Gaby Babić is the director of the goEast Film Festival in Wiesbaden, Germany. She studied Theatre and Media Studies, Political Science and German Literature in Frankfurt and Paris. After two years at the Goethe Institut in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she did cultural programming and management, she came back to Germany and worked as a film curator and had a wide variety of jobs that included writing. In 2010, she was offered the position of director of the goEast Film Festival, completing now her seventh year as leader of the cinematic event.
At this year’s festival, “Fade to Her” spoke to Gaby about her work as festival director, women in film, this year’s edition of goEast and its symposium on “Reluctant Feminism”.
Before you, there were three women festival directors. In that sense, would you say that the goEast Film Festival is a kind of “feminist” film festival?
Gaby Babić: I can’t talk on behalf of my colleagues who have done the job before me. It’s very much a film festival influenced by women and women’s perspectives. At least, speaking for myself, I can say that I am a feminist and that this also, of course, influences the type of films I program. But, I also have to admit that I am not always a good feminist in the sense that, at times, I did editions of goEast where female filmmaking wasn’t as visible as in other years. So, sometimes, when you want to convince a German audience to watch Eastern European cinema, the general audience – I’m generalizing now – are very unfamiliar, in average, with this Cinema or their respective film history and current films. So, that’s the first effort or goal you have to achieve in order to convince them to see films from there. And then, if you have a sort of second shadow existence like for instance women from Eastern Europe, it’s even more difficult.
You’re one of the few women festival directors even though the trend is changing. But, what do you make of that?
G.B.: I wouldn’t say there are so few at small and middle size festivals. For example, there is my colleague Christine Dollhofer. She runs Crossing Europe in Linz. There is also, of course, a great women film festival in Germany – an old one with a rich history – the Internationales Frauenfilmfestival Dortmund|Köln. So, you have women film festival directors and you have specialized festivals. I am talking maybe about Germany now, but when you consider the A-list festivals, it’s like an old boys’ network, really. These only have male directors as far as I know…
There’s only one woman… Tiina Lokk from the Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn.
G.B.: Yes! That’s right! It’s Tiina! She’s the only one on this list of A-festivals, which is crazy! It shows the problem…
I would say that there are more women in the business part of film (executive positions) rather than the creative one (behind the camera) nowadays… Do you agree with that assumption? What would you say is the problem in this imbalance?
G.B.: It’s complicated. There are enough women making films, but the question is: “What means do they have?” and “Which funds do they get?” I think the figures are very clear. They get much, much less money than men do, so that’s a very simple, obvious, institutionalized discrimination which can be very simply, in my opinion, changed with a quota. So, my approach, if I were a decision-maker or a gatekeeper, would be to establish a 50-50 quota for funding.
There are enough women making films, but the question is: “What means do they have?” and “Which funds do they get?”
Can you talk about this year’s symposium? How did come about? Why now? And, how involved were you?
G.B.: I’ve been collaborating with the head of the symposium, the slavist and cultural scholar, Barbara Wurm, who is also my colleague on the selection board – we are the only two women on the selection board out of five so it’s OK – for several years now on the Competition program but also on other symposiums before. And, every year we evaluate or discuss how the symposium went and what was great and what was perhaps frustrating. Actually, we were frustrated, myself especially, by the fact that in the symposiums of the previous years as well as the homage programs, women were not as present as they should be. That has to do with Film History or the approach that we’ve chosen so far. For example, when we made the symposium on the Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema, basically in this historical period and in this constellation of people, there were barely any women. There was just maybe Bojana Makavejev, I think. We screened one of her short films, but it was obvious that women were missing in this period. And, a very similar thing occurred when we were dealing with the Polish New Wave in the 1960s and 1970s. Although we loved the films we screened and we appreciate the male contribution to Film History even if it is very dominant and canonized, there’s a frustration because how can we make visible the other half of the population or the women filmmakers in our case? So, this is also part of the story. We discussed it, and, of course, the global backlash which is now really dramatic, I think, after Trump’s election but also many other phenomena in Europe and the situation that is really frightening in Germany (we don’t know in which direction society in its majority will develop), we need to emphasize again – also in our personal and professional life – our feminist position. That was the discussion I was involved in, maybe in more general, broad terms, but curation-wise, detailed research and conception, that was all Barbara Wurm! I was just a kind of an advisor…
What do you make of the current situation of women in the film industry? Do you agree with where this kind of “New Wave of Film Feminism” is going? Especially in the U.S. where it’s very bad, as opposed to Europe to a certain extent. But, rarely do they talk about Europe in this case…
G.B.: In Germany, there was this huge discussion – maybe it was not public but, it was more for those interested in Film – and we had this initiative called “Pro Quote Regie” three years ago at the Berlinale. They had a meeting and they brought a kind of manifest. There’s really a discussion that is still going on and so far, institutions like the Filmförderungsanstalt (FFA), Germany’s national film funding institution, are already applying the changes or results of this discussion. They have not gone far enough yet but it’s being discussed, so there is some sort of awareness that we need to change the funding system. And, a couple of years ago, we screened the work of Malgorzata Szumowska, the Polish director. She was here, and she was very clear in her feminist position where she also tries not only as a filmmaker but also sitting in juries and funding advising committees to take care of fellow women filmmakers. So, there is awareness…
How do you see the situation in Central and Eastern Europe among especially the emerging female talent? How do you think the political environment in these countries and the co-production markets and pitching labs at festivals as well as film institution structures influence the number of films made by women?
G.B.: Well, these institutions have an agency and they have the power to make the changes we are talking about. And, I think, on a certain level, let’s say for example co-production markets or pitching forums, they are quite emancipated in that regard. But then, there is this term of glass ceiling which is also applied in other socioeconomic fields that women can reach a certain degree of success in their working life. Then, there is a point where, for young filmmakers who are starting their careers, this glass ceiling is perhaps not yet visible, but will become very visible when they will want to fund their second or third feature or make a living out of filmmaking, which is also very difficult for male independent filmmakers, but even more so for women independent filmmakers. For example, I really follow the work of the “New Belgrade School” and I hope that its women filmmakers will not encounter these difficulties.
Who’s your female inspiration in the film industry?
G.B.: Actually, I come from a really theoretical approach to Cinema – theoretical, maybe even philosophical – and for me, someone who is inspiring, actually, is my professor. She’s a friend of mine now. She’s a feminist, a film theoretician, and film historian and philosopher. She wouldn’t say she’s a philosopher, but she has a very deconstructive vision of philosophy. Her name is Heidi Schlubmann and her writing on Film and thoughts on Film are my inspiration.
And, what is next for goEast?
G.B.: Don’t ask me that in the middle of the festival! There are always many ideas or kind of shortlists like topics we want to deal with, people we want to invite and these lists are quite long, so we haven’t decided yet. It’s too early… We decide on our program and topics in the early summer and to talk about a vision for the next three or five years is too long for this interview! But, we have ideas…
This interview was conducted at the 2017 goEast Film Festival.
Since then, Gaby Babić has stepped down from her position at Deutsches Filminstitut from October 2017. She was succeeded as festival director by Dutch film producer and curator Heleen Gerritsen, who took up her new appointment on October 1st.