Inside L’Oréal’s Lights on Women’s Worth Awards With Elle Fanning, Viola Davis and Helen Mirren

CANNES – Elle Fanning calls this South of France town her “happy place.”

She is a festival regular for L’Oréal, and was a member of the jury in 2019.  She used that experience to help guide her this year, as she stepped up as the sole juror for the L’Oréal Lights on Women’s Worth award.

The prize went to director Viv Li for her short film “Across the Waters,” about a teen girl in a remote Chinese village who discovers music she has never heard before after meeting a truck driver with a Walkman.

Fanning selected the film from 10 entries, all by women directors chosen from across the short film official competition categories.

It’s the first year she has served as juror. Since the prize’s inception four years ago, Kate Winslet has filled that role.

“Huge shoes to fill,” she said of taking over the position from the Oscar winner. 

The Lights on Women’s Worth prize is designed to support emerging filmmakers. It’s much needed in this industry, said Fanning, which has been the sentiment throughout this festival.

“We need more women in the industry. It’s not for a lack of creativity,” she said. “We have come a long way. We even have a female president [of the jury] this year at Cannes, but you want it to become more of the norm, not just in the director seat, but in crews.

“There are certain female directors that we know of, and then that’s all people talk about, is that core group, because they’re so successful and wonderful. But then they’re like, ‘Oh, our work is done.’ It does not work that way,” she added.

Focusing on one or two big personalities can distract from the core issue.

“We have to keep talking about it to make change happen, to uplift those voices, and help get them kick started,” she said.

The L’Oréal award is designed to not only recognize an emerging filmmaker, but also an ecosystem of support as they get their careers off the ground.

It’s very much about long-term support, Fanning said. “After an award, then what do you do afterwards? It’s still hard to get into the door of studios and big companies,” she said.

In selecting the winner, Fanning used her experience on the main competition jury to approach the films.

“I was taking into consideration how we would watch those films and bringing it to this experience,” she said. “I was also looking at the potential of someone, too, seeing the potential of where they could go, and wanting to see a feature film of that person. So I had kind of those, that eye on it.”

Fanning has also stepped into a producing role for “The Great” and two upcoming projects, “Margo’s Got Money Troubles” and “Mastermind.” The actress said she has grown in her competence being on the other end of the camera, and that it is key for women to step into their power in executive roles.

“I’ve learned that you have to speak up. Your answer might not be the right answer, it might not be the answer that they ultimately end up going with, but at least you have to put your opinion in the ring. That’s how you find the solution to whatever problem you’re trying to solve behind the scenes.”

L’Oréal Paris global brand president Delphine Viguier-Hovasse said the prize is creating an ecosystem for supporting the winning directors to try to establish their careers. The winners are paired with a producer to help them learn how to enter additional festivals, English lessons if needed, as well as the more practical side of the film industry.

Viguier-Hovasse citied statistics that 50 percent of film school students are women, but only one in three make a first short film, one in four make a first feature film and only one in six go on to make a second film.

“We are here to help bring visibility, but not just to give a prize. We prepare them to become a bit of a businesswoman,” said the L’Oréal executive. “When you have a script, a storyboard, and you need money, you have to present that to banks, to brands, the film industry. I don’t know how to do cinema, but I know how to do business.”

“Although there is still a gender imbalance, it is programs like these that will help us find gender equality,” Fanning said on the stage presenting the award.

Guests at the Plage des Palmes dinner included Viola Davis, Helen Mirren, Andie MacDowell, and “Bridgerton” star Simone Ashley, along with Cannes Film Festival president Iris Knobloch.

Davis and Mirren arrived early to take photos against the sunset on the beach, before sitting together with other L’Oréal ambassadors.

“To see Helen and Viola here, they are so inspirational. Just hearing them talk about the industry, they are so wise and incredible. I take my cues from them,” added Fanning.

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