Self-determined — Perspectives of women filmmakers
Retrospective of the 69th Berlin International Film Festival
The Retrospective of the 69th Berlin International Film Festival takes as its subject women filmmakers between 1968 and 1999. The program encompasses 26 narrative and documentary features from the former East and West Germany, as well as German films after re-unification in 1990. In addition, the Retrospective will show some 20 shorter films on their own, or as lead-ins to the features. What the filmmakers and their protagonists have in common is an interest in exploring their own environment, and the search for their own cinematic idiom.
In West Germany, this development was embedded in the 1968 student movement, and closely linked to the new women’s movement and the New German Cinema wave. In East Germany, by contrast, all films were made within the state-controlled studio system. That studio, DEFA, gave a few women a chance to direct as early as the 1950s, however they were mainly assigned to children’s films. Towards the end of the 1960s, everyday life in the socialist country became the focus of East Germany’s women directors.
About the Film Selection
The upcoming Retrospective ranges from May Spils’ first big theatrical hit Zur Sache, Schätzchen (Go for It, Baby, FRG 1968) to the documentary Mit Haut und Haar (With Skin and Hair, G 1999), in which Martina Döcker and Crescentia Dünßer trace the memories of six women born before or during the Weimar era. Most of the films can be categorised as auteur works; the directors often fulfilled several functions on the productions. The films selected reflect on how women deal with their bodies, space and relationships, everyday life and work. The genre covers a variety of filmmaking types – from animated, essayistic, and experimental work, to traditional narratives and documentaries.
The narrative thread of many of the films can be traced back to the filmmaker’s personal history. There is often a concordance between individual awakenings and developments in society, for example in Jutta Brückner’s Tue recht und scheue niemand – Das Leben der Gerda Siepenbrink (Do Right and Fear Nobody, FRG 1975) or Marianne Rosenbaum’s Peppermint Frieden (FRG 1983). The aesthetic approaches are also varied. Opulent imagery such as in Ulrike Ottinger’s Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse (Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press, FRG 1984) or in Nina Grosse’s Der gläserne Himmel (The Glass Sky, FRG 1987) stands alongside stark representations of everyday life in Helma Sanders-Brahms’ Unter dem Pflaster ist der Strand (Under the Pavement Lies the Strand, FRG 1975), or Angela Schanelec’s Das Glück meiner Schwester (My Sister’s Good Fortune, G 1995). Several of the films benefit from poetic black-and-white cinematography and location shooting. Ingrid Reschke’s narrative feature Kennen Sie Urban? (Do You Know Urban?, GDR 1971) is an impressive portrait of a young generation on large construction sites in East Germany, while in Berlin – Prenzlauer Berg. Begegnungen zwischen dem 1. Mai und dem 1. Juli 1990 (Berlin Prenzlauer Berg - Encounters between 1st of May and 1st of July 1990, G 1990), Petra Tschörtner documents the upheaval during the collapse of communism. Both films are forays into an urban landscape in flux.
Berlin is both the anchor of many of the filmmakers, and the location of many of the stories. In Pia Frankenberg’s Nie wieder schlafen (Never Sleep Again, G 1992), three women ramble aimlessly around the city. They are flaneurs, much like the main character in Claudia von Alemann’s Die Reise nach Lyon (The Trip to Lyon, FRG 1980), who is following in the tracks of a feminist ancestor. In the films made around 1970, the filmmakers and their protagonists are often conquering the streets for the first time; in the films from the 1990s, street settings have become a matter of course, even for personal stories.
Among the highlights of the Retrospective will be the introduction of the films by their directors. There will be discussions in the Retrospective cinemas with filmmakers such as Iris Gusner, Jeanine Meerapfel, Helke Misselwitz, Helke Sander, Evelyn Schmidt, Ula Stöckl, Margarethe von Trotta, and Katja von Garnier.
Germany 1997, directed by Katja von Garnier
Four female musicians succeed in escaping from prison. With their rock band, the fugitives become overnight stars. Borrowing from genre cinema and music video aesthetics, Bandits brings musical girl power to the screen.
Berlin–Prenzlauer Berg. Begegnungen zwischen dem 1. Mai und dem 1. Juli 1990
(Berlin Prenzlauer Berg – Encounters between 1st of May and 1st of July 1990), Germany 1990, directed by Petra Tschörtner
A cinematic ramble through an East Berlin neighbourhood in the weeks before the monetary and economic unification of East and West Germany. A pastiche of everyday scenes and encounters during the “short summer of anarchy” from May 1 and July 1, 1990.
(The Bicycle), East Germany 1982, directed by Evelyn Schmidt
A young single mother quits her burdensome job. When money runs short, she claims her bicycle was stolen and collects an insurance payment. A realistic depiction of the encrustation of East German society.
Das Glück meiner Schwester
(My Sister’s Good Fortune), Germany 1995, directed by Angela Schanelec
A man falls in love with his girlfriend’s sister. But his lover is unwilling to let go and fights against his plans to leave her. Angela Schanelec, a member of the Berlin School, depicts the gritty everyday reality of romantic relationships.
Der gläserne Himmel
(The Glass Sky), West Germany 1987, directed by Nina Grosse
While a murderer is killing women in Paris, an office clerk begins an affair with a proud, young prostitute. An erotic mystery-thriller that combines elements of film noir with those of an elegant extravaganza.
Die allseitig reduzierte Persönlichkeit – Redupers
(The All-Round Reduced Personality – Redupers), West Germany 1978, directed by Helke Sander
Helke Sander’s film is an ironic and clever depiction from a feminist perspective of the everyday life of a working mother. Her essayistic narrative also draws an authentic portrait of a divided Berlin.
Die bleierne Zeit
(The German Sisters), West Germany 1981, directed by Margarethe von Trotta
The story of two sisters, one who is active in the women’s movement, the other who ends up arrested as a terrorist. A family tragedy set against the background of the Red Army Faction era in Germany, with a decidedly female point of view.
Die Reise nach Lyon
(Blind Spot), West Germany 1980, directed by Claudia von Alemann
A young historian roams Lyon on the tracks of French women’s rights activist Flora Tristan (1803–1844). She wants to reconstruct a sense memory of Tristan’s life and finds the city to be an historical echo chamber.
Die Taube auf dem Dach
(The Dove on The Roof), East Germany 1973/2010, directed by Iris Gusner
A young building site manager maintains her independence despite two suitors. Accused of “distorting the image of the working class”, the film was banned in 1973. Screening of the 2010 digitally restored version.
Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse
(Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press), West Germany 1984, directed by Ulrike Ottinger
Frau Dr Mabuse, boss of a media company, creates a glamorous artificial character to boost circulation. This futuristic media satire combines various different arts and styles into a piece of raging world theatre.
Etwas tut weh
(Something Hurts), West Germany 1980, directed by Recha Jungmann
The director traces her childhood with the help of the abandoned family home in Germany’s Rhön region. This cinematic tale brings memories of her deceased relative to life.
Germany 1992, directed by Monika Treut
In four short films, three women and a transgender man from New York talk about their sexuality. The subjects unfiltered testimonials turn their “female misbehaviour” into a demonstration of female self-empowerment.
Ich denke oft an Hawaii
(I Often Think of Hawaii), West Germany 1978, directed by Elfi Mikesch
A documentary about life in a housing project on the margins of West Berlin, inspired by the camp aesthetics of American underground films of the era. In lavish make-up and flamboyant robes, a 16-year-old girl acts out her dreams in front of the camera.
Im Innern des Wals
(In the Belly of the Whale), West Germany 1985, directed by Doris Dörrie
A 15-year-old girl flees her violent father. On the trail of her mother, who left the family years ago, she embarks on an odyssey along the northern German coast. A road movie with a young heroine on the cusp of adulthood.
Im Kreise der Lieben
(The Terrible Threesome), Germany 1991, directed by Hermine Huntgeburth
A black comedy about a scam artist who bilks men with a marriage con, with the help and support of her mother and grandmother. When two defrauded men get wise to their ways, the family tribe uses brutal means to defend itself.
Kennen Sie Urban?
(Do You Know Urban?), East Germany 1971, directed by Ingrid Reschke
With the help of his fellow builders, a young convicted criminal finds a place back in society, and personal happiness with the love of a student. Shot on location in the tradition of the “Berlin films” made by the East German state studio DEFA.
West Germany 1981, directed by Jeanine Meerapfel
In remembrance of her French mother, Malou, a Jew who was forced to emigrate from Germany, a young woman in Berlin goes in search of her identity. In conflict with her husband, she fights to determine her own life’s path.
Mit Haut und Haar
(Under My Skin), Germany 1999, directed by Martina Döcker, Crescentia Dünßer
Six women born between 1907 and 1925 look back at “their” century. The montage of their memories produces a tightly-woven oral history, in which constants specific to women and individual experiences have equal prominence.
Neun Leben hat die Katze
(The Cat Has Nine Lives), West Germany 1968, directed by Ula Stöckl
As they stroll the summery sidewalks of 1967 Munich, two girlfriends talk about society and its expectations. This narrative cinematic essay uses impressionist techniques to explore female ambition and desire – in Cinemascope and Technicolor.
Nie wieder schlafen
(Never Sleep Again), Germany 1992, directed by Pia Frankenberg
Three girlfriends roam through newly re-unified Berlin, exploring the East and meeting a few men along the way. An ironic, laconic film that is as adventurous as its wonderfully witty protagonists.
(Peppermint Peace), West Germany 1983, directed by Marianne S.W. Rosenbaum
The story of a post-war childhood in rural Bavaria, told with idiosyncratic camerawork from a child’s point of view. Made in 1983, this alternative take on the German Heimatfilm, with a star cast, was also a political statement.
Töchter zweier Welten
(Daughters of Two Worlds), Germany 1991, directed by Serap Berrakkarasu
A Turkish mother and her daughter talk about their experiences and problems. The mother arrived in Germany as a “guest worker”. Her daughter, now 24, survived an arranged marriage that was hell for her.
Tue recht und scheue niemand – Das Leben der Gerda Siepenbrink
(Do Right and Fear No One), West Germany 1975, directed by Jutta Brückner
Using photos from archives and family albums, the director uses her mother’s life to draw a portrait of the lower middle-class experience in Germany between 1922 and 1975. A collage of sound and music accompanies the narrative.
Unter dem Pflaster ist der Strand
(Under the Pavement Lies the Strand), West Germany 1975, directed by Helma Sanders-Brahms
A couple, both actors, in West Berlin seven years after the upheaval of 1968. She is active in women’s liberation, he still mourns the unrealized utopia of the student movement. A film about the clash between the political and the personal.
(Locked Up Time), Germany 1991, directed by Sybille Schönemann
The director spent 1984/1985 in an East German prison after applying for an exit visa. In this documentary, she talks to the people involved in her case, including lawyers and Stasi agents, in a painful processing of the past.
Von wegen ‚Schicksal‘
(Is This Fate?), West Germany 1979, directed by Helga Reidemeister
Film as a sort of family therapy – an unvarnished chronicle of a divorced mother in West Berlin’s Märkisches Viertel neighbourhood. She talks without reserve about why her family is falling apart, while at the same time discussing her own ambitions.
Wer fürchtet sich vorm schwarzen Mann
(Who’s Afraid of the Bogeyman), East Germany 1989, directed by Helke Misselwitz
Portrait of a coal business in East Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district, run by a woman and staffed by rough-hewn men. This sensitive documentary turned into a survey of social contradictions in East Germany, shortly before the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.
Zur Sache, Schätzchen
(Go for It, Baby), East Germany 1968, directed by May Spils
A layabout living in Munich’s arty district spends his birthday with a well-heeled young woman. May Spils’ enormously successful comedy proffers Werner Enke’s character as an alternative model to the traditional “male archetype”.
Short Films 1
Work and Everyday Life
Für Frauen. 1. Kapitel
(For Women – Chapter 1), West Germany 1972, directed by Cristina Perincioli
Equal pay for equal work! Four female employees at a West Berlin supermarket, who feel heavy pressure both at work and at home, go on strike to demand the same salary that their male colleague gets.
Heimweh nach Rügen oder Gestern noch war ich Köchin
(Homesick for Rügen or Yesterday, I Was a Cook), East Germany 1977, directed by Róza Berger-Fiedler
The mayor of the island of Ummanz off Rügen used to be a cook. Director Róza Berger-Fiedler weaves her encounters with her constituency, and discussions about the office with all its responsibilities into a sensitive portrait of a dedicated person.
D 1998, Regie: Barbara Marheineke
A modern Aphrodite – how is it possible to be super sexy and successful at the same time? A career woman faces the conflicting demands of her parents, social life, and her husband. The short combines live action and animation with a slapstick tenor.
(She), East Germany 1970, directed by Gitta Nickel,
A modern depiction of working women in East Germany – laborers and managers in a garment factory talk about relationships and family planning, raising children and career qualifications, women’s rights and equality in the socialist (meritocratic) society.
Short Films 2
Body and Space
West Germany 1968, directed by Dore O.
Behind the concrete is the beach. The film travels from the cell block of Hamburg’s remand centre (where the 1968 anti-Springer demonstrators were held) out into the open air. Dore O. contrasts a concrete wall with waves, dunes, and naked bodies.
Alle Tage wieder – Let Them Swing
(Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow – Let Them Swing), West Germany 1974, directed by Margaret Raspé
Housework seen from a radically subjective point of view. The film shows a woman’s hands busy washing the dishes, which include a white porcelain cup in the shape of a woman’s body. It was shot with Margaret Raspé’s famous “camera helmet”.
Germany 1990, directed by Eva Heldmann
Sex on the metro! The director has taken footage shot in a completely empty compartment on the London underground and married it to the off-camera reading of a pornographic text that includes detailed masturbation instructions for a female rider.
Dress Rehearsal und Karola 2
(Dress Rehearsal and Karola 2), West Germany 1979/1980, directed by Christine Noll Brinckmann
A tie or lace? After trying on numerous treasures from New York’s second-hand stores, Karola Gramann decides on a traditional dinner jacket with cummerbund and bow tie. We then see her posing & vogueing to Bryan Ferry’s “These Foolish Things”.
(Old Masters), East Germany 1988, directed by Sieglinde Hamacher
From Ingres’ “Reclining Venus” to Gaugin’s Tahitian women – a museum guard presents famous female figures in art who, as if in a Las Vegas revue, step out of their frames and take on exciting new life.
(Detour), West Germany 1981, directed by Ute Aurand, Ulrike Pfeiffer
The view from moving trains shows wintery landscapes through windows that sometimes reflect the interior. The montage that drives this technical, experimental short automatically embraces the detour. Shot with two Bolex cameras.
Aktfotografie, z.B. Gundula Schulze
(Nude Portraits – Gundula Schulze), East Germany 1983, directed by Helke Misselwitz
Photographer Gundula Schulze wrote her graduate thesis on “nude photography of women in East Germany”. She wants to show what makes up the “whole woman”. Scenes of women in the professional world have been edited into the film.
(The Father), West Germany 1986, directed by Christine Noll Brinckmann
Dr Kurt Noll, a doctor in Shanghai in the 1930s, was passionate about shooting home movies. His daughter put together a montage of his footage, ranging from passage on a luxury liner to camels in Egypt, fakirs in India, and his daughter in the garden.
(Reunion), West Germany 1989, directed by Hermine Huntgeburth
After their mother’s death, three siblings meet up in her apartment – and revert to their childhood family dynamics. They play concentration and enjoy eggnog with their chocolate pudding, making the regression a not entirely unpleasant one …
Die Wahrheit um den Froschkönig
(The Truth About the Frog Prince), East Germany 1985, directed by Sieglinde Hamacher
Is he the dream prince? As each frog climbs out of the fountain, the princess hopes it will be the one, the love of her life. But no sooner has one been flung against the wall than it turns out to be pretty much a washout.
Ein Fest für Beyhan
(Celebration for Beyhan), Germany 1994, directed by Ayse Polat
The director, born in Malatya, Turkey, uses surrealistic scenes to trace the odyssey of a young woman between two worlds. She spent her childhood in the Anatolian countryside and now lives in a large city in northern Germany.
Familiengruft – Ein Liebesgedicht an meine Mutter
(Family Crypt), West Germany 1982, directed by Maria Lang
Maria Lang's autobiographical montage of family photos and new film footage is a description of family relationships that are typical of life in post-war, lower middle class Germany – with a domineering father and a mother who ministers to everyone.
(Scharnhorst Women’s Initiative), West Germany 1978, directed by Katrin Seybold
In the satellite settlement of Scharnhorst near Dortmund, more than thousand women live alone or with their children. This documentary uses the point of view of a 26-year-old single mother of two to document the commitment of the women’s initiative.
(Home), East Germany 1978/1990, directed y Angelika Andrees, Petra Tschörtner
Young people living in a children’s home talk about their unstable home situations and domestic violence. Many of them have alcoholic parents. They speak openly about the past and their hopes for a better life.
Kribus – Krabus – Domine
West Germany 1981, directed by Carmen Tartarotti
Lisa is eight and spending the summer with her parents in the mountains. But her father is often away and her mother is always busy with washing and doing the dishes. Lisa watches and fantasizes about being far away.
(Manoeuvres), West Germany 1967, directed by May Spils
Monday morning, 7 am. Three alarm clocks ring. Just in case. Even so, the young man doesn’t wake up until the young woman asks the postman to wallop him one. This is a merry rehearsal for Go for It, Baby.
(Tendernesses), West Germany 1985, directed by Maria Lang
Stories from the lesbian subculture in West Berlin, about being in love, clichés, desire, and conflict – “shot as a narrative, with real lesbians at real locations about real feelings”.
More on the 2019 Retrospective
Our companion brochure includes the full program of the 2019 Retrospective, the Berlinale Classics, texts on the annual theme, plus summaries and cinematographic details for each film in both German and English.