By Mike Collett-White
CANNES, France (Reuters) - The absence of female directors from the 22-strong competition in Cannes this year is a "great pity", but reflects a global problem rather than sexism specific to the world's biggest film festival, jury member Andrea Arnold said on Wednesday.
The British film maker, who has won acclaim in Cannes for "Red Road" and "Fish Tank", is one of nine jurors who will decide which movie wins the coveted Palme d'Or for best picture at the end of this year's festival.
The fact that it cannot be a woman -- all competition movies this year were directed by men after four women featured in the main lineup in 2011 -- has led to accusations of sexism in the French press and further afield.
In a letter published last week in Le Monde newspaper, a group of feminists backed by a French actress and two female directors complained about the sexual imbalance.
"Don't allow young women to think that they might one day have the gall to direct films and to go up the steps of the Palais except on the arms of a prince charming," they wrote, referring to the red carpet entrance to the main cinema in Cannes.
Thierry Fremaux, who as general delegate of the festival is charged with selecting the films each year, responded by saying that he would never allow a system of quotas to be introduced in order to promote female film makers.
He did concede that the lack of female directors was a problem, but not one particular to Cannes.
"NOT OUT OF CHARITY"
Arnold, asked about her views on the all-male lineup this year, told a news conference on the first day of the festival:
"I would absolutely hate it if my film got selected because I was a woman. I would only want my film to be selected for the right reasons and not out of charity because I'm female.
"I would say it's true the world over in the world of film. There's just not that many women film directors. I guess Cannes is a small pocket that represents how it is out in the world.
"And that's a great pity and a great disappointment, because obviously women are half of the population and have voices and things to say about life and the world that probably would be good for all of us to hear."
Only one woman has won the Palme d'Or -- Jane Campion was a joint winner in 1993 with "The Piano".
But some experts argued that it may be in the acting and writing categories, rather than directing, that women will excel in Cannes this year.
"For me, the question is less 'how many women film makers are selected' than 'do the films illuminate female experience?" said Annette Insdorf, director of undergraduate film studies at Columbia University, speaking in Cannes.
She described the out-of-competition "Hemingway & Gellhorn", starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman, as a "surprisingly feminist portrait" of the novelist's third wife Martha Gellhorn, a renowned war correspondent.
"It is her story (rather than history): Gellhorn is the one who truly learns and grows," added Insdorf.
"We will be better able to assess female representation at this year's festival after seeing some of the anticipated competition films, including "Rust and Bone" (with Marion Cotillard), "On the Road" (with Kristen Stewart), "Lawless" (with Jessica Chastain) and "In Another Country" (with Isabelle Huppert).
"It may turn out that the 'female auteur' presence in Cannes this year is the prolific international actress."
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)