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CULTURE | 20-05-2019 14:49

Abortion rights demonstrations seize agenda at Cannes film festival

The green pro-abortion rights movement took over Cannes this week, as a series of protests at the famous French film festival drew the eye. A new documentary on the fight to legalise the procedure in Argentina received its premiére there this weekend.

Argentina's green pro-abortion rights movement took over Cannes this week, as a series of protests at the famous French film festival drew the eye.

Ahead of Saturday's premiére of Que Sea Ley ("Let It Be Law"), the new Argentine documentary on abortion that tells the story of the struggle for women's rights in the country, dozens of women demonstrated for abortion rights on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in France.

Women, including the filmmakers and activists seen in the film, waved green handkerchiefs and carried a large banner while walking the Cannes carpet at its premiére. 

One wore a striking green ballgown embroidered around the hem with a slogan in Spanish reading: "Legal, safe and free abortion."

The film, which was directed by Argentine director Juan Solanas, depicts Argentina's battle to legalise abortion.

Before the screening of Solanas's documentary, the women raised a banner in memory of Ana María Acevedo, who died 12 years ago from an unsafe illegal abortion.

In the cinema where the film was screen, green handkerchiefs were placed on each seat, journalists reported. Before the projection began, songs from the pro-rights movement were sung in the room.

At one point over the weekend, famous Spanish actress Penelope Cruz was also pictured holding up a green handkerchief.

Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, whose film Pain & Glory starring Cruz and Antonio Banderas is an early favourite for the festival's top prize, also brandished a green handkerchief in a show of support.

Local politics

The pro-abortion rights movement has been on the frontline of local politics over the last few years, with regular demonstrations drawing hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets of the capital, either glad in green for pro-legalisation, or light blue for those opposed.

Last year, on a dramatic rainswept evening, the Senate rejected a bill to legalise the procedure, after the lower house Chamber of Deputies had voted a proposal through.

"That night, I nearly died from the cold, from the rain, I almost broke my camera," Juan Solanas, who directed the documentary, told AFP.

"I felt anger and indignation," said the 52-year-old, son of the celebrated filmmaker and national senator Fernando "Pino" Solanas, who won best director at Cannes for his 1988 film Sur.

"I grew up in an atheist family [and] I respect people's beliefs, but it is medieval and violent to impose them on people who don't think the same," he added.

A modified version of the bill is to be presented to Congress on May 28, as it is every year.

Solanas hopes his film will help portray the human stories at the heart of the pro-rights movement. He travelled across the country for eight months to make his film, visiting provinces far from the capital to tell the stories of women affected by the existing law.

The fact the film is being shown at the biggest film festival in the world "gives the fight greater visibility," the director said.

The real "heroines" are the activists leading the fight, he added.

María Carbajal, a journalist and activist who travelled to Cannes to join the demonstration, told the AFP news agency that it was important the world knows "the shame we feel in Argentina over the fact that abortion is not yet legal." 

International debate

The topic is also dominant internationally. The film's début comes as abortion rights are also being fiercely contested in the United States. On Tuesday, the Alabama Senate passed a bill that would outlaw almost all abortions in the state, including those involving pregnancies from rape or incest.

Many in the movie industry in Cannes have followed the developments in the US with concern.

"What's happening in Alabama is so important in the world," Eva Longoria, who produced the Netflix documentary Reversing Roe, said Friday at a "Women in Motion" event in Cannes. "It's going to affect everybody if we don't pay attention."

Longoria – a pro-choice Catholic – warned of a "domino effect" with a dozen other Republican-controlled US states seeking to restrict the rights of women to abortion.

Her comments come as Cruz joined a group of actresses led by Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rossi de Palma and French director Claire Denis, in staging a red carpet protest for abortion rights.

Solanas said over the weeekend said restrictions like those passed in Alabama and Missouri would lead to women's deaths. 

"In Argentina, one woman dies every week following an illegal abortion -–more than one a day in Latin America, where 300 million women live without the right to end their pregnancies."

Longoria, one of the founders of the Time's Up movement that pushes for gender equality and women's rights, said Friday that the group would likely get involved in next year's US presidential election.

"We're trying to figure out what is Time's Up's role in these elections, and how can we have an impact," she said.

Despite the momentum generated after #MeToo, she said in the workplace generally "the statistics are going the wrong way. We're not improving."

- TIMES/AFP/AP

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