Pro Quote Regie Highly-qualified female seeks …

Only a good fifth of German cinema films are produced by women.
Only a good fifth of German cinema films are produced by women. | Photo (detail): © Sarah F.J. Hill - Fotolia.com

German female directors are underemployed in the German film and television industry, a situation that equal opportunities initiative Pro Quote Regie has been mobilizing against since 2014. The discussion is as topical as ever.

In cinemas across Germany, sixteen German productions in all were released in August 2015, yet just three of them were the work of female directors.

The figures are symptomatic of the German film and television industry, as film-policy information service black box discovered. It found that the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) provided 62 million euros to fund 115 film projects in 2013, just under a tenth of the total being awarded to thirteen film projects by female directors.

A quota for female directors

Many female filmmakers see this as proof that they do not have the same opportunities on the employment market as their male colleagues. One of them is the director Bettina Schoeller-Bouju: “We have only ever blamed ourselves when we were rejected by producers, editors and film funding organizations”, she explains. In her view, however, the “unequivocal figures” reveal “an inherent problem in the industry”, namely that women tend only rarely to be engaged as directors.

To redress this, she joined forces with eleven other female directors and founded the equal opportunities initiative Pro Quote Regie e.V., launching a public appeal in October 2014. The initiative calls for a staggered quota which by 2024 would see women placed on an equal footing with their male colleagues when directorial jobs are awarded in film and television. In addition, the initiative appeals for studies of the careers and working situations of female directors to be conducted, and for parity when it comes to the members of decision-making bodies: for example, just one woman at present sits on the thirteen-member grant allocation committee of the German Federal Film Board (FFA).

Artistic quality versus allocation of funding?

But in calling for a quota, are female filmmakers not also admitting that they are unable to gain a foothold of their own accord? “A quota is really a crutch”, explains Schoeller-Bouju, “but a system in which there is such unequal treatment first has to be changed from the outside.” Critics also raise the point that it is the quality of the film that counts, not whether it was made by a man or a woman. Even Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media Monika Grütters, who certainly sympathizes with the demands made by Pro Quote Regie, explained in an interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel that there is no room for a quota in the cultural domain, claiming that it is a matter “solely of artistic merit”. As Barbara Rohm from Pro Quote Regie points out, however, this would mean that audiences were currently being shown only the best in cinemas and at home. “This discussion is not about quality but quite clearly about the allocation of funding.” Which evidently tends to favour men. For instance, the first director diversity report to be published by the German Federal Association of Directors (BVR) in November 2014 revealed that only a good fifth of German cinema films are produced by women. This imbalance is even more striking when it comes to films for television – female-directed fictional films screened at prime time by public service broadcasters account for a mere eleven percent of the total.

Sweden as a role model

How can this phenomenon be explained? “The good female directors are booked up for years in advance, with the result that a man will end up being given the job after all”, is how WDR programming director Gebhard Henke explains the allocation practice in an article in the specialist magazine Blickpunkt:Film. This view is also shared by Christine Strobl, general manager of the ARD subsidiary DEGETO. When a woman refuses a job offer, the idea of searching “consciously for a different female director” is not yet “sufficiently anchored in people’s heads”. By contrast, the difficulties of reconciling a family with a career are highlighted in the article by Liane Jessen, television film director at Hessischer Rundfunk. Pro Quote Regie finds these arguments impossible to understand. A shortage of qualified female directors? The equal opportunities initiative found in its research that 42 percent of graduate directors are female. And as far as striking a balance between family life and a career is concerned, it points out that both parents are responsible for bringing up children nowadays, “just like in all other professions”.

It is partly because of such explanations that Pro Quote Regie believes that a quota is urgently needed. As Bettina Schoeller-Bouju and Bettina Rohm are well aware, anyone who is not known to television companies will have less chance of securing funding for a film project. This is because the German funding system tends to insist on the involvement of television companies. But what instruments could be used to achieve equal opportunities for female directors? “It would make sense for example to offer producers a financial incentive to work together with women”, says Barbara Rohm. Sweden serves as a role model for the initiative – a film agreement between the government, parliament, film producers and TV companies there stipulates that half of the film funding budget will have to be awarded to female directors, screenplay writers or producers from the end of 2015.

Opening up different perspectives

Pro Quote Regie believes that one success of its initiative is that its appeal a year ago made many people in the industry and in politics aware for the first time that female directors were being disadvantaged. DEGETO, which produces around 100 feature films and series for public-service broadcaster ARD each year, has now committed itself to awarding 20 percent of all contracts to women. Pro Quote Regie sees this as sending out an important signal. It is after all “fundamentally important for stories to be told in different ways and from as many different perspectives as possible”, as Bettina Schoeller-Bouju explains. “So that the diversity in our society is also reflected in the media”.