Women’s Victory in Berlinale

in 67th Berlin International Film Festival

by Alin Tasciyan

The 67th Berlin International Film Festival can be considered a victory for women in the film industry. If other festivals follow Berlinale in making an egalitarian programming, it may become a decisive step towards gender equality in cinema. Although films directe by women were still quantitatively underrepresented outside the Generation sections, women showed the high level of their creativity by winning the majority of the awards (the full list of these awards can be found at the bottom of the article). Members of ten different juries, composed for different purposes, reached an improvised consensus on women’s films, thus making Berlinale 2017 an unusually glorious festival for the second sex. (*)

Surveys conducted in Europe and America show that women’s contribution in the film industry is under 20 percent, regardless of their positions. Women have less opportunities to make films and present them. In Berlinale 2017, 5 out of 23 films selected for the Wettbewerb section, and 4 out of 18 in the main competition, were directed by women. Although consisting less than a quarter of the films, these numbers are still unusually positive for a major film festival.

The quality and content of the films awarded in Berlin are inspiring. Almost all the winners are also activists in the inseparable women, LGBTI and human rights movements, in one way or another. Agnieszka Holland and Sally Potter are already established as feminist directors – even though feminism itself is not the focus of their versatile filmographies. Their new films Spoor and The Party, however, are feminist through and through. The challenging feminist aesthetics of Holland and her revolt against patriarchal norms appear invigorated with anarchism and ecology in Spoor, the best example of consciousness raising feminist art in the 67th Berlinale program. In this adaptation of Olga Tokarczuk’s novel, Holland reverses the cliches of genres. She creates a fairytale in which the old witch is the heroine, a murder mystery in which the amateur detective who resembls Miss Marple is the main suspect, and a militant environmentalist film in which the activist hunts the hunters. The priest, the mayor, the police chief and the local gangster – the holy alliance of dominant males – are the villains of the film. Meanwhile, Sally Potter doesn’t spare incisive criticism from the women in power in The Party – a satire of the pre-Brexit atmosphere in Britain.

Ildiko Enyedi and Tereza Villaverde’s technically and aesthetically admired films were subjects to feminist essays already at the beginning of their careers. With On Body and Soul and Colo, they stand against social conventions by depicting characters courageously going through major changes in their lives. Annekatrin Hendel, who won the newly composed Heiner Carow Prize of DEFA with her film Five Stars, is an activist, documentarist and experimental filmmaker who goes against the current. In Five Stars she checks in a five star hotel with her old friend and opens up their lives to the audience with integrity, demonstrating a personal approach to filmmaking with very little budget.

It wouldn’t be a speculation to argue that it is their engagement that urged them to tell certain stories and seek the appropriate language to tell them. The particular combinations of politics and aesthetics in each woman’s film must have impressed the members of ten different juries who decided to award them. This situation proves that if given the chance to fulfill their potential, women could contribute more efficiently in cinema. As Silvia Bovenschen mentions: “Feminism creates new ways of thinking, new meanings and new categories of critical reflection; it is not merely an extension of old concepts to new domains”. (**)

2017 is already an embarrassingly late date to end male – domination in cinema, but discrimination and segregation continues. Lack of awareness to sexism in film and indifference towards promoting equality in cinema is at an alarming level. Gender equality is about ensuring that women have equal opportunities to realize the full potential of their education, talents and creativity and believing that they shouldn’t be treated less favorably because of their sex. Historically women have experienced severe discrimination resulting in underrepresentation in every aspect of life… Although cinema is an art form that flourished in the 20th century it also did not treat women fairly, and provoked their sexual objectification. Currently all the statistics in the EU and USA prove that women’s existence and visibility in the film industry is very low and their representation is very problematic from various aspects.

Gender discrimination has deprived women of their rights to have equal chance, equal share and equal pay in film industry. This inequality has not yet been fully recognized by a great majority of film institutions such as funds and festivals. Lack of anti- discrimination policies, procedures and processes in the film industry preclude the gender diversity and a fair representation of all sexes. Prejudiced approach, underestimating attitude and supercilious tone towards women’s films in media is merely a collateral damage.

Silvia Bovenschen’s words could help the funders, programmers and media to understand the nature of feminist art and see beyond its inevitable dilemmas: “In their search for new methods and media, even where that is undertaken reluctantly, feminist artists nevertheless challenge the tradition of the mainstream. In this respect, feminist art blurs the distinctions between art and criticism, between art and politics, and between theory and practice. The production of such art is at once a theoretical statement and a confrontational act, literally an intervention in the socially produced gender system. It calls attention to that system, displays it in detail and renders it intelligible. Feminist art is thus a means to consciousness raising”.

Award winning women in Berlinale 2017

Ildiko Enyedi won the Golden Bear, FIPRESCI, Ecumenical Jury and Berliner Morgenpost Readers Jury prizes with On Body and Soul…

Agniezska Holland won the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize with Spoor…

Sally Potter won the Guild Film Prize with The Party…

Carla Simon won the GWFF Best First Feature Award and the Grand Prix of the Generation K Plus International Jury with Summer 1993…

Altogether 16 awards (two ex-aequo) and mentions at the Generation section went to 11 film directed by women (three of them with male co-directors).

FIPRESCI Prizes went to Julia Murat with Pendular in the Panorama and to Mary Jirmanus Saba with A Feeling Greater Than Love in the Forum.

Women’s films also dominated the Teddy Awards: Best Documentary/Essay Film for Small Talk by Hui-chen Huang, Best Short Film for My Gay Sister by Lia Hietala, and a Special Jury Award for Close – Knit by Naoko Ogigami.

Lissette Orozco won the Peace Film Prize with Adriana’s Pact…

Annekatrin Hendel won the Heiner Carow Prize with Five Stars…

Four of the seven development awards went to projects by women directors.


Edited by Yael Shuv

* Le deuxième sexe by Simone de Beauvoir. First published by Gallimard,(1949)

* *Is There a Feminist Aesthetic? by Silvia Bovenshcen. First published inGerman in Aesthetik und Kommunikation,25 (September1976)