15/05/2015 8:49 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Cannes: A Lot Of Women Cannot Be Directors As They Have Children, Says Isabella Rossellini

LOIC VENANCE via Getty Images
Italian actress and director and President of the Un Certain Regard Jury Isabella Rossellini poses as she arrives for the screening of the film 'An' during the 68th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southeastern France, on May 14, 2015. AFP PHOTO / LOIC VENANCE (Photo credit should read LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images)

Women are the talk of the Cannes Film Festival, where debate rages about why they are so plentiful in front of the camera and so scarce behind it.

Long criticised for its dearth of female directors, Cannes opened this year with a film by a woman for the first time since the 1980s. The selection coincides with a spate of industry soul-searching that has seen high-profile women talk publicly about the challenges they face in a male-dominated industry.

"One thing that was difficult for me was integrating my family with my career," actress Isabella Rossellini said Thursday at the first of a series of talks on women in cinema sponsored by French luxury firm Kering.

"I think a lot of women cannot be directors because they have children and they have to take care of them," said the "Blue Velvet" star, who has directed an acclaimed series of short films on the sex lives of animals.

She said long Hollywood hours are "unbelievably difficult for family," and in the U.S. "you can tax deduct lunch with your business partner but not a baby-sitter."

The gender imbalance in filmmaking has spurred the American Civil Liberties Union to ask US employment authorities to investigate Hollywood's "systemic failure" to hire female directors. The ACLU says women represented only 7 per cent of directors on the 250 top-grossing movies last year, 2 percentage points lower than in 1998.

Melissa Silverstein of the advocacy group Women and Hollywood welcomed the ACLU action as a "first salvo in the bigger conversation" about why there are so few women behind the camera.

Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif, however, said she had seen changes in the way Indian cinema depicts women. "There has been a big shift," she said. "(There's) a lot of films with very strong female characters, a lot of films that are doing well where the female protagonist . has got a very strong personality, (an) independent mind."