Online Film Series Difficult Women

© Janne Kummer © Janne Kummer

Thu, 01/13/2022 -
Thu, 02/24/2022


Four decades of feminisms is presented by the Goethe-Institut Toronto with Breakthroughs Film Festival.

Accessible Canada-wide for free from 13 January to 24 February 2022.

Political persecution and sexual violence, motherhood and daughterhood, defining oneself, making family, shaping careers —plus ça change for women over the past 40 years, or did it? Female/feminist filmmakers from East, West and the reunited Germany, with roots in Iran or Togo, from the 80s to today examine the expectations, influences, dreams and desires in women’s lives. The five films in this series challenge the systems that bind women and celebrate women’s achievements as they strive for equal rights and agency over their pasts and futures. 

The series title is taken from English anthropologist Jane Goodall’s appropriation of the derogatory term “difficult women:”

It actually doesn’t take much to be considered a difficult woman. That’s why there are so many of us. 

With subtitles. Viewer discretion is advised.

The Bicycle, drama by Evelyn Schmidt

(East Germany 1981, 89 min) starring Rita Adolph, Heidrun Bartholomäus, Hilmar Baumann and others. 
Susanne is a young, single mother who lives an unstructured lifestyle. After quitting her job, she finds herself in trouble financially and attempts a minor insurance fraud to make ends meet. Despite its rare view of everyday socialism from a woman's perspective, East German officials were critical of this frank portrayal of a less-than-ideal socialist citizen and turned down all invitations for the film to be screened abroad. In West Germany, however, Evelyn Schmidt’s film received much praise for its critical feminist approach.

The Subjective Factor, docudrama by Helke Sander

(West Germany 1980/1981, 3h 3min) starring Angelica Rommel, Dominik Bender, Nikolaus Dutsch, Lutz Weidlich and others. German Film Rating Commission: Especially valuable

At the end of the 1960s a young woman lays the foundation of the women's movement. As well as political initiatives against male dominance, a detailed picture is drawn of society, which establishes the women’s motivation. (DOK.fest München 2020)

Born in Evin, documentary by Maryam Zaree

(Germany, Austria 2019, 1h 35min) starring Maryam Zaree, Kasra Zareh, Effat Mahbaz and others. Best Documentary Film Award at the German Film Awards 2020. Fairness Award for Diversity at the German Screen Actors Awards 2020. 


Director and actor Zaree seeks to shed light on the circumstances of her own birth in Evin, one of Iran’s most notorious prisons for dissidents. Forty years ago, the Shah, and the Iranian monarchy with him, was overthrown. After gaining power, Ayatollah Khomeini, the new head of state and religious leader, had tens of thousands of political opponents arrested and tortured, including the filmmaker’s parents. The family, later able to flee to Germany, never discussed this period of their lives. After years of hesitation, Maryam Zaree finally decides to address the decades of silence and enters into difficult conversations with her mother: How did their trauma as a result of persecution and violence inscribe itself in the bodies and souls of the survivors and their children? How do survivors cope on a personal level with the fact that the perpetrators still enjoy positions of power with impunity? And what does it mean politically when one of the parties involved tries to cut through the dense undergrowth of repression that exists amongst the closest members of her family? (Berlinale)


The Case You, documentary by Alison Kuhn

(Germany 2020, 1h 20min) starring Isabelle Bertges, Gabriella Burkhardt, Alison Kuhn and others. Student Award at Dokfest Munich 2021. Max Ophüls Award 2021 for Best Music in a Documentary. Nominated for the Max Ophüls Award 2021 for Best Documentary.


"I invited five women to spend several days with our team in a theatre. Within this protected space, we try to figure out what connects them. They are in their 20s, actresses, and four years ago they participated in the same audition, in which they experienced systematic abuse of a sexual and violent nature, as did hun­dreds of others. I was one of the contenders. As many of my colleagues, I wanted to forget this day as quickly as possible. But since the director con­tinued his abuse by using the audition material to edit a whole new movie, there is currently a legal battle between  the  production company and  the actresses taking  place. Not  much has yet reached the public. Today, I myself study directing and explore with the women in The Case You what occurred back then, how this was possible for it to happen and what it now means for our lives and our work.” (Alison Kuhn)

I am Anastasia, documentary by Thomas Ladenburger

(Germany 2019, 1h 35min). In competition at Dokfest Munich 2019. 

This is the story of Anastasia Biefang, lieutenant colonel in the German military, who was assigned male at birth. At the height of her career she decides to finally come out as transgender. Much to her surprise, she does not face any negative consequences in her career. After her transition she becomes the first female commander in the history of the German military, leading a German armed forces’ battalion for cyber and information domain services. The film follows her male-to-female transition and observes her taking over her duties as a commander. Anastasia is not the only one transitioning – her battalion also has work to do face up to changes in their mentality.

More on the Directors

Evelyn Schmidt, born 1949 in Görlitz, East Germany, studied at Film Academy Babelsberg under Konrad Wolf. She worked for East Germany’s film studio DEFA until its dissolution in 1991. Her first feature was shown at the (West German) Berlinale but her sophomore film The Bicycle was censored from screening abroad. It is now considered one of the most important examples of realism and a rare female-helmed film in East German filmmaking.

Helke Sander, born 1937 in Berlin, is a feminist director, author, actress, and activist. She is known primarily for her documentary work and crucial contributions to the women's movement in the seventies and eighties. She is considered to have started the "new" feminist movement in Germany with her passionate 1968 speech at the Socialist German Students Conference. Sander resigned from the West Berlin Academy of Arts for its "misogyny, nepotism, and corruption” and then taught for 20 years at the Hamburg Academy of Fine Arts. The Subjective Factor chronicles the difficult origins of the second wave women's movement. Sander's portrayal shows Leftist males run a commune while women are relegated to domestic duties and denied participation. The filmmaker's use of the female voice-over was a marker of progressive film making at the time.

Maryam Zaree was born in Tehran in 1983. She grew up in Frankfurt and studied acting at the Film University Babelsberg. She has appeared as an actress in the TV series “4 Blocks” (winning her a Grimme Award) and the films “Transit” and "Undine" by Christian Petzold as well as Germany’s Oscar submission “System Crasher." She also works as a playwright and director. Her directorial debut “Born in Evin” premiered at the 2019 Berlinale and won Best Film at the Perspektive Deutsches Kino. She is currently on screen in the TV series "Legal Affairs."
Ines Johnson-Spain is an independent German-Togolese filmmaker based in Berlin. She studied Religions at Free University Berlin and Fine Arts at University of the Arts Berlin. In 2002 she started developing documentary film projects. Her work focuses on intimate portraits that explore themes of identity and belonging.

Alison Kuhn is a German actress, writer and director, born in 1995 in Saarbrücken, Germany. Kuhn graduated from drama school in Cologne and now lives in Berlin. In 2017 she won the national award for young poetry "lyrix" and has since attended writers workshops at Literary Colloquium Berlin as well as studying directing at Film Academy Babelsberg. Her first feature length documentary "The Case You" celebrated its world premiere at IDFA 2020 and has garnered attention at major European film festivals. 

Thomas Ladenburger was born in 1975 in Ellwangen, Germany. He majored in Interdisciplinary Media from the San Francisco Art Institute and received his masters from the University of the Arts Berlin. Ladenburger works for TV and film productions as a cameraman and sound recorder as well as realizing and producing his own films.

Part of the Goethe-Institut focus on feminisms