Women's movies aren't 'vanity' projects: Portman

Cannes (France) (AFP) - Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman, unveiling her directing debut in Cannes, said Sunday films made by women were often still dismissed as "vanity projects" in a "completely imbalanced" industry.

Portman is one of the busiest women on the Cannes red carpet this year with the premiere of her movie "A Tale of Love and Darkness", and the announcement of a starring role in an upcoming biopic about the late Jackie Kennedy.

The 33-year-old US-Israeli actress told a small group of reporters that her first effort as a director, a family drama set against the birth of the state of Israel, had been a decade-long labour of love even as her Hollywood career skyrocketed.

She said she was blissfully unaware how hard it would be until she got started but eventually enjoyed being in the driver's seat.

"To take on a great challenge you have to have a great deal of ignorance and naivete," Portman said.

She called it "astonishing and miraculous" as a filmmaker to assemble a team willing to help her realise her "vision" -- a privilege not accorded to actors.

Based on an international bestseller by Amos Oz, a writer and advocate of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Portman's film depicts a joyous patriotism among the early settlers that gives way, for some, to crushing disillusionment.

Portman, using her fluent Hebrew, plays Oz's mother Fania, a gifted storyteller who is haunted by the violence and loss she witnessed in her home country Ukraine, and stifled by the tedium of her new domestic life.

- 'Prince Charming dream' -

She said the movie industry was often dismissive of female filmmakers.

"I remember as a kid when Barbra Streisand would make movies that she was in and people would say, 'oh it's vanity, it's a vanity thing'," Portman said.

"I think there was a shyness about being a woman and putting myself in it (the film) that it would come off that way."

Portman said she took inspiration from visual artists such as Cindy Sherman who appear in their own work, and particularly from TV's "Girls" creator Lena Dunham, 29.

Dunham's first feature "'Tiny Furniture' was a revelation to me because -- just the credits -- I was crying because it said written by Lena Dunham, starring Lena Dunham, directed by Lena Dunham," she said.

"I was overwhelmed because I was like, look at this young woman... who has no fear about people thinking she's vain. But it's totally about women -- no one has ever said about a man who puts himself in his films that it's vanity."

She said she was hopeful about the "completely imbalanced" movie industry would eventually getting past the prejudice that kept women making only a fraction of the year's pictures.

"Women have a problem with the word bossy," she said.

"We're still supposed to be caring about everyone else around us and putting other people first. I think it's really changing for the younger generation."

Portman, who picked up an Academy Award for "Black Swan" in 2011, said she has no plans to turn her back on acting, having already signed on to play former US first lady Kennedy in a film by Chile's Pablo Larrain covering the four days after JFK's assassination.

She said she relished the prospect of digging her teeth into the iconic role.

"I think that her poise under some of the most harrowing circumstances you could imagine really was part of the reason the country kept together after such a possibly catastrophic event," she said.

Portman said the political message of her own film, which received mixed reviews in Cannes, involved confronting the defining "mythology" behind the Israeli state with the reality of its Palestinian neighbours.

"If you believe in your mythology too much and don't let your mythology change, it's suicide, essentially. You need to adapt your mythology to reality and to see where it's like a Prince Charming dream... that can be deadly," she said.

"I think it's time to adapt our dreams to reality. Let's deal with the situation on the ground now to make it possible for people to live."