CANNES, France — The Cannes Film Festival hit back at charges of sexism in its official line-up Saturday, saying it would continue to select pictures based solely on their merits.
In response to a mounting row over the all-male selection for the competition at the world's top cinema showcase, the event's board said in a statement that it was committed to diversity, but on its own terms.
"The Festival de Cannes -- in order to maintain its position and remain true to its beliefs rooted in universal rights -- will continue to programme the best films from around the world 'without distinction as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status'," the board said, quoting from 1948's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"The board members fully endorse the decisions made by Thierry Fremaux, General Delegate for the Festival de Cannes," it added.
More than a thousand women film-makers and others have signed a US petition in support of French feminists protesting a lack of female directors in the running for the Cannes top prize.
The petition -- headlined "Where Are the Women Directors?" -- was launched this week by 250 signatories including "Toy Story 3" producer Darla K. Anderson, director Gillian Armstrong and feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
By Friday, some 1,050 women in the business from as far afield as Australia, Brazil and India had signed the online appeal, which urges Cannes jurors "to commit to transparency and equality in the selection process of these films."
There are no female film-makers among the 22 competing for the Palme d'Or, the top award at the May 16-27 festival, and just two among the 17 in its new talent section: France's Catherine Corsini and Sylvie Verheyde.
French feminist group La Barbe (The Beard) wrote a scathing op-ed article in last weekend's Le Monde newspaper, noting that "all 22 films in the official selection were written, what a happy coincidence, by 22 men."
Last year's event featured a record four women in competition, sparking hopes that female directors were making lasting inroads at the event.
British film-maker and Cannes juror Andrea Arnold told reporters on the festival's opening day Wednesday she would hate to be selected on gender grounds, and stressed that the line-up simply reflected a lack of women directors in general.
And US actress Jessica Chastain, appearing in two films at Cannes this year, told AFP Saturday she found the debate "silly" and said pictures must speak for themselves.
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