Berlin Film Festival 2023: Female Filmmaker Wrap – Serena Seghedoni reports

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In these past few years, more attention has been given to gender parity at film festivals. While some major festivals still haven’t been able or willing to reach parity, others have become more attentive and more transparent on their selection process and their strive for inclusion. The Berlinale has been publishing a gender evaluation since 2004, and though the festival hasn’t reached gender parity yet, their inclusivity has significantly improved since 2019. If from 2002 to 2018 their percentage of female-directed films in competition amounted to 5-22%, in 2019 they almost reached gender parity with 41%, and the percentage has exceeded 30% every year since then. Their internal organization also reflects their desire to be inclusive, as they have achieved gender parity in almost all of their committees, juries, and even festival directors.

This year, the Berlin Film Festival brings us a total of 6 female-directed films in competition, which amounts to 32% of the 19 films in that section. But many more movies are being screened in Berlin during the festival’s dates from February 16-26, including notable work from women directors, especially in their Generation (30 films by 29 female directors and five non-binary directors), Panorama (16 films by 19 female directors), Forum (10 films), and Encounters (6 films) strands.

Additionally, the International Jury president is actor, screenwriter and director Kristen Stewart, who is joined by six more jurors, out of which four – filmmakers Golshifteh Farahani, Valeska Grisebach and Carla Simón, and casting director Francine Maisler – are women.

Let’s take a look at the most exciting and noteworthy films from women directors at the 2023 Berlin Film Festival!

A favorite amongst audiences and critics and a strong contender for the Golden Bear is without a doubt Celine Song’s Past Lives, screened in competition after its World Premiere at Sundance and about to be distributed theatrically in the summer by A24. We first meet the film’s protagonist, her name is Na Young (Seung Ah Moon), she’s 12 years old and she lives in South Korea. But her family soon has to emigrate from the country, which means that Nora has to leave her childhood sweetheart/best friend Hae Sung behind and take on not only a new name, but also a new identity. (Read full review.)

Among the other films in competition, Lila Avilés’ (The Chambermaid) second film Tótem is also a favorite, revolving around a birthday party that is also a farewell ceremony for father and painter Tona, who’s dying from cancer. We witness it all through the eyes of his 7-year-old daughter Sol (Naíma Sentíes), in a film that finds a delicate way to tackle the topic of death. Angela Schanelec’s Music and Margarethe von Trotta’s Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert seem to have really divided people, who either loved the films or didn’t connect with them at all, and the other titles in this strand are Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren’s 20.000 Species of Bees and Emily Atef’s Someday We Will Tell Each Other Everything.

Looking outside of the competition strand, the undisputed standout is The Echo, from Prayers from the Stolen writer-director Tatiana Huezo. This time, the Mexican-Salvadoran filmmaker brings us the story set in a remote village in northern Mexico, where people deeply care for one another and find happiness in simple things, but at the same time have to endure great hardships. The film is seen from the eyes of the children and shows us a community that’s deeply connected with nature, animals, and one another, but also not a stranger to death. The Berlinale describes the film as a “kaleidoscope of unpretentiousness,” and it has become a favorite of many festivalgoers.

This was my first year covering the Berlin Film Festival, and the Panorama strand immediately stood out to me, also for its inclusion of superb queer films such as Femme, Passages, and Drifter. As for films from women directors, Sreemoyee Singh’s And, Towards Happy Alleys is one of the most anticipated World Premieres at Berlinale. The documentary looks into the protagonists of Iranian cinema and the effect of the country’s strict rules on censorship, with interviews with prominent figures such as Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Shirvani and human rights activist Nasrin Sotudeh, which were conducted over a period of six years. Other noteworthy titles include Malene Choi’s The Quiet Migration, Tina Satter’s Reality, Léa Fehner’s Midwives, Sacha Polak’s Silver Haze, and Han Shuai’s Green Night.

In the Generation strand, Alisa Kovalenko’s timely documentary We Will Not Fade Away was also very well-received, set in the region of Donbas and revolving around five Ukrainian teenagers used to live among minefields, and who were given the opportunity to go on an expedition to the Himalayas right before Russia invaded the country in 2022. Focusing on lighter topics, Aurora Gossé’s Dancing Queen is a coming of age tale set in Norway, where a young girl takes part in a dance competition and learns to fight off self-doubt, and Sofía Auza’s Adolfo tells us a fairytale about an aviation pioneer, a cactus and a sad boy who meet by chance. Also worth noting are Silvia Del Carmen Castaños and Estefanía “Beba” Contreras’ Hummingbirds, Zara Dwinger’s Kiddo, Mira Fornay’s Mimi, Jub Clerc’s Sweet As, Carla Subirana’s Sica, and Jenna Hasse’s Longing for the World.

The other strands of the Berlin Film Festival also include thought-provoking stories, such as Helin Çelik’s Anqa, where three women share their traumatizing experiences of violence in Jordan, and charming dramas, like Yui Kiyohara’s Remembering Every Night, where we also follow three women, this time in the “Tama New Town” suburbs of Tokyo, as they do ordinary things and take care of their usual routines. Special retrospective screenings of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides are taking place, and among the other World Premieres are important socio-political stories like Myriam U. Birara’s The Bride, Selma Doborac’s De Facto and Malika Musaeva’s The Cage Is Looking for a Bird, as well as films that focus on women’s experiences, like Claire Simon’s Our Body, about pregnancy and the female body.

The 2023 Berlinale is currently taking place in Berlin, with screenings being held until February 26.

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Serena Seghedoni (Archived contributor)

Serena Seghedoni is a film critic, a film studies graduate, and the Editor-in-Chief at Loud and Clear Reviews. She has written a dissertation on Joker and is currently interested in queer stories, films made by women, virtual reality, and the representation of mental health in film and TV.