An Interview with Wieland Speck
“Homophobia takes place at a desk”

Wieland Speck
Wieland Speck | Foto:

Wieland Speck, 62, is a filmmaker and since 1992 head of the section “Panorama” of the Berlin International Film Festival, an essential part of which was from the first gay and lesbian films. In an interview he talks about queer cinema in Germany.

Mr. Speck, in queer German film, legends such as Ulrike Ottinger and the underground director Lothar Lambert stand alongside younger, experimental filmmakers such as Jan Krüger and Benjamin Cantu, who have established themselves only in recent years. Can we speak at all of a queer film scene in Germany, or are these all individual positions?

Rather the latter. I see this as a consequence of increasing emancipation that queer German productions can no longer be grouped under one LGBT umbrella [LGBT: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans]: the approaches are too different. Apart from the old hands, there’s also little continuity, because young filmmakers have problems getting financing for new projects. Even Rosa von Praunheim can get each new film off the ground only because he’s developed a network of people that support him.

Subcultures remain minorities

Are queer films shot mainly in Berlin which is regarded as the gay capital?

No. Munich, Cologne and Hamburg are also important queer places. This has the advantage that local characteristics can develop. And as a filmmaker you can position yourself in a local subculture more easily than if you have to compete against everybody in the country.

How has the scene in Germany changed over the decades?

When I began in the Panorama of the Berlinale in the early 1980s, there was almost no infrastructure available for queer films. We were the main entry point for filmmakers throughout the world. But today the number of queer films is much greater than what we can show.

Today queer films are shown at the Berlinale even in the youth series “Generation”. Does “Panorama” still need the queer focus?

We won’t need it any more when gay-lesbian emancipation is completed – and we’re far away from that point. Despite gay mayors, the opposition of normative culture around the world is still extreme. Moreover, subcultures remain minorities – and they always need their own window. The theme of the last Panorama, by the way, was What Film Can Do. The question was how you can work politically in film in such a way that you throw light on more than individual problems. Here in the West we currently find ourselves in a kind of sensitivity soup: in many films the “I” takes center stage – which, on the other hand, is also good because it shows that emancipation has in fact advanced so far that you no longer need constantly to rub against the overall social situation.

Being gay isn’t the main problem

In 1985 you made the west-east love story “Westler” (i.e., Westerner), one of the most important German queer films. Do you see yourself as a pioneer?

Sometimes a film has the luck to catch a generation at the right moment, just when it’s opening its eyes. That was the case with Westler. It’s an absolutely gay film in which, however, being gay isn’t the main problem. This had a big effect back then. People who had never seen a gay film suddenly wanted to see the two boys in the film get together. I still have letters from young people who had their coming out after seeing the film.

Sabine Bernardi’s transgender youth film “Romeos” from 2011, on the other hand, was initially approved by the Voluntary Self-Regulation Organization of the Film Industry (Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft / FSK) only for 16 year-olds and older because it was feared it could cause a “disorientation in sexual self-discovery...”.

What? That passed me by. Well, homophobia now generally takes place at a desk; the public never hears about it. We therefore still need a stronger anchoring in social groups that get this issue out in the open when it threatens to be swept under the table.

“Mit Speck fängt man Filme” (You Catch Films with Bacon)

You chose the films for the series “Gay and Lesbian Films of the Berlinale” for the Goethe-Institut in Paris. Did you feel spoilt for choice?

It was above all great fun. We Germans see so many French films, but the French see few German ones. Since the 1960s, French film has been a great inspiration for us, and it was therefore a joy for me to reverse the process and propose German films that I thought might be interesting to the French. Paris is, after all, the film capital of the world!

For his 70th birthday, Rosa von Praunheim is giving the world 70 films. One of them is a documentary on you. It’s entitled “Mit Speck fängt man Filme” (i.e., a pun on the meaning of Speck’s name in German: You Catch Films with Bacon).

What! He called it that?

Yes, go look at his website.

He’s simple unstoppable! (Laughs) As with all the portraits, he invited me to his house and showed me the film in advance. I once shot a porn series to promote safer sex, and he used a lot of this material for his film. I said to him: “It’s a bit heavy on the genitals!” He apparently took this to heart and cut out this or that butt. Otherwise I gave him complete freedom – that’s clear.