes film festival has been receiving “several calls a day” since its launch, a representative for the festival has said.
Created in partnership with the French ministry of gender equality, the hotline is one of several measures introduced by the festival as it looks to reform itself in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
Cannes plans to release detailed information about the volume of calls received once the festival is over, but did confirm that several were being taken daily. The majority of calls made to the hotline do not concern participants at the festival, the representative said.
Three temporary employees have been hired to staff the hotline, which operates from 9am to 2pm every day through the duration of the festival. The operators were recruited based on their ability to speak multiple languages, be good listeners and show empathy. Depending on the caller, the operator will offer advice or contact relevant professionals, including festival security staff, medical workers, local police and the victim support charity Solidarité Femmes.
Cannes says it plans to keep the hotline open at future editions of the festival. “The most important things for us is that potential victims know that they can call us,” a representative said.
Its introduction follows similar steps made at the industry event CinemaCon and at Sundance, where it prompted local police to open an investigation into an incident that allegedly took place at the film festival in the 1990s.
The measures are indicative of an industry that is having to grapple with a culture of sexual harassment and assault in the wake of allegations against a number of prominent figures, including Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and James Toback, and the subsequent rise of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
Cannes, in particular, is in the spotlight due to Weinstein’s close ties with the event. Several of the claims made against the producer regard incidents said to have taken place at the festival, notably Asia Argento’s allegation of rape, which she says occurred at the nearby Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in 1997.
Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by more than 70 women and is the subject of investigations in the US and the UK. The producer denies all allegations of non-consensual sex made against him.
In response to the allegations, Cannes has sought to project an anti-harassment stance at this year’s event. In addition to the hotline, the festival has been including flyers in the gift bags handed out to attendees, styled in the manner of an invitation to a black tie party and emblazoned with the slogan “correct behaviour required” as well as the hashtag #NeRienLaisserPasser, or “Do not let anything go”. They warn that sexual harassment is punishable with a maximum three-year prison sentence and a €45,000 (£39,600) fine.
Other organisations based on the Croisette over the next fortnight are following the festival’s lead. Attendees at the American Pavilion (AmPav), the glitzy hub for the US film industry at Cannes, are being asked to sign a waiver disavowing harassment upon entering. Organisers pointed to the high number of students who work at AmPav, as well as the female-friendly reputation of the pavilion, which was founded by executive Julie Sisk 30 years ago, as reasons for the waiver’s introduction.
On Monday, the French gender equality minister, Marlène Schiappa, praised the measures introduced by Cannes and urged the wider film industry to use the festival as an opportunity to “liberate and listen to women’s voices”.
“The fact that the festival’s presidents decided to fight with us against sexual harassment for not just actresses but also workers and spectators at the festival is unprecedented and a great step forward,” Schiappa told Reuters.
Cannes’ move comes as wider French culture begins to reckon with issues of sexual misconduct. Last October, in the wake of allegations against Weinstein and the rise of the #MeToo movement, women in France began sharing their own stories of harassment and assault on social media, accompanied with the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc, or “squeal on your pig”.
That informal development was soon followed by a formal one, with the French government announcing in March plans to issue on-the-spot fines for public acts of sexual harassment, a move that the president, Emmanuel Macron, hoped would ensure “women are not afraid to be outside”.
Yet the move to combat harassment has not received universal support from French women. In January, a group of 100 female writers, performers and academics that included Catherine Deneuve and author Catherine Millet co-signed a letter denouncing the “puritanism” of the anti-harassment movement, which, it said, was seeing men “forced out of their jobs when all they did was touch someone’s knee or try to steal a kiss”.
Cannes is also seeking to increase the visibility of women at this year’s festival. On Saturday, 100 women will walk the festival’s red carpet in order to “affirm their presence”, festival director Thierry Frémaux said. Frémaux will also announce specific measures to improve gender representation at the festival in an event on Monday organised with representatives of the Time’s Up movement.
There has been repeated criticism about a lack of gender parity at Cannes, which this year features only three films directed by women in its 21-film official selection lineup. However, the festival does this year feature a women-majority jury, headed by the Australian actor Cate Blanchett.