VENICE •The Venice Film Festival was slammed for its "toxic masculinity" as it opened on Wednesday with just one female director represented among its most mouth-watering line-up in decades.
With Hollywood effectively turning the festival into its launchpad for the Oscars with new films by Damien Chazelle, the Coen brothers and Alfonso Cuaron as well as Lady Gaga's much-hyped screen debut, feminists have lashed the organisers for choosing only one film by a female director.
It is the second year in a row that Venice has featured just one film by a woman among the 21 vying for the Golden Lion top prize.
Festival director Alberto Barbera declared that he would "rather quit" than give in to pressure for a quota for women after the Cannes, Toronto and Locarno festivals pledged themselves to gender equality.
But his stance - as Venice bids to rival Cannes as the world's most important festival - was lambasted by an alliance of European women film-makers.
"Sorry, but we don't buy this anymore," said the European Women's Audiovisual Network in an open letter earlier this month.
"When Alberto Barbera threatens to quit, he is perpetuating the notion that selecting films by female filmmakers involves lowering standards."
Others blamed a streak of Italian "toxic masculinity" that saw actress and #MeToo campaigner Asia Argento pilloried in her homeland for accusing movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of rape.
Barbera insisted that he chose the films "on the quality and not the sex of the director", telling reporters that "if we impose quotas, I resign".
The last time a woman took Venice's top prize was eight years ago, when American director Sofia Coppola won with Somewhere (2010).