Berlinale 2015: A Quota for Female Directors?

     |    Thursday February 19th, 2015

The Berlinale has always aspired to facilitate debate of contemporary social and political  issues: in its selection of film topics and foregrounding of issues through overarching program mottos and accompanying contextualizing events. This year, the initiative “ProQuoteRegie” (PQR) , an association of German female directors and other media professionals, used the festival as a platform to increase awareness about the gender inequality in the German film and TV business. While an average of almost 50% of all film school graduates are women (in some schools, like Berlin’s German Film and Television Academy, the rate is as high as 70%), 20% of feature films (almost exclusively in the low and mid budget range) and only 11% of TV movies are helmed by female directors. The group’s activities are based upon a 50% quota for female filmmakers, but this demand is more a rallying point for an entire portfolio of activities. These include influencing policy decision-makers – from German Federal State Minister of Culture and Media, Dr. Monika Grütters on down to members of film subsidy boards and TV executive boards, commissioning research about equal opportunity and working conditions in the media industry and networking, networking, networking.

“ProQuoteRegie” hit the Berlinale with a well-conceived mix of humorous “symbolic politics” and informative events. PQR HQ was located at the Bubble, a tiny but comfy clear plastic hangout right on Potsdamer Platz. Here media satirist Rigoletti produced the PQR festival video magazine (see above), legendary DJane Gudrun Gut (a passionate and well-informed advocate of gender equality in electronic music and in the club scene) played some tunes and festival visitors candidly and often heatedly traded pro and con arguments for introducing a quota or other affirmative action measures. The Bubble created a space for encounter and exchange as well as a set of memorable images and catchphrases with which PQR will be associated in the future – a PR success.


The Bubble. Photo: ProQuoteRegie

Less glamorous, but equally essential were PQR’s activities to disseminate information and ideally develop plans of action based upon the facts. Three public debates, not including the annual state of affairs panel and reception hosted by the International Women’s Film Festival, might have been overkill. One event this author attended, was an insightful panel featuring representatives of PQR with Bettina Reitz, director of Bavarian public TV; business consultant Anne-Kathrin Kuhlemann; Berlin Arts University Professor Dr. Kathrin Peters; Manfred Schmidt, head of MDM German film funders and cultural critic Diedrich Diederichsen. The latter’s contributions were among the most constructive. Diederichsen deflected any return to “essentialist feminist ideas” of feminine aesthetics or male-coded genres (Diederichsen doesn’t believe that f.e. producing more crime films, by any director, female or otherwise, will affect positive change) that could inadvertently further entrench rigid gender distinctions, and he boiled down the ideological discussion about the fairness of quotas in general by arguing they are means to an end, to alleviate grievous structural  inequalities sooner rather than later.

The head of Film Funding at the Swedish Film Institute, Hjalmar Palmgreen, corroborated Diederichsen in his case study report. By promoting subsidy applications for films by female directors and producers, the percentage of female-driven projects supported by the Swedish Institute has inceased to 47%. In 2000, it was 19%. Quality (a frequent argument against any quota), Palmgreen stated, is not an issue, as films by female directors recently received the lion’s share of Swedish Film Awards  (allowing that awards are an indication at least of consensual quality standards).

Another practical suggestion came from a filmmaker in the audience: every TV project in development has a director shortlist attached, generally males-only. Adding the name of one female director to each of these lists would already be a major step to increase awareness of women working in the media business and lead to some also landing the coveted gig. Another female director summed things up nicely: she didn’t want preferential treatment, just that she face the same obstacles as her male colleagues, not more or different ones. Equal opportunity.

Natalie Gravenor