Berlin’s Female Filmmakers Demand Funding Overhaul: ‘Without Money, We Can’t Do Anything’

Rebecca Davis

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While the process of moving towards full gender parity at festivals remains a slow slog, it’s time to put money where the movement’s mouth is and make other types of tangible steps towards lifting up women’s voices, said speakers at a panel on female filmmaking jointly hosted by Studio Babelsberg, Canada Goose and Variety, moderated by Variety international editor Manori Ravindran.

The continued underrepresentation of women despite initiatives like the renamed 50/50 for the Future movement — which launched as 50/50 by 2020 but missed that target — remains a structural problem, panelists said.

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“Without money, we can’t do anything. We can’t always expect people to be severely under-financed,” said Berlin-based Swedish director Carolina Hellsgard, who estimated that although women comprise half of Germany’s film school graduates, they end up making up less than 20% of its filmmakers.

“Funding in Germany is actually taxpayers’ money. I think it’s really essential to force this 50/50 gender split onto those funds; it should be basically illegal not to have that 50/50 split, to be honest,” she said.

Gabriela Bacher, a producer with Summerstorm Entertainment, urged a bit more forbearance with festivals and other systems adapting to the new post-#MeToo zeitgeist. “Sometimes I feel we have to have a little bit more patience; where should it all suddenly come from within just two years?”

But even when festivals might not yet be able to achieve parity among filmmakers, they should in the meantime consider steps like Sundance took this year to ensure that at least 50% of reviewers and critics were women. “It’s the female gaze, the female eye that we need and that will get us to parity,” she said.

Tangible progress has been made since the #MeToo movement burst onto the scene two years ago, panelists agreed.

In the TV sector, networks used to give men more opportunities because they favored directors who had an existing track record of creating content, but it’s now encouraged and seen as “absolutely normal” to champion women, said Doris Zander, producer with Bavaria Fiction. Hellsgard agreed that when it comes to film, “there’s a demand for female directors which maybe wasn’t there five years ago.”

But it’s still a far cry from true parity, even in countries where female filmmakers have an outsized visibility. “Georgia feels like it has a lot of female filmmakers, because their works go to festivals around the world. But then you look at the numbers and it’s still just 30%,” said producer Nino Chichua, who co-founded the Tbilisi-based 1991 Prods.

Esther Van Messel, CEO of First Hand Films, said that there should no longer be a hesitation that the work of female filmmakers is marginal. “Niche? Specialty? We’re 52% of the population. This is the mainstream.”

Streaming platforms, with their huge appetite for unique, engaging content that can give them a leg up over competitors, seemed to be the first to really embrace the commercial potential of this realization, serving up content like Netflix’s “Unbelievable” to critical acclaim. This has diversified not just the types of stories being told but also the ways they’re being presented.

“A film like ‘Wonder Woman’ may be female-driven but it’s very conventional storytelling — it’s just not a man, it’s a woman. But when you look now at series, there’s really a different way of storytelling” when it comes to female-driven content, said Bacher. “We can tell the stories from our perspective and our audience. That is one of the biggest freedoms now: the freedom to choose that point of view. I think that’s one of [the movement’s] biggest achievements.”

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