Women filmmakers have record showing at Berlin Film Fest
BERLIN, Feb 17, (AP): Director Nadav Lapid’s “Synonyms”, a movie about a young Israeli man who uproots himself to France and is determined to put his homeland behind him, won the Berlin International Film Festival’s top Golden Bear award on Saturday.
A jury headed by French actress Juliette Binoche chose the movie from a field of 16 competing at the first of the year’s major European film festivals. Set in Paris, it stars Tom Mercier in the role of Yoav, who refuses to speak Hebrew and is accompanied by an ever-present French dictionary as he tries to put down roots and create a new identity for himself.
The festival’s best actor and best actress awards went to Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei, respectively, for their roles as a couple who lose their son in director Wang Xiaoshuai’s “So Long, My Son”. The three-hour Chinese family saga spans three decades of history from the 1980s to the present, portraying a society in constant change.
The best director honors went to Germany’s Angela Schanelec for her family drama “I Was at Home, But”.
The festival’s jury grand prize award was won by French director Francois Ozon’s “By the Grace of God”, a movie about the long-term effects of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.
Italian anti-Mafia journalist Roberto Saviano, along with Maurizio Braucci and Claudio Giovannesi, took the best script award for “Piranhas,” a film following teenagers growing up in a dangerous world of crime in Naples. Saviano said writing the screenplay was meant to “show resistance,” and added that “speaking the truth in our country has become very complex.”
Binoche said at Saturday’s ceremony that jury members “regret that we were not able to consider” the film.
This year’s “Berlinale” was the last under Dieter Kosslick, its director of the last 18 years. German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said he “always positioned the Berlinale on the fronts of the big, controversial debates of our times.”
Kosslick will be replaced by a team of Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek. Locarno film festival chief Chatrian will become the festival’s artistic director and Rissenbeek, a German movie industry official, will be its managing director.
The voice of the female filmmaker was louder than ever at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, with seven out of the 16 films in the competition section helmed by women, and female directors from all corners of the globe featured prominently.
Women directors represented 63 percent of the films presented across the festival’s 15 different sections, making it the biggest representation of women directors in the festival’s 69-year history. In addition, the Berlin Film Festival’s selection committee was overwhelmingly female.
It has been rich with global women telling female-focused stories, including Michela Occhipinti’s feature debut “Flesh Out”, about the practice of gavage, the forced fattening-up of young girls before their weddings in Western Africa.
“We are half, maybe more than half the population,” she said of women. “(We are) feeling something different.”
Other female-centered stories included Macedonian director Teona Strugar Mitevska and her feminist satire “…, Her Name is Petrunya”; ‘’37 Seconds”, a tender story from Japan about sex and disability from Hikari; and Austrian filmmaker Marie Kreutzer’s “The Ground Beneath My Feet”, which looks at a high-performing career woman struggling with a sister with mental illness.
There was also the black-and-white lesbian love drama “Elisa and Marcela” from Spanish filmmaker Isobel Coixet.
British director Joanna Hogg presented her fourth feature film, “The Souvenir”, which followed a young girl through film school in the 1980s. Part autobiographical, part fiction, “The Souvenir” stars Honor Swinton Byrne as a student filmmaker alongside her mother, Tilda Swinton, who plays her on-screen mom.
Hogg says she wants to encourage more women to make films and explains that one of the reasons for making the movie was to show a woman as an artist.
Swinton, who has directed documentaries, says for her, the role models have always been there.
“I personally as a filmmaker was always aware of the great comradeship of female filmmakers. And you don’t have to look very far to know how many female filmmakers have always been making films. It just, they don’t necessarily get the column inches” in the press, she said.
That wasn’t the case for Danish director Lone Scherfig, who opened this year’s festival with “The Kindness of Strangers”. She says she didn’t have much inspiration from women filmmakers or the female characters she watched on screen growing up in Denmark.
She says for her it was a big jump to making films “instead of just sitting, being, wishing you were Audrey Hepburn.”
Sitting pretty is far from the minds of many of today’s women filmmakers, and the characters they create on screen are also challenging gender stereotypes.
South African director Jenna Bass fought hard to get her contemporary all-female western “Flatland” made the way she wanted it, and even to be able to describe it as a western.
Bass, like Scherfig, found the portrayals of women she watched on screen growing up to be unrealistic.
Indian filmmaker Zoya Akhtar was in Berlin for her movie “Gully Boy”, which looks at the urban rap music scene in India. She feels today’s women filmmakers are not only writing exciting female characters but “legitimate men.”
“It’s really important to see how we see men and how we want to see men and what we think is heroic and what we think is something worth saluting,” she said. “And it needn’t always be larger than life and it needn’t be that kind of toxic masculinity, because that’s not what we want.”
Bollywood superstar Alia Bhatt stars in “Gully Boy” as the feisty, charismatic Safeena. She says she is often approached with offers of “strong female characters” or “female-led stories” but jokes that she hopes for a day when that doesn’t need to be highlighted.
“Just get me a film and just be like you’ve got a good part. That’s it you know?” she said.
Polish director Agnieszka Holland’s “Mr Jones”, the story of Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, also showed at the festival. Holland points out that some “extremely courageous and extremely creative filmmakers” have helped shape her career, including 90-year-old Agnes Varda, who was honored at this year’s festival with the Berlinale Camera award for lifetime achievement.
The 70-year-old concludes that there have been a “lot of wonderful women in history and will be even more in the future I hope. I think that we will take over.”