Berlinale 2018: The Year of the Woman

Adina Pintilie’s debut feature Touch Me Not, an experimental docudrama exploring sexual intimacy and the fears around it, won the Golden Bear and the Best First Feature Award on Saturday night, wonderfully wrapping up the 2018 Berlinale. This win makes Pintilie only the sixth woman to ever win the Golden Bear in the festival’s sixty-eight-year history. In a strong year for female filmmakers and women’s stories and one in which the #MeToo movement was ever so prominent with numerous topical films screened and a series of industry initiatives launched to combat sexual exploitation and discrimination, women proved to be the big winners. Indeed, so many women were on the stage of the Berlinale Palast stage that night! What an exhilarating moment was that! Malgorzata Szumowska won the Silver Bear – Grand Jury Prize for her film Mug (Twarz), Elena Okopnaya won the Silver Bear for Best Artistic Contribution for her work on Dovlatov by Alexey German Jr., Ines Moldovsky, the Golden Bear for Best Short Film for The Men Behind the Wall, Réka Busci the Audi Short Film Award for Solar Walk. Paraguay’s Ana Brun won the Silver Bear for Best Actress for her role in The Heiresses as a middle-aged lesbian whose partner has to go to prison for their spiraling debts and dedicated the award to the women of her country, “who are fighters” and Austria’s Ruth Beckermann claimed the Glashütte Original Documentary Award for The Waldheim Waltz about the scandal surrounding the Nazi past of former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, while the Compass-Perspektive Award went to Veronika Kaserer for Überall wo wir sind.

By no means does this historic success of female filmmakers at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival come as a surprise in the midst of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements where feminism, sexism, gender equality and the lack of opportunities for female filmmakers are being questioned and women are pushing for change. This is, most certainly, a testimony that change is indeed happening and we are watching female-driven and female-made cinematic content with more attention than ever before. Not only are women heads of some of the most important sidebar sections of the festival (Linda Söffker for “Perspektive Deutsches Kino”, Paz Lázaro for “Panorama”, Maryanne Redpath for “Generation”, Maike Mia Höhne for “Berlinale Shorts”), but the Berlinale has also offered this year more than a hundred and ten films by women, four vying for the Golden Bear in the Official Competition (contrary, for instance, to the Cannes Film Festival where there were years with no films made by women in the Competition), thus emphasizing its commitment to the championing of women in the film industry. As a matter of fact, the Berlinale issued a press release nine days before its start, announcing it stood with the #MeToo movement, stating it is firmly committed to the struggle for sexual self-determination and against any and all forms of abuse. In its words, the Berlinale sees itself as a forum where problems can be heard and impulses can be initiated, and welcomed the various events that are intended to contribute to concrete change.

To that effect, many panels were organized:

  • Eurimages Berlinale Panel: New Council of Europe Recommendation on Gender Equality in the Audiovisual Sector – A Roadmap for Change during which the project manager of Eurimages, Francine Raveney, along with the Austrian award-winning director Barbara Albert; the Spanish award-winning director Isabel Coixet; the CEO of the Swedish Film Institute Anna Serner; Catherine Trautmann, the President of Eurimages; Iris Zappe-Heller, the Deputy Director of the Austrian Film Fund and Chair of the Eurimages Gender Equality Working Group; Prof. Dr. Elizabeth Prommer; Brigitte Rollet, gender equality researcher and author of Femmes et cinéma, sois belle et tais-toi!, and Prof. Dr. Skadi Loist, discussed the Council of Europe’s recommendation that has been adopted by more than forty countries in Europe, its international ambition and link to the United Nations, as well as the current situation of female filmmakers in Europe.
  • Culture Wants Change – A Conversation on Sexual Harassment in Film, Television and Theatre during which representatives from the worlds of Cinema and Television discussed what measures can be implemented to prevent sexual attacks or misconduct and improve the situation of those affected.
  • Closing the Gap. A Seminar with Creatives and Financiers on How to Take Action Towards 50/50 by 2020. In the scope of this seminar, Daniela Elstner, CEO of Doc & Film International, presented the initiative “Speak Up!” and read her manifesto together with other initiators. “Speak up!” aims to encourage those affected by sexual harassment in the film industry to raise their voices. This panel was hosted by the Swedish Film Institute, Women in Film and Television (WIFT) Germany, WIFT Nordic, German Federal Film Board (FFA).
  • Empowering Women Film Producers – The Producers Program for Women, a case study of an exceptional and successful initiative by the Austrian Film Institute in which women film producers are actively encouraged and supported through a mentoring program.
  • Towards an Inclusive and Equal Work Environment – New Perspectives for Women and Parents in the Film Industry. In the wake of a (hopefully) permanently changed perception of women (in the film industry), this theme talk with Hope Dickson Leach of Raising Films, Jonas Dornbach of Komplizen Film, and Alessia Sonaglioni of EWA – European Audiovisual Women’s Network, tackled issues such as how our system’s lack of accountability and hostile work environments often exclude mothers and other careers. Gender imbalance only gets worse when motherhood comes into play. Why is it so difficult to have a sustainable career in our industry and take care of children? They talked about ways toward a more inclusive hiring policy and a more considerate work environment.
  • We Want More Diversity and Visibility – 6th discussion on the status of women in the film business and gender equality at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, organized by the Dortmund|Cologne International Women’s Film Festival in cooperation with the International Women’s Film Festival Network. For greater diversity in the areas of gender, race, age, sexual orientation and disability. How to stop the ongoing and significant underrepresentation in the film industry? Recognize and acknowledge the quality and value of difference. Join the discussion.

Finally, the Berlinale also called attention to the presence of ProQuote Film at this year’s edition. According to its press release, achieving equality for women in the film industry will lead with certainty to a comprehensive shift in the perception of sexism, abuses of power and the determination of gender roles and therefore to changes in behavior as well.

Going back to the women of the Berlinale, it is also important to mention that the festival honored one of its own this year: Beki Probst, the “grande dame of the film world”. Under her direction, the European Film Market – EFM has developed into one of the largest and most important trade fairs for Cinema on the international scene. Greeted by a drum roll, a cascade of blue balloons and huge applause, Beki Probst was awarded the Berlinale Camera at an emotional ceremony.

Other women were also given the spotlight during various accompanying events such as for instance the Berlinale Talents with a lecture titled “Technically a Woman: Cinematographers Speak Out” given by two of the world’s most renowned camerawomen, France’s Agnès Godard and American DoP Nancy Schreiber, the first and only woman thus far to receive the President’s Award from the American Society of Cinematographers in 2017, who shared and discussed with the audience their vision of a future where more women make up the “technical crew”.  As a matter of fact, there have been 128 women selected for the workshop across all fields of the industry. Many, such as the Brazilian producer Marcella Jacques (whose films are about women in precarious conditions) and the German director Leonie Krippendorff (who addresses gender aspects and the vulnerability of the body), among many others, voiced their concerns on gender equality as stated in the Berlinale Talents press release.

At the Berlinale Co-Production Market, two out of three prestigious monetary prizes (both the Eurimage Co-Production Development Award and the Arte International Prize) have been awarded to Hagar Ben Asher’s The War Has Ended, a co-production between Poland, Germany and Israel. Out of the twenty-one projects presented at the Co-Production Market this year, nine are by women, including those by Franka Potente, Aisling Walsh, Louise Archambault or Sepideh Farsi.

Moreover, according to the trade dailies distributed at the festival, the European Film Market has also been buzzing about women in the film industry. In fact, as The Hollywood Reporter related, South Korea embraces the #MeToo movement. After a number of high-profile cases of sexual misconduct, Korea’s entertainment sector is launching multiple initiatives to address the issue head-on. In fact, an increasing number of directors are arranging for crew members to take part in anti-sexual abuse workshops. The Korean Film Council is currently funding such workshops on film production sites and has plans to open a center this year offering educational programs and hotlines for victims. A committee for preventing sexual violence has been launched by the Directors Guild of Korea and some of its members are collaborating with the Korean Film Council in order to produce guidelines.

Variety reported that “women producers make a splash” in Brazil, a country that accounted for eight films in the festival’s various sections, all of which have female producers. Three coinciding factors, according to Variety, may have to do with this splash: decisive government backing, international co-production outreach and the consolidation of new cosmopolitan women-led producer generation. Furthermore, a recent Ancine study suggested that women produced most Brazilian films released in Brazil either alone (36,9%) or with men (26,2%). There is also some evidence that Brazil’s Berlin presence and international co-production and women producer surges may be connected, as these female producers understand the importance of cinema and cinema’s importance as a social tool. In fact, one very accurate illustration of this emergence is the presence of Brazilian women producers in the Berlinale Talents program, where fifteen out of the thirty-one selected Brazilian producers for the workshop were female.

Variety also wrote that after Spain’s economic crisis generated tremendous cuts in funding, Spanish Cinema has begun to bounce back in the past two years, an important part of its new vitality hailing from a generation of women filmmakers. Recent prizes and their presence in Berlin testify to that effect. Carla Simón’s Summer 1993 won the Best First feature and Grand Prix of the “Generation Kplus” section at last year’s edition of the festival. This year, Meritxell Colell’s Facing the Wind screened in the “Forum” sidebar while director/screenwriter Clara Roquet presented her projected debut, Libertad, at the Berlinale Talents. Celia Rico, Pilar Palomero, Alice Waddington, Belén Funes and Lucía Alemany all have debuts that were presented at the EFM. Moreover, more than half of the auteur films and debuts – about fifteen features – are directed by women, nearly all from a new generation of filmmakers. Catalonia is also co-producing films by young women from other parts of Spain like for example, 30 Souls by Diana Toucedo from Galicia. Not only did her film The Bookshop screen in the “Berlinale Special” section, but Isabel Coixet also co-produces young women directors such as Elena Trapé and her film Distances as well as two short films by Belén Funes. Furthermore, in its fight against gender inequality, the ICEC has allocated extra funds under its Audiovisual Strategic Program for 2017-20 to productions led by women.

One of the most interesting stories at this year’s EFM is that of SWIFT (Sisters Working in Film & TV), a delegation of about twenty women from South Africa who came to the EFM to present their new organization, their campaign against gender inequality and their respective works. The campaign will include an industry-wide code of conduct that has already garnered the support of government institutions, trade groups and broadcasters, as well as a series of PSAs created around the hashtag #ThatsNotOk, that will highlight instances of unacceptable workplace behavior. The campaign extends the findings of a comprehensive study conducted by the group last year. The latter found that two-thirds of women working in the South African film and TV industries have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. In a country that suffers from one of the world’s highest rates of violence against women, the initiative is aimed at providing a legal framework to both identify and combat workplace harassment incidents.

Last but not least, the need for change was also noted in Television as female-forward series led the charge at the festival. Many international studios and production companies used the opportunity at Berlinale’s Drama Series Days to debut projects that put female characters front and center in the narrative and whose programming included the Australian cult classic Picnic at Hanging Rock, the Israeli Sleeping Bears, Germany’s Bad Banks and the Norwegian Heimebane. Many of these series tackle political and societal turbulences in various ways specific to their country of origin, but a powerful and complex female heroine at the center of the story is what they all have in common.

Ever the political film festival, the Berlinale caught the wave of change once again, championing more fervently than ever before female-driven art, continuing its fight for gender equality by celebrating women in different ways, and across all fields of the film industry. Has it set an example? Was it merely a symptom of a one-time thing? What will happen in the near future? Only time and Cannes will tell…

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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