Born in 1983, Nora Fingscheidt grew up in Braunschweig, Germany and in Argentina. In 2003, she became involved as a board member in setting up the self-organised filmArche film school in Berlin. She also trained as an acting coach and was a directing intern. In 2008, she started her studies in directing at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. Her student film “Synkope” was nominated for a German Short Film Award. In 2012, she participated in the Berlinale Talents and in an exchange with UCLA in Los Angeles. Her short documentary “Boulevard’s End” screened at over forty international film festivals and “Ohne diese Welt” is her graduation film. In 2017, she was awarded the Kompagnon Fellowship that was established by Berlinale Talents and Perspektive Deutsches Kino to support two Germany-based directors or screenwriters in their artistic and professional development after her screenplay for “System Crasher” was selected for the Script Station in 2017. Two years later, her debut feature film – that same “System Crasher” – was screened in Competition at this year’s Berlinale and won the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize for a feature film that opens new perspectives.
Tara Karajica caught up with her at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival and quizzed her about her Competition entry “System Crasher” and women in film.
How did the story of Benni and the system crasher come about?
Nora Fingscheidt: It was the story that came to me; I didn’t look for it. I always wanted to make a film about a wild, angry girl, but I didn’t have the story idea. Then, I made a documentary about a shelter home for homeless women and one day, a fourteen-year-old girl moved in and because this was a home for homeless women, I thought: “What the hell is a fourteen-year-old doing here?” When I asked, the social worker said: “It’s a system crasher. They always move in on their fourteenth birthday and then we can take them in.” That was the first time I had heard this term and I wondered what a system crasher was. I started researching and I found it so interesting and fascinating.
You have just mentioned that you have always wanted to make a story about a wild, angry girl. Why?
N.F.: I think I was quite the wild girl. I had a lot of energy and I sometimes felt like people were annoyed by it, but my parents could handle it. I would always play more with boys than with girls and I wasn’t this kind of pretty little girl at all. When I see films, sometimes the girls are so cute and quiet and they’re often very telegenic and they look and observe and that’s very touching… That’s all fine with me, but I always miss something, like an aggressive energy coming from little girls. There is – maybe not too often – but there is… Girls can also scream and fight!
At the press conference, Benni’s joyful destructiveness and energy were discussed. Can you say something more about it?
N.F.: Some people are introverts and others are extroverts, so some people, when they get angry, they just don’t talk anymore or they cry, but others start screaming and when you’re one of the screamers, it releases a lot of the tension. So maybe, that’s also part of it; it releases something… And, of course, during the shooting, I think that Helena had fun playing this sometimes because you can just let go, you don’t have to behave like society always wants you to; you can say all the bad words and you’re just playing.
How did you find Benni? What was the casting process like? What did she have that attracted you to her?
N.F.: We started with the casting a year before the shooting and she was girl number seven. It was incredible! I thought that I had been writing the script for so many years and that I would never find a girl who could play the role or have parents who would say yes to it. So, suddenly, along came girl number seven and I thought I was going to do more casting and I cast one hundred fifty girls on the streets, in schools, in sports clubs… I never thought it would be a blonde girl playing this aggressive Benni, but the more girls I met, the more I always thought about her because she could play this aggressiveness with a layer of vulnerability, desperation and not only mere anger. There was always this existential desperation within her when she played Benni. And she has a lot of presence when you watch her in quiet moments, so this range she has from loud to funny to quiet… I found it extraordinary.
Can you talk about the mother and her relationship with Benni from a female point of view?
N.F.: I’m a mother myself – I have an eight-year-old son. During research, I was shocked by the stories I heard of the children in the institutions and I hated the parents. But the more research I did and met some parents, I found that it’s not that easy, that you cannot just blame them and say they are bad mothers. Often, they want to do their best for their child, but maybe because of their own history, they can’t. So when I tried to understand this, I thought I have to tell a story about a failing mother. She is failing as a mother but she still loves her daughter and this is what touches me so much. I was really afraid of casting that role similarly, in a way, to the role of Benni because I thought: “Who can play this mother who is weak, not stable at all and cannot give any stability to her daughter, but loves her so much at the same time?” And I was very lucky with Lisa Hagmeister. I think it’s amazing what she does with the role.
Can you talk about the term “System Crasher”? How did it become the title of the film?
N.F.: As I told you before, I heard this term for the first time six years ago, so it was the title from that moment on. Many people had said: “Yes, but it sounds a little bit like a hacker movie or like an anti-globalization demonstration movie” so I always said: “Whoever comes up with a better title, let’s think about it,” but I didn’t have one. For me, it was a very strong title and nobody came up with a serious idea, so it just stayed that way. And as far as the term is concerned, it is not an official term because it doesn’t really get the point. It’s not the child who breaks a good and stable system. It’s like a process of different ways of failing, of little systems that come to this point where a child is put in so many institutions that the only constant thing in the life of this child is change.
In that sense, do you think your film will change minds, stir things up, instigate a change in the system and raise questions?
N.F.: Let’s see… I hope it raises a bit the discussion of violent children because people like to just expel violent children on the basis of: “This child is beating everyone up, let’s throw him or her out of the class.” I think children are not violent without a reason. If a child is really violent, then it’s cry for help; it’s like showing something is not in order in their life at home or at school, so I want to raise awareness about children’s violence.
What is your stand on the situation of and conversation about women in film?
N.F.: I belong to a lucky generation because I wanted to be a director from a very early age and nobody has ever said: “Oh, but you’re a girl, you can’t do it!” And this is thanks to the generation before mine who fought this heavy fight. Sometimes, I read articles with female directors who say: “You know, I had to start as an actress because it was unimaginable for a woman to direct a film” and I am shocked because it has always been normal for me. I think a lot of things are changing already, maybe it takes more time to see it, but I think it’s very good that the discussion is going on. For me, personally, it was never a discrimination.
I must say that it’s really hard to be a director and a mother because the film needs 100% of you and your child needs 100% of you. If you make films and have children, you always have the feeling that you’re not good enough for either or for both things at the same time and you really need a network of support. I have my parents, my parents in law, my sister… You need people who love your child and who can help you so you have free time to make a film because it’s not a 9 to 5 job.
Also, for my boyfriend, the father of my son, it’s not easy for him; it’s not easy for a man to be at home for half a year because they are raised like they have to be strong and earn money and, suddenly, your woman goes away to work and make a film and you’re sitting there or taking your child to school… You really have to have a strong partner who’s able to play this role because it’s an easy thing to demand, but it’s an inner struggle. I think things are changing towards this and I know young fathers who take time off and stay at home three or five months. But still, expecting a woman to be a successful filmmaker and a good mother is almost not manageable and it’s exhausting!
This interview was conducted at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival.
Photo credits: © Berlinale