May 14, 2015 / 12:56 PM / 2 years ago

Women's role in film on the red carpet at Cannes

* Women seen getting too few breaks in film industry

* Cannes head bemoans lack of female directors

By Mike Davidson and Michael Roddy

CANNES, France, May 14 (Reuters) - Charlize Theron's character Imperator Furiosa in "Mad Max: Fury Road" is pretty much on an equal footing with Tom Hardy playing the road warrior of the title, but the South African actress says it's not often that way in an industry dominated by men.

The much heralded reboot of the famous 1980s dystopian action franchise is being screened on Thursday at the Cannes International Film Festival, where the subject of women's role in cinema -- not just in front of the camera but behind it -- has been in the spotlight this year.

Theron, who is best known as an actress but also produced and starred in "Monster" (2003), said too many women "have to sit around and really wait for the right thing to come around and there's a lot of wrong things going around and I feel like there is an injustice".

Men get the better opportunities, she told Reuters, but when women do get a chance, people connect strongly with the films.

"They're always the movies people talk about the most, they're the critically acclaimed ones, and I just don't understand why we can't take that momentum and really put it in gear," she said.

Thierry Fremaux, the director of the Cannes festival, provoked the debate by pointing out in interviews that "the number of female directors in the world is too low".

For the first time in decades, the festival opened with a film directed by a woman, France's Emmanuelle Bercot, but Fremaux said films had been selected because they suited the festival, not because of the director's gender.

"I think the most important fight is the situation of women in the world, not only in cinema," he said.

Bercot said she didn't think gender had been a factor in her film being shown, out of competition, at the star-studded gala on Wednesday night.

"I happen to be a woman, but I am honoured by the fact that the film has been selected not by the fact that I'm being gifted with something that is usually reserved to men," she said.

NEW AUDIENCES

Just two of the 19 in-competition films are directed by women -- "Marguerite et Julien" by Valerie Donzelli and "Mon Roi" by Maiwenn. But Oscar winning actress Natalie Portman marks her directorial debut with an out-of-competition screening of "A Tale of Love and Darkness".

According to Isabella Rossellini, who heads the jury of Un Certain Regard -- a competition that runs parallel to the main Palme d'Or event at Cannes -- entering the film industry is not the hardest part of a woman's career.

"One thing that was difficult to me was integrating my family with my career. Women were able to enter the workforce but ... (it was) harder for me was to integrate my children with my professional life," she said on Thursday.

"I tried to have them come with me on the set, but as they grew older they wanted to stay with their friends, there was school."

Rossellini, who burst into the limelight when she played Dorothy Vallens in David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" in 1986, believes things will change faster if the film industry broadens its audience base.

"Especially in American cinema, you foster an audience of young males," she said.

"If you foster an audience for subjects that are interesting to women then you also have an audience that is interested in these subjects. A lot of films where people punch each other... I'm not interested."

Rossellini believes equality has a better chance in Europe, especially in France, "where artists are so revered".

"In Hollywood it's more of an industry, here it is more of an art form." (Reporting by Michael Davidson, Rollo Ross, Michael Roddy and Julien Pretot; Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

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