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, Alfonso Cuaron and 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 had 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 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 film-makers involves lowering standards.”

But on Wednesday Barbera seemed to soften his position considerably as the head of his jury, Oscar-winning Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, threw his weight behind the 50/50 by 2020 campaign launched by women stars and directors at Cannes.

“For me the goal is clear and has to remain 50/50 by 2020,” the director told reporters in Venice. “I think 50/50 by 2019 is better. It is not a matter of establishing a quota ... [but] it is extremely important to call [under-representation] out. For many decades and centuries it had not been called out.”

The festival kicked off late Wednesday with First Man, with Chazelle teaming up with his La La Land star Ryan Gosling. The Canadian actor plays astronaut Neil Armstrong in the years leading up to 1969, when he became the first man to walk on the moon.

Australian Jennifer Kent is the solitary woman gunning for the Golden Lion with The Nightingale.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2018