Women making film is a radical act

Large Turn-out for the "Get NetWorked Up" Symposium about Women in the Film Industry and Their Networks at the Berlin International Film Festival 2015.

Just three of the 23 films at this year’s film competition in Berlin were made by women film directors, that’s 13%. Speaking in his opening address at the "Get NetWorked Up" event on 12 February 2015, Dr Ralf Kleindiek – State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth – was not alone in emphasising how outrageously low that statistic is. About 200 women film-makers, producers and networkers attended the symposium, a joint venture of the Dortmund | Cologne International Women’s Film Festival and the New York Athena Film Festival.

In her welcome speech, Silke J. Räbiger, Director of the Dortmund | Cologne Women’s Film Festival, pointed out that commitment to gender equality was not new. Initial approaches had already been made in the 1980s. Currently, the main concern of network members was to learn from one another how to pull together as well as discuss actual steps as to how the objectives can best be achieved. What the networks, associations and initiatives all have in common, she added, was a strong desire not to stand by and simply watch contracts, money, reputation and careers leave women behind.

Anna Serner, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, reported on the equality contract introduced in 2012, considered now by many countries to be a model worth emulating. 

Thanks to the Film Agreement between government, parliament, film producers and television broadcasters, 50% of any film promotion budget must, by the end of 2015, be awarded to women in the fields of direction, screenplay or production. Preliminary results are positive, as the figures testify. However, they also indicate that this development still requires much effort. She also emphasised that any declaration of the will to change must come from the top: "It’s essential that the head of organisation shows that everyone involved really wants to make this come true."

Women make great films
The women film-makers who gave statements for the video Women Make Great Films also described their anger and frequent experiences of discrimination. It was film-director Jasmila Žbanićwho initiated and prepared the video (designed as a work-in-progress) for the event. In the polemic words of film-director Jennifer Reeder: "I am a film-maker and I have a vagina. This is a big problem for a lot of people in the film industry." The desire for change and a strong community is clearer than ever and there is no doubting the fact that "women make great films."

"Women making film is a radical act". With this quote from film-director Ava DuVernay (“Selma”), the symposium chair Melissa Silverstein (Athena Film Festival / Women and Hollywood) then opened the discussion to the various representatives from international women’s film networks.

Writer and film-director Esther Gronenborn, representing Pro Quota Film Direction, was first off. This association, which now consists of more than 250 German women film directors, is committed to the eponymous quota – i.e. to an equal share of film funding. Everyone was shocked by the statistics recently published by The German Federal Association of Film & TV Directors, Ms Gronenborn explained. Yet even though producers, TV managers and film promoters in Germany are all very understanding, they invariably pass responsibility on to each other – in a vicious circle. A media state contract with an equality clause and government support as in Sweden is the stated goal of Pro Quota Film Direction.

Kate Brown from EWA – European Women Audiovisual Network compared the film business with the Rocky Mountains. While men pave the way with all the appropriate gear, women are equipped with high heels and bags full of stones. So if diversity is to be ensured, policies aimed at true equality between women and men in all positions across the industry are long overdue. EWA provides such professional development opportunities in the form of workshops and online courses for its members. An even wider reach via networking is currently a main aim.

Film-director Beryl Richards, Vice Chair at Directors UK – an association with over 5,000 film-director members – explained the situation in Britain. There too, there is an alarming gender imbalance in the film and television world, not to mention the stereotyped roles affecting both men and women. Figures supplied by an equality campaign for film and TV revealed that women are represented in the independent sector by only 18 per cent … and then only in the low-budget range.

Tamara Dawit was on hand to represent Film Fatales, a new network for women film directors in the US. Regular meetings provide contact partners to discuss issues with and/or share information with like-minded people.

Get out of the isolation!

All in all, the feeling of togetherness evinced was also tangible in the subsequent discussions between panel and audience: Together, an awareness of the problem has been created. Together, pressure can be exerted on the pressure on the institutions responsible. "Free the spirits," as Melissa Silverstein aptly put it. New structures in which women find role models are needed, which is precisely what networks such as Film Fatales, EWA and Pro Quota are all about: women film-makers sharing their knowledge and experience, working together and supporting each other. And last but not least, more women must become active in the crucial institutions.

Let’s dream a little

There is perhaps still a lack of confidence in the visions and stories as narrated by women. Stories important enough to be told and reflect a facet of society. Change will only happen if women film-makers have the chance to get the same financial support as their male colleagues. Change will only happen when those responsible recognize that women’s work is lucrative and if the government intervenes with legislation. The goal must be a 50% quota in TV and film. "How crazy is this: a dream to be equal", asked Melissa Silverstein. Which is why it is important that women also be trained in business matters. When vital resources are at stake, "you need 95% business and 5% art in order to succeed", said Tamara Dawit.

Amma Asante was the last speaker. The film-director and Bafta-winning actress (“Belle”) spoke impressively of her career, of the obstacles that she repeatedly came up against as a dark-skinned woman and her fight for the greater visibility of a minority in the film industry. But she also stressed the strength that she gathered from the community: "I belong to a community that is women." And finally, she encouraged all present to Be a warrior queen!

The organisers, the Dortmund | Cologne International Women’s Film Festival and the New York Athena Film Festival – themselves members of the International Women Film Festival Networks (IWFFN) – are now calling for a similar event to be held at the Cannes Film Festival which, over the years, has made a poor name for itself due to the extremely low proportion of women in its selection of films.

You can download here the press release.

Printable Photos (c) Birgit Kleber

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Contact and info: Stefanie Görtz,; +49 231 502 5162