Women at Berlinale 2021 Wrap Up – Alexandra Heller-Nicholas reports

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From the moment the program for the 2021 Berlinale was announced, it was clear it was going to be an interesting year for women filmmakers (as outlined in my preliminary report here). Like so many festivals around the world, the demands of COVID-19 have demanded flexibility, and as a result this year’s Berlinale effectively split into two: an Industry Event which ran from 1 – 5 March, with the Summer Special – screening to the public – running later in the year from 9 – 20 June, hopefully when the ferocity of the pandemic has lessened and it is safer for audiences to return to cinema screenings.

Released at the end of the festival, the “Gender Evaluation 2021” report is a revealing document, which both highlights the progress being made when it comes to gender and equity at the Festival, while also acknowledging there is still clearly some way to go yet. While it includes the frank observation that “in all of the examined professions and disciplines, the most common team composition is wholly or predominantly male”, the report also gets into the fine statistical nitty gritty of what this breaks down to not only when it comes to directing, but to other areas such as cinematography, screenwriting, editing and producing.

While the Berlinale have only been collecting data about gender breakdowns this comprehensively since 2018, the festival has made public the proportion of male to female directors since 2004 in what they describe as a reflection of how it “values transparency regarding gender distribution in the Berlinale program”. While the Festival has been clear that there is still some distance to go, they do indicate that there are improvements that suggest things are at the very least on the right track.

The report looked at 132 films on this year’s program and had 144 participants who were involved in the creation of those works. Of these, 33.3% were women, 55.6% were men, 6.2% selected “none of the above” and 4.9% did not provide any information at all. Of these, 132 films and based on those who participated in the survey, 34.1% of these films were directed exclusively or predominantly by women directors, 37% had women producers, 26.6% had women screenwriters, 18.7% had women cinematographers, and 27.3% had women editors.

Considering these numbers, it would be fair to say that women were punching well above their weight when it came to this year’s awards. Male filmmakers took out both the high-profile Golden Bear for Best Film and Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize (Radu Jude for the former with Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, and Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy for the latter), but significantly German filmmaker Maria Speth’s 3+ hour long documentary Herr Bachmann and His Class took home the Silver Bear Jury Prize and Maren Eggert winning the Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance in Maria Schrader’s I’m Your Man.

Of the 17 people who directed the 15 films included in the Competition section, 29.4% were women; 5 of these films were co-directed or directed by women, including Behtash Sanaeeha and Maryam Moqadam’s Ballad of a White Cow, Maria Schrader’s I’m Your Man, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s Memory Box, and one of the festival’s most anticipated films (that surprisingly took no major prize), Celine Sciamma’s Petite Maman. The numbers for producers for films in Competition were better – 53.3% of the films were wholly or predominantly produced by women, compared to only 33.3% of those by men.

The jury for the Encounters section (Florence Almozini, Cecilia Barrionuevo and Diedrich Diederichsen) wisely awarded Alice Diop’s We as Best Film, describing it as “A work that shows true delicacy and sensitivity in crafting a collective, choral portrait that is rich in meanings, nuance and, above all, lived experience.” Lilla Kizlinger also won the Silver Bear for Best Supporting Performance in this section for her role in Bence Fliegauf’s Forest – I See You Everywhere, the jury stating that the actor “bears on her young shoulders with grace and delusive natural lightness a special responsibility. By the power of her interpretation alone, by her intensive presence, she pulls to the surface the hidden layers of the scene, actually defining the motive behind the film: the chilling menace of the world, what the children of today inherit from us grownups.”

Children, teens and young adults featured even more centrally in the Generation Kplus and 14plus sections, notably the section of the Berlinale with the highest number of women directed films at 60%. Standouts of the 15 feature films in this section this year included Kateryna Gornostai’s Stop-Zemlia, Yngvild Sve Flikke’s Ninjababy, and Barbara Kronenbgerg’s Mission Ulja Funk, with jurors Jella Haase, Mees Peijnenburgh and Melanie Waelde granting significant accolades to two women-directed films; the Grand Prix for the Best Film in the Kplus competition was awarded to Han Shua’s Summer Blur, with the Special Mention in the Kplus Competition going to Beania Cappato’s breathtaking A School in Cerro Hueso, a thoughtful, intelligent film about a child on the Autism Spectrum that should put Sia’s recent travesty Music even more to shame.

Of the 20 films in the short film competition, women again excelled as Jurors Basim Magdy, Christine A. Maier and Sebastian Urzendowsky granted Olga Lucovnicova’s My Uncle Tudor the Golden Bear for Best Short Film, stating “Lucovnicova’s subtle cinematic gaze circles around her family members with precision. Her personal courage combined with cinematic mastery create a film that is both powerful and emotionally layered.” Equally impressive is Eliza Petkova being awarded one of the two Kompagnon-Fellowships for 2021 by Perspektive Deutsches Kino and Berlinale Talents for her film The Worker, the jury here celebrating her work by noting “Eliza Petkova creates an image of the economic and social conflicts of our time in her feature film,” stating emphatically that “The Kompagnon-Fellowship goes to a project that shows what the ruling system is hiding.”

The winners will receive their awards in June 2021 during the Berlinale Summer Special program.

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi award-winning film critic from Melbourne, Australia. She was an editor at Senses of Cinema from 2015 to 2018, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic for ABC Radio in Australia, She has written for Film International, Diabolique Magazine, Vulture, Overland, The Big Issue and her own website, The Blue Lenses. She has written eight books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema and co-edited collections on Elaine May, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, Peter Strickland, and Alice in Wonderland in film. She frequently contributes commentaries, liner notes and video essays to home entertainment releases from companies such as Arrow Video, Kino Lorber, Eureka Entertainment, Second Sight and Severin Films. She is a Research Fellow at RMIT University and an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).