Interview with Bettina Schoeller

Cecilia Johnson-Ferguson
Cecilia Johnson-Ferguson

Interview with director, producer, author and journalist Bettina Schoeller

German multi-talented director, producer, author and journalist Bettina Schoeller is not one to shy away from pointing out the many gender disparities that exist within Germanys film industry. Working as a director for television series, documentaries and feature films, she founded in 2006 the production company Depoetica, with the aim to unite artistic and experimental films with commercial usability. Bettina is also a member of the much talked Pro Quote Regiemovement, an Equal Opportunity Initiative in the film and television industry, which was initiated by over 200 directors in Germany . The aim of the initiative is a gender- equal representation from state film funding bodies and increasing the proportion of female directors on the German television program and at German film productions. Whats more Bettina published an acclaimed book in 2014 on women in the film industry called How Did You Do It? Notes from Women and Film?along with two DVDs with Short Films directed by German female directors of the last five decades.

What motivated you to join “Pro-Quote Regie” ?

Its a funny story actually. I started working on a book with co-author Claudia Lenssen called How Did You Do It? Notes from Women and Film(Wie haben Sie das gemacht? Aufzeichnungen zu Frauen und Filmen, 2014), within which we wanted to portray the existing reality for women in the German film industry throughout the beginning of the establishment of a new film culture after the second world war by starting film academies in the late 60ties throughout Germany. For this, we interviewed 81 women who worked and still continue to do so in film. Our main question was: What are the problems, and has anything changed in the past few decades? All of the women we interviewed mentioned similar problems: there are strong gender stereotypes against men and women which make it much harder for women to be taken seriously in their job. Several women actually hid their children from their producers, so they could do their films.

After the book was released, Pro Quote Regie approached me and asked whether I wanted to join them. Convinced that the problem of gender inequality in the film industry lies in its structures, I immediately said yes! It is not okay that passionate male directors are still largely seen as convincing geniuses, whereas their female counterparts are seen as incompetent hysterical nut-heads!

The important aspect of the “Pro Quote Regie” movement is to present the cold facts of inequality between men and women in the Film Industry in Germany. How did you gather all this information?

We had to start completely from scratch in order to gather the statistics that were missing. What we found was absolutely scandalous! In fact, although there has been a stable 42-45% of women graduating from German Film Schools since the past 10 years, only 12% of the broadcasted films are actually directed by women! The Pro Quote members and directors Esther Gronenborn and Verena Freytag from Bundesverband Regie, the german director’s board, began researching through the entire television program and cinema releases from 2010 to 2013, in order to find out how many of the broadcasted directors were men, and how many of them were women. The appealing results were published in the 1. BVR Diversity Report which was realized with means by FFA; SPIO, VG BildKunst and the BVR . It shows: in the very popular sector of television-thrillers, the percentage of female directors often lies at 0%! In the more traditionally viewed ones as the “feminine” sector of love-dramas, this percentage doesn’t exceed 14%. This is really low! Through the 1. BVR Diversity Report, which was published in October 2014, really wanted to the awareness around these cold facts regarding gender discrimination rose.

You say one of the main problems about unequal pay between men and women in the Film Industry is the lack of information about the situation. What initiatives has the “Pro-Quote Regie” movement taken to solve this problem?

One of the ways we act to raise awareness is by addressing the issue on a political level. Through our campaign, we have accomplished some pretty successful lobbying! Our demands have reached the German political scene, and have been adopted by important groups such as the Green party (Die Grünen) in November 2014. We have collaborated with all parties (except for the far-right party NPD) to address the question: how can we implement gender equality through politics? In order to reach this goal, we need to begin by adding an introductory paragraph about gender equality in the Film promotion Act.

During the Berlin Film Festival, the movement has managed to create awareness around discrimination against women in the Film Industry. What has been the outcome of this?

Indeed, another way for us to raise awareness has been to attend major events such as the Berlin Film Festival, and to organise panel discussions in order to address the issues publicly. The results have been very positive! Degeto, the subsidiary of ARD, one of Germany’s most important broadcasters, has actually decided to set a goal to improve the production of female-directed films. For the moment this goal is only at 20%, but it is a start! This decision is directly inspired from the Pro Quote Regie movement, which they proudly refer to. Another example is the announcement made by a production company to hire a female director: More than 100 female directors sent in their projects in response to this call! This is only more proof that we need laws in order to allow women to express themselves in the film industry.

What are the arguments of your opponents?

They are always the same. Our opponents are afraid the quality of the film industry will suffer from a compulsory quota. But the opposite is the fact: There is a whole network of men that are comfortably installed in the industry who will have to work harder to prove they are there for a reason! This is why we believe the quality can only benefit from a legal quota, since it will raise the level of competition.

What message do you have for young women debuting as film directors?

They have to know that the reasons for the difficulties they will come across do not necessarily lie in their lack of competence, but in the system itself! That is what I had to realise for myself. The problem truly appears when you reach your mid-thirties. You surely can be doing your first feature film and maybe also the second. But at this point, most of the women are somehow getting lost in the system because they are simply not supported anymore. That’s when you stop being supported as a beginner, and when the installed industry shows it’s real face. They look for new young talents. Young women directors shouldn’t be afraid to actively defend women’s rights, and request for their share of the market! Please believe us: That’ll be only different in your case, if we all together change the whole circumstances and the structure in which we are working in. We are definitely not less worthy than the other half of humanity.