"Moonrise Kingdom" cast members goof off at the film's premiere, which is opening the Cannes Film Festival. Reuters

Cannes Film Festival 2012 has kicked off, but there is one significant element missing from this year's competition: Women.

Among the 22 films selected for the festival's highest Palme d'Or prize, there are directors from Europe, America, the Middle East and Asia, but there is not a single female director.

The sexism claims have marred some of the festive spirit at Cannes this year. The French feminist group la Barbe, has published a petition in Le Monde and the Guardian protesting the absence of female direction within the competition.

Thierry Fremaux, the festival's artistic director, has slammed accusations of sexism within the competition. I don't select films because the film is directed by a man, a woman, white, black, young, an old man, he told the Associated Press. I select films because I think they deserve to be in selection.

Fremaux added that it would be wrong to select a bad film merely because a woman directed it.

While women have been nominated for the prestigious award in the past, the only female winner was Jane Campion in 1993, for her film The Piano.

The letters sent to Le Monde and the Guardian, signed by the likes of directors Fanny Cottencon and Virginie Despentes and Nancy Huston, were filled with sarcasm.

The lineup sends a powerful message ... Above all, never let the girls think they can one day have the presumptuousness to make movies or to climb those famous Festival Palace steps, except when attached to the arm of a Prince Charming, the letter read. Men love their women to have depth, but only when it comes to their cleavages.

The criticism highlights a problem in the industry, which goes far beyond the festival. There are ultimately fewer female directors in the industry and the place they really stand out is in the role as editors for films directed by men.

On the upside, the secondary competition in Cannes includes four female nominations: Sylvie Verheyde (Confession of a Child of the Century) and Catherine Corsini (Three Worlds) and there are also four women among the jury of nine members, according to AP.

Cannes Film Festival 2012 kicked off with the Wes Anderson film Moonrise Kingdom starring Bruce Willis and Edward Norton on Wednesday.

Other Hollywood names expected at the festival are Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.