Film and Television Directing Women to the fore

The producer Bettina Brokemper (r) and director Nicolette Krebitz at the Lola Awards 2017
The producer Bettina Brokemper (r) and director Nicolette Krebitz at the Lola Awards 2017 | Photo (detail): © Eventpress | Deutsche Filmakademie

A new study by the Filmförderanstalt (Germany’s Film Funding Agency) shows what associations like Pro Quota Regie have been complaining about for quite some time – female filmmakers hardly get any work in Germany. However, the proposals for solutions to this problem have also sparked quite a lot of criticism.

In the German film industry there are significantly more men than women working in most of the creative key positions. Female directors, in particular, have a hard time getting into the profession because the decision makers in the film industry often do not want to take any risks and stick to tried and tested formats and established filmmakers. The industry is also riddled with stereotypical gender clichés, according to which women do not have the same leadership qualities as men.

These were the findings arrived at by a study called Gender and Film - Framework Conditions and Causes of the Gender Distribution of Filmmakers in Key Positions in Germany, which was commissioned by the Filmförderanstalt and published in February 2017. The results are hardly surprising. Institutions such as the equal opportunity association, Pro Quota Regie, or the information service for film policy, black box, have been complaining for years about the underemployment of female filmmakers in Germany, as well as the unequal distribution of production funding. Way back in 1979, the Association of Female Film Workers was already demanding, amongst other things, that 50 per cent of all funding to should go to women's projects.

Low points and milestones

Nevertheless, for the very first time the study confirmed this sad state of affairs. For example, it was established that only 22 per cent of the full-length feature films and documentaries produced between 2011 and 2015 were directed by women.

Barbara Rohm, co-founder of Pro Quota Regie, calls the study “an important analysis”. It is true that 2016 was the much exalted “Women’s Cinematographic Year”, a year which saw the success of such films as  Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, Maria Schrader's Vor der Morgenröte (Before Dawn) or Nicolette Krebitz's Wild. These individual hits, however, detracted from the fact that the number of films made by women has in general declined and in 2015 actually reached a “sad low point” of 15 per cent.

Nevertheless, stresses Ms Rohm, since the founding of Pro Quota Regie, a lot of things have taken a turn for the better. For example, in the amendments to the German Federal Film Funding Act, a general paragraph on gender equality and the composition of committees on a parity basis was included. This resulted in the Filmförderanstalt occupying all bodies with equal numbers of men and women. “A milestone,” says Rohm. In the media coalition agreement between Berlin and Brandenburg in 2016, the first target was set on the regional government level, following the example of the Swedish Film Institute. In the long term, half of the production, scripting and directing jobs are to be awarded to women. To what extent this “long-term” goal will in fact be implemented remains to be seen.

Keeping an eye on the deficit

The “Gender and Film” study also proposes measures to overcome this inequality. This includes awareness-raising courses for decision-makers and selection committees, the creation of a booklet entitled “The Diverse Faces of Direction”, as well as a monitoring scheme, i.e. a systematic recording of the figures for gender distribution. However, according to Ellen Wietstock, who runs the information service for film policy, black box, these proposals are “completely inadequate”. In the end, a monitoring scheme only means a mere “identification of the known deficit”.

Ms Wietstock regularly scrutinizes the granting of subsidies at federal and state level. Among other things, she has noted that in Berlin - Germany's most important film and media location - female directors have the worst chances of obtaining funding. In 2016, 31 projects with male directors were funded by the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg to the tune of 10.2 million euros, while only six projects by female directors were considered – their funding amounting to only 1.5 million euros.

Creating economic stimuli

In this context, Barbara Rohm points out that that still too few applications from female filmmakers are being submitted. “Not because there are no projects,” she stressed. “But, on the one hand, the participation of a broadcaster is required, which is often difficult for women, because, in the TV sector, too, they are also strongly underrepresented in creative positions. On the other hand, producers and distributors who are willing to cooperate are needed”. That is why female directors often fail to get their projects off the ground before they actually submit their application.

“There is only one sensible measure,” says Ellen Wietstock, “Namely to oblige the funding bodies to award a certain percentage of their funds to projects with female directors”. If economic incentives were created in this way, producers would also want to work with female directors. Ms Wietstock also calls for funding institutions to list in their award notices how many applications were submitted by women and how many by male directors. “This kind of transparency should be self-evident.”

What follows from these facts?

For Barbara Rohm, the most important message from the “Gender and Film” study is that a greater awareness “of the stereotypical, male-oriented professional and role images in the film sector” will have to be created. The decision-makers in the funding bodies should question their own perception criteria when assessing projects and persons. “The focus very often always stays on the same kind of project, because it seems to promise success - what we need is the courage to change perspectives,” says Ms Rohm.

“The study has provided us with an analysis of the situation, now the question remains - Is there also a will to change the situation?”, she summarizes. She does not believe in a voluntary self-commitment on the part of the film sponsors to provide more gender equality. “Other associations such as FIDAR (an acronym in German meaning ‘women in supervisory boards’) have been relying on the voluntary basis for ten years and nothing happened – until a quota was introduced.”