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WOMEN

Berlin film fest rolls out red carpet for women trailblazers

Europe's first major film festival of the year, the Berlinale, kicked off Thursday making a statement against entertainment industry sexism by welcoming an unprecedented line-up of female directors.

Berlin film fest rolls out red carpet for women trailblazers
Juliette Binoche, who will lead the Berlinale judging panel. Photo: DPA

The 11-day event prides itself on being the most politically engaged of the A-list cinema showcases, presenting 400 movies from around the world, most on hard-hitting topical themes including rising extremism and economic exploitation.

SEE ALSO: Star-studded line-up unveiled for this year's Berlinale Film Fest

But its red carpet promises a steady stream of glamour too with Christian Bale, Diane Kruger, Tilda Swinton, Catherine Deneuve, Jonah Hill, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck and Juliette Binoche, this year's jury president, all awaited in the frosty German capital.

Binoche, 54, will lead a six-member panel choosing the winner of the prestigious Golden and Silver Bear prizes, to be awarded at a gala ceremony on February 16th.

Last year, with the #MeToo movement roiling the industry, the innovative  docudrama “Touch Me Not” about sexual intimacy by Romania's Adina Pintilie clinched top honours.

For the first time this year, seven out of the 17 contenders will be women – a more than 40-percent share that eclipses rivals such as Cannes and Venice, which have come under fire as chummy men's clubs.

The top festivals have long faced pressure to boost their female representation as they serve as gatekeepers to international distribution, awards and box office cash.


'Big step forward'

Binoche welcomed the more diverse selection, saying it was long overdue and sent a message beyond the world of cinema.

“I think that's a good step forward, 10 years ago was not like that,” she told reporters. “Open minds – it's a good sign.”

British producer, director and actress Trudie Styler, 65, who is also on the jury, said the Berlinale had long championed films by underrepresented groups but that this year's selection was “not only courageous but a big step forward”.

SEE ALSO: Berlinale film fest turns focus on women, Netflix

Denmark's Lone Scherfig, who made the Oscar-nominated coming-of-age tale “An Education” in 2009, will start the festival with the premiere of her film “The Kindness of Strangers”.

The bittersweet drama stars Zoe Kazan (“The Big Sick”) as a mother of two who has to rely on her fellow New Yorkers for help, in a cast including Andrea Riseborough (“The Death Of Stalin”) and Bill Nighy (“Love Actually”). 

Scherfig, 59, said she was proud her film would be opening the last Berlinale under Kosslick, who is passing on the baton after 18 years.

“It's a milestone edition so I'm really looking forward to presenting the film there,” Scherfig told film industry bible Variety.

Polish veteran Agnieszka Holland will unveil the Stalin-era thriller “Mr Jones” starring James Norton (“Happy Valley”) while France's Agnes Varda will premiere a new autobiographical documentary out of competition.

Acclaimed French director Francois Ozon will present his controversial new drama “By the Grace of God” based on real-life cases of sex abuse allegedly committed by a French priest.

A cardinal, Philippe Barbarin, is currently on trial in Lyon on charges he covered up the assaults, allegations he denies. 

'World's biggest festival'

Kosslick, 70, is credited with expanding the Berlinale and boosting its international profile with high-wattage guests ranging from the Rolling Stones to festival regulars Swinton and George Clooney.

“Our fans have stayed true to us and grown so much that we can say we're  the world's biggest film festival in terms of audience,” Kosslick told AFP, with around a half-million tickets sold each year.

Kosslick will be handing over the reins at a time of growing competition from streaming services but said he saw scope for cinemas to “co-exist” and thrive.

After winning the Golden Lion top prize at the Venice film festival in September with “Roma”, Netflix will enter the Berlin race for the first time with gay marriage drama “Elisa and Marcela” by Spain's Isabel Coixet, based on a true story.

In June, Kosslick will be succeeded by Carlo Chatrian, the current head of the Locarno film festival, and Mariette Rissenbeek, the Dutch director of German Film, which promotes homegrown movies abroad.

For his last edition Kosslick has opted to make a parting political statement, offering to buy tickets for leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany party to a screening of “Who Will Write Our History?”, a documentary about the Warsaw Ghetto.

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WOMEN

7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers

To celebrate the works of women in the German film industry, and at the conclusion of this year's special outdoor Berlinale, we have compiled a list of seven must-watch German films directed by women. 

7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers
A scene from System Crasher. credit: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Peter Hartwig

This year’s Oscars marked the first time in its almost 100-year history that two female filmmakers – Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell – were nominated in the Best Director category. Only five women have ever been nominated for this award. Zhao took home the gong, becoming just the second woman ever to do so.

In 2021’s Berlinale Festival, 60 percent of the films in the Generation category were directed by women — with 75 percent of female filmmakers making up the Kplus selection (a category for younger audiences).

Here is a look at seven films by some of the most influential female directors in German cinema.

Never Sleep Again (1992) — Pia Frankenberg

Featured in Berlinale’s Retrospective series, meant to showcase female filmmakers, this film is written, directed and produced by Cologne-born filmmaker, Pia Frankenberg.

The film follows three female friends through post-unification Berlin, who are making their way to a wedding when their car breaks down. They wander through the streets of former East Berlin, roaming in and out of bars meeting men. 

The dilapidated sites of the former Cold War frontier city, still scarred by World War II, become a place for sheer endless personal experimentation where the women begin to reconfigure their lives and loves.

Frankenberg’s impressionistic portrait of three women in the city reflects on the state of the newly unified Germany, where for a moment all possibilities seemed radically open. (Available on Mubi, Binged)

The German Sisters (1981) — Margarethe Von Trotta 

Considered one of the classics of the New German Cinema movement, The German Sisters tells an intimate story of Germany. 

Based on the real-life story of the Enslein sisters, it is an expression of director Margarethe Von Trotta’s combination of the personal and the political. It’s the story of Juliane, a feminist journalist and her sister, Marianne, who is a terrorist revolutionary. The film, which won six awards at the Venice Film Festival including the Golden Lion, was Margarethe Von Trotta’s third film and first collaboration with Barbara Sukowa. The director-actor duo went on to do six more films together. (Available on Mubi, Prime)

Margarethe Von Trotta on set in 1975. Photo: dpa | Bertram

Toni Erdmann (2016) — Maren Ade 

Toni Erdmann is a German-Austrian comedy which was directed, written and co-produced by Maren Ade. The film, which premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, was named the best film of 2016. 

Meant to showcase the intricacies of a father-daughter relationship, the film pairs carefully constructed, three-dimensional characters in a tenderly funny character study. A hard-working woman reluctantly agrees to spend time with her estranged father when he unexpectedly arrives.

As a practical joker, the father does his best to reconnect by pretending to be her CEO’s life coach. (Available on Mubi, Kanopy, Prime, Vudu)

I Was at Home, But (2019) — Angela Schanelec 

I was at home, but (Ich war zuhause, aber) is a 2019 German drama film directed by Angela Schanelec. At the Berlinale that year, Schanelec won the Silver Bear for Best Director. 

The film is a story about a 13-year-old student, Phillip, who disappears without a trace for a week and suddenly reappears. 

It maps the existential crises his mother and teachers are confronted with that change their whole view of life. The film features several plots, which tell the stories of several people who are all connected to Phillip in some way. It has scenes with long silences, to contrast ones with heavy dialogue, which critics believe makes this film a cinematic masterpiece. (Available on Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, Vudu, or rent on YouTube).

The Audition (2019) — Ina Weisse

This film has been described as a symphonic study of human behaviour. It’s the story of a violin teacher, who takes great interest in mentoring a student for an audition. Anna, the violinist and teacher played by Nina Hoss, shows plenty of compassion toward the boy at first, but their relationship becomes much more strained as the date of Alexander’s audition nears and Anna begins to put him through musical torture. Come the day of the exam, events take a tragic turn. (Available on Amazon Prime Video)

Pelican Blood (2019) — Katrin Gebbe 

Pelican Blood is written and directed by Katrin Gebbe, who won the 2014 Preis der Deutschen Filmkritik (German Film Critics’ Prize) for her first film.

It tells the story of a woman who trains police horses. She adopts her second child, a severely traumatised five-year-old girl. When the girl shows violent and anti-social behaviour, her new mother becomes determined to help her.

The film has been described as raising fascinating questions – how do you draw boundaries for a child who seems to ignore them or even takes a perverse pleasure in overstepping them? What can you do as a parent when you realize that your love and protection aren’t enough? (Available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime)

System Crasher (2019) — Nora Fingscheidt

Another film about a rebellious child, System Crasher picked up a whopping eight German Film Awards after its release in 2019.

The film has a powerful political message about the inadequacies of the universal child care system. The protagonist, Benni, is a violent nine-year-old girl who suffers from psychotic episodes. Her key social worker, Frau Bafané, tries to get Benni into special schools or facilities; dozens turn her down and Benni is too young to be effectively sectioned as an inpatient.

In an interview with The Guardian, Fingscheidt says, “There’s a very German dimension to the film in the obsession with bureaucracy, with rules that need to be adhered to. Rules like, ‘this child cannot stay in this home because they are getting too emotionally attached,’ when that institution may be the first place where a child has begun to open up.”

The film has received an incredible amount of international recognition, garnering 45 international awards. (Available on Netflix)

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