Interview with Isabell Šuba

Sophie Charlotte Rieger
Sophie Charlotte Rieger

Into the Wild - Isabell Šuba preps female students for the film industry

Interview written by Sophie Charlotte Rieger, translated into English by Cecilia Johnson-Ferguson

Film director Isabell Šuba, acclaimed for her feminist mockumentary « Men show movies and women their breasts » („Männer zeigen Filme und Frauen ihre Brüste“) and about to release her second feature film « Hanni & Nanni » in theaters, has worked intensively on the questions of gender equality in the film industry for many years. With « Into the Wild », she has now launched a mentoring program that preps female students for the start in the film business. Missy-Author and FILMLÖWIN Sopie Charlotte Rieger had a chat with her about this innovative project.

What gave you the idea to set up « Into the Wild » ?

It all began two years ago, during the 2015 Berlin Film Festival. I was invited to the film school reception and everyone kept going on about women in the industry. I just thought to myself « I’ve had enough of the talking. Something has to change. We need a program for young women directors within the film schools that raises awareness on gender issues. » And suddenly there were 10 of us discussing this program, and if it made any sense, until eventually Susanne Stürmer, the President of the HFF, who was sceptic at first, became the strongest advocate and said « Let’s do this Suba ».

Well this sound like forcing already open doors.

No, these people also needed to be convinced. I spent two years in total working on this project. I kept on inquiring, following up, re-convincing… And it took me a year to convince all Film Schools to participate. Hamburg is the only film school not participating in the project.

Which role does gender equality play in film schools today?

On the higher spheres it is a quite present topic. However, between the highest sphere, that I am in contact with, and the students, there are many steps. I have the feeling that the female students only have very few confrontations with the subject. This is because university is something of a utopia. I myself never had the feeling during my studies that the boys had a particular advantage. Universities already has an equality clause in their regulations. The free market doesn’t. This is why students who graduate from university believe their professional life will stay as rosy. But that just isn’t the way it is.

You mentioned earlier you wanted to « raise awareness » on gender issues. What does that mean for you ?

Isabell: It is important to be aware of the content: what story am I telling? What stories have already been told? Where do I stand on the horizontal timeline of women’s movements? Up to raising awareness on : how do you communicate with male-teams? How do you communicate with women-teams? How do I feel as a woman in a man-dominated business? How do I build networks? This is a complex and broad thematic scope, which can be looked at through gender-awareness glasses.

How does the program work?

Isabell: It starts with a 14 day writer’s residency with the women authors and me. This already stimulates many intense discussions, and is sufficient to send the participants out there, that they open their eyes, read and inform themselves about the topic, go to events and witness the matter. In a second step, there are workshops in Potsdam, Cologne and Munich with pitching sessions, workshops for self-organisation, networking, exercises on body language, etc.

Why do you only do this for women ?

Because the numbers that are being released at the moment show very clearly there is an unbalanced situation. Numbers such as: 90% of the grants from public funds go to men, 85% of television contracts go to men, only 17% of European films are made by women.

Why are you convinced that film schools are the right place to act on this unbalanced situation?

At some point you have to ask yourself: what can you do, to make a change? Now I can’t change all the editorial staffs, and I can’t tell producers, male and female, to choose more projects led by women. What I could do, was to create from my experience a program, that I would have wished to have for myself. Of course this program won’t change the whole societal picture. It is not that simple: we can’t simply adjust a screw and expect everything to change. No, it is far too complex, or things would have changed a long time ago already.

Isn’t it also important to raise awareness on gender issues among men?

Yes, absolutely. I believe this should eventually be a module that can be followed by all students. Because it is impossible to think past it nowadays. And it goes much further than that, if you look at people of color, people with disabilities, and so on. I can’t take care of it all at once. Just because I am doing something for women, doesn’t mean I exclude men. I start at a point at which I can say with enough confidence: I have gone through this experience and I can help others with it. And if next year some men want to participate, we will see how it goes.

You just mentioned other « isms »: racism, dispositions. What about classicism? Is making films only for kids with rich parents ?

I really don’t believe so, especially nowadays, since technology has become so accessible, everyone can manage to have a camera. You can even create your first film with a mobile phone and apply to film schools with it. But I believe that at film schools, often similar people are selected from certain areas. At my college there were few people of color for example. And there were also fewer people who received Bafög (German scholarship for students) than those who received 700-1000 euros every month from their parents. In general, if you look at the movies that are released, they often talk about certain people or reflect the perspective of certain backgrounds.

In the press release of "Into the Wild" you write "Maren Ade is only the beginning". What does that mean for you?

I believe that what Maren Ade has done now, and what Caroline Link has always done with her films, is to make films that work for the whole society and which are not labeled as women’s films. This is because their characters have a theme, which a lot of men and women can identify with. And that is my vision: women make films that are also universal.

So it’s not about women talking for women, but about other perspectives being involved?

Yes absolutely. There are these eternal « women topics ». One should be aware of this: What are new women’s roles and how can I really adapt my own life without repeating what I myself have seen in films or in the media or in books? That is also what the « Into the Wild » project is about: Do I want to see the 100,000th film about an aborted pregnancy, or a rape, or an eating disorder, or the « Am I beautiful » discourse?

So it is about women’s figures and their stories?

It is about how I tell the stories of characters who stand for something general, and who reflect a feeling that goes beyond their gender.

Have you gathered all the elements you need now? What are you still missing?

What I need in any case is expertise. So if people now feel they want to get involved, and say "I can give an impulse speech", then please, get in touch with us! Especially on the subject of self-organization. Or if a fund wants to get involved: money can always be used.

How did you come up with the name?

That just came to me. Because I find it somehow funny, that you are trained for five years, graduating from film schools highly qualified for this business and then, as a woman, you only have insanely little chances to survive. And then it was clear to me: If you want to survive, you have to get your machete out and dive into the jungle. Into the Wild.


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(Picture copyright : Barrierestudio)