Women who film away in and through Berlin

On December 16, 2021, during the Lab Femmes de Cinema at Les Arcs Film Festival in France, film analyst Patrizia Simone presented the latest statistics on female professionals in European film production. According to her report that focuses on the European feature films produced between 2016 and 2020 and theatrically released in at least one European Market (as tracked in the LUMIERE database) the percentage of female directors was %21, female screenwriters just a little higher at %25, female producers were %30, and female cinematographers were only %10. While the ratio of female directors in Germany seems slightly higher at %25, these statistics consider the origin of film works, not the origin of directors. As a researcher who has been based in Berlin for the last five years and intrigued by this report, in this article I reveal how women who are on the move, or who have moved to Berlin during the last decades further their careers in filmmaking in Berlin. 

Zeynep Dadak by Orhan Kolukısa

Zeynep Dadak is a filmmaker who moved to Berlin in June 2018 with the artist in the residency program of Medienboard Berlin. Since then she has been producing in and through Berlin and Istanbul. Before moving to Germany she made two films in Turkey, Blue Wave (2013, co-directed with Merve Kayan) and Invisible to the Eye (2020) both of which are multinational co-productions. For this interview, we met at a café in Berlin, and her radiance and energy just caught me while she posed very significant questions.

Can I make a Turkish-language film in Germany that is not necessarily related to Turkey?

During the last five or six years due to unprecedented political reasons many filmmakers including herself, as well as others all over the world had to move out of their country or move beyond their in-house networks and come up with new ways to produce films through international funding. This brought some direct practical processes that need contesting, in as much as there are various undefined barriers that yield overcoming. For instance, Dadak asks, if she is a filmmaker from Turkey does this mean that she should only create narratives that are in the Turkish language and that are based in Turkey? Now that currently she lives in Germany, the only future that may await her there, so to say, is she to make films in the German language one day? Or she asks “Can I make a Turkish language film in Germany that is not necessarily related to Turkey? Or could there be a possibility to use Turkish and German in a film that does not necessarily revolve around migratory narratives?” These practical and simple questions change the way a filmmaker designs and envisions her projects she argues. 

Dadak believes that what she brings to Berlin is not only her migratory experience of moving to Berlin but also brings her gaze, her way of seeing. Thus, she asks, could there be a way of filmmaking outside of certain trends that are already exhausted within what is referred to as migrant filmmaking? What kind of Berlin history would she narrate for instance? What kind of Rosa Luxemburg history would she tell? And is there a space for different practices for filmmaking in Berlin with the use of diverse languages and artistic choices? 

While she was doing her undergraduate degree in Istanbul she worked at the Goethe Institute Istanbul and she also wrote her MA thesis on the German auteur Fassbinder. So without moving physically to Germany, the German language, German culture, and cinema had a role in her creative thinking and labour. This reveals how places, cultures, and languages are not site or space-specific but they reach the people who look for them no matter where they are physically. For instance, she is now making a science fiction film. The narrative of the film is very convenient for having a multi-vocal or multi-lingual nature. In the past, such multilingual films were referred to as Euro-pudding, but moving beyond this what if these multiplicities of languages now reveal a creative potential that goes beyond revealing multiculturalism? These are the thoughts and questions she has in mind right now, but maybe in the future after spending more years in Berlin she would think differently Dadak underlines, as spaces and experiences change and evolve in time.

Berlin is a melting pot…

Moving to a new city is a dynamic process, with each year passing your ideas and interactions might change and this as Dadak also reveals alters creative choices and practices. Another filmmaker and scriptwriter Mala Ghedia for instance moved to Berlin nearly fifteen years ago. She studied film in Australia and acting in London. She worked in television, film, and theater in the UK, Australia, the USA, India, Switzerland, and Germany. As Patrizio Simone’s report indicates between 2016 and 2020 %83 of European films featured at least one female lead role. Yet when considering the proportion of female and male roles out of the total number of lead roles for each film, between 2016 and 2020 the average share of female roles per film was 38%. Due to this unequal share of female acting and due to many other reasons like type casting or age she moved to script writing, producing, and directing. Still, as a non-native and non-citizen filmmaker filmmaking is also pretty limited, she reveals. Her first short film, in which she acted and co-wrote its script titled No Monsters in Berlin (2017) was made in collaboration with the newcomers to Berlin in 2016. Now with the workshop support from the writer’s lab Europe, they are working on a TV series based on this short film, which is currently planned as a dramatic comedy. Through this writer’s lab who set up meetings for them, they could get their foot in the door and reach the people who can get this made. 

Mala Ghedia at the United Nations Panel: www.malaghedia.com

These two projects have been designed through Ghedia’s interactions with the city and the people in it, and the newcomers constitute a significant and dynamic part of the people at large. This TV project she is working on right now is not merely revolving around migrant or refugee narratives, but it is more character-driven and centers on the experiences of characters who are displaced. She further states that compared to her life in Australia and in London she has a fish-out-of-water perspective in Berlin, and this perspective is a significant resource for creativity and humor. She met many different people in Berlin and she wanted to make something together with them, and filming is a great venue for this.

Her other upcoming TV project, titled ReBIRTHING SAMIRA, has been optioned by Gaumont Productions. It is about ex-pats who are 40 years of age or around living in Berlin. Ghedia reflects that one of the main “conflicts” in Germany is that the film industry in Germany is very slow with integrating multilingual scripts or characters that are not German. This series, ReBIRTHING SAMIRA will be groundbreaking if made with a production budget from Germany she asserts. But still, they have a long way to go even with the biggest production company in Europe behind them! 

Ghedia also directed a short film titled Ricochet (2020) which was screened at many international film festivals.  She is also directing a film festival in Berlin called Down Under Berlin which brings and highlights films from Australia and New Zealand. She reveals that her experience in Berlin made it possible for her to direct this festival, as Berlin is the hub of many people and it is a melting pot in itself. There is the old Berlin vs. the new Berlin, there are ex-pats, and big giant companies are moving in, so there are lots of photos of storytelling in Berlin, as well as a wide circulation of people who have diverse histories and tastes. This multiplicity creates infinite ways of interacting with the physical space and the spaces the people carry with themselves.

Living abroad may not be fancy or rosy…

Filmmaking became a desire for Megha Wandhwa from a different perspective. We met with Wandhwa online now that she was in India for research and filming. She is a migration researcher who is currently based at Freie Universität Berlin, and she is using ethnography as a method, which means she conducts engaged research with her subjects by recording their sound. But only after recording their interviews with the camera, she found out that the feelings she can sense and internalize are rather different. 

Megha Wadhwa, filmmaking for fieldwork: https://filmmakingforfieldwork.co.uk/home

As a migration researcher, she emphasizes that when people want to move out of their country they may think that the troubles can end with migration. But maybe the reality is different, and you don’t leave the troubles behind if you change your location, you just create new experiences and new troubles for yourself. So although people leave their place with many expectations, living abroad may not be that fancy or rosy. And filmmaking can capture this intensity and complexity in a great way. For instance, through writing, she can transfer the stories of her subjects and there she becomes the mediator, but through film, the people are telling stories directly to the audience and this brings an intense emotional interaction. 

Spreading filmmaking amongst women

In her current project, Wadhwa is working together with a group of women who are filming and conducting research at the same time. As she also passionately reveals she is spreading filming among women. She recently finished her first feature-length documentary, and she has many ideas for new films in her mind. Her next film is in collaboration with her current project members and will look into migration stories from Asia. As a side project, she is also working on a film on migration to Germany from India. She also got a filmmaking education in Manchester, UK, from a training program called filmmaking for fieldwork. Through her network, at this course, she gets feedback and editorial advice for her films. 

She travels with her camera during her research and when she finds herself at a moment that connects to her subjects and where she feels people should feel this, she tries to capture those moments in her camera. It’s such a passion and love she feels for filmmaking that she wishes everyone could feel and experience that. Although it is a lot of work and it needs long hours of editing, she reveals that still through filmmaking she found her niche. 

All these three women have diverse motivations for filmmaking but they meet at the common point that if a person desires to make a film, she would definitely find a way to do it no matter where she lives, or where she arrives. As Wadhwa underlines migration comes with challenges, and Patrizia Simone’s report I referred to reveals that for women filmmaking in Europe is extra challenging. Still, even though the film industry is not easy to navigate through and there are obstacles to overcome, those who put their heart into filmmaking find a way to produce, write, and film. What makes Berlin an extraordinary place is that it is a hub where there are many filmmakers from very different places who are struggling to make their films in and through Germany, and this multiplicity creates collaborative knowledge and finds its counterpart through creating and sharing different experiences in a solidary way.

Özgür Çiçek is a film scholar and researcher who is based in Berlin. Currently, she is a postdoctoral researcher at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. She was also a fellow at Freie Universität Berlin, Cinepoetics: Center for Advanced Film Studies. She received her Ph.D. in Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture from Binghamton University in NY. Her research interests include national/transnational cinemas, minor cinemas, migrant cinemas, memory studies, and documentary filmmaking. More information on her publications and research interests can be reached at: www.ozgurcicek.de

This article was commissioned by  Goethe-Institut Finnland for the Moving People and Images Journal (MPI Journal)