The film industry is woefully backward when it comes to gender equality. According to a survey carried out by The New York Film Academy in 2013, there is a shocking ratio of 5:1 of men working on films to women. This underrepresentation is manifest in the way that females are portrayed on-screen: only 10.7 % of films from the past 5 years had a balanced cast where half of the characters are women. However, with the emergence of strong female leads like Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) and the first-ever female director winning an Academy Award in 2010, it may be that that things are changing for the better. Ottilie Wilford from the Berlin Film Journal spoke to Karin Fornander, founder of the first ever Berlin Feminist Film Week to discuss putting on her festival and what the future holds for female filmmakers.
Firstly, I’d like to ask what triggered your decision to put on the Berlin Feminist Film Week?
I have always been interested in feminism and gender issues and wanted to step in as a guest programmer at Mobile Kino presenting a number of feminist shorts I really like. When we then starting looking into the topic we realized that the lack of female representation, in front and behind the camera, in cinemas and festivals is huge. There are plenty of really talented women out there who do not get to show their work due to patriarchal structures in the film industry and the misbelief that movies by and about women is a niche only for other women. That’s a shame, so I am happy to be able to bring some great work to Germany via this festival and I hope movies like these will be able to challenge the stereotypical image of women in films.
How did you go about selecting the films,was there a particular criteria that they needed to adhere to in order to fit into the ethos of the festival?
This year I have concentrated on female filmmakers, mostly to try and bridge the above mentioned gap between male and female filmmakers. Most festivals have a very high ratio of male filmmakers, so I didn’t think they deserved any more attention by me as well this year. Secondly, the films chosen should be about women and avoid gender clichés. Preferably also have female leads and these should be complex, diverse and interesting.
Have you found there has been any negative response to what you are doing?
I have had mostly very positive reactions from everyone involved, which is amazing. I was not sure I expected it. I had a few negative reactions, but nothing major. A few of our posters got ripped down repeatedly in Neukölln and a couple of people have questioned why this isn’t a women’s film festival. This only confirms the need to addressing feminism. But all in all, mostly positive.
Would you say that gender equality in the film industry is behind in comparison to other areas of the arts?
I think all industries struggle with similar issues, however in mainstream cinema the numbers are very depressing. Only one woman and one non-white male has ever won an Oscar for Best Director, in the top hundred Hollywood-movies there are very few women in leading roles and most film critics seem to be men. I do think the film industry has a far way to go, but it differs a lot between different genres. Within indie films, the numbers look a lot better and the discussion about women and film seem to take off.
What are you thoughts on the women represented at this year’s Academy Awards?
So obviously no women were nominated for Best Director, again, but Steve McQueen was a worthy winner. I watched Blue Jasmine just recently, and I thought Cate Blanchett did an amazing job. She is a very good actress and her character was important for the story. However, if we look at the amount of time her character spent talking about her husband, I am not sure it would have passed the Bechdel-test… Gravity is another good example of a movie with a strong female character which certainly did make a lot of money and proves that movies with female leads can be extremely profitable. Sandra Bullock’s character in comparison to George Clooney certainly has some flaws though.
It can be discussed how important the Oscars really are in terms of art, however it does affect which movies will make it into cinema and to the audience.
Do you think the future is bright for female filmmakers?
I do think so. Like I said, there are plenty of great female filmmakers and more and more women in the film industry are starting to speak up for their rights. The Bechdel Test has been around for about 28 years now and finally starting to be discussed. However, it takes time to change structures and discourses so I think events like this festival are still crucial. In an ideal world, race and gender should never get in the way of success. But we all now how reality looks like. However, I am hopeful and think things are really starting to move now. The more awareness this topic will raise, the better.
Berlin Feminist Film Week will take place from the 8th-13th March. More details about the festival can be found on the website here.