An Actress's Thoughts

Berlin Int. Film Festival 2014 and the Celluloid Ceiling

Berlin International Film Festival 2014 and the Celluloid Ceiling

Today let’s have a look at the films in competition at the 64th International Film Festival Berlin and at an intervention by Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanić on gender imbalance in the film business.

Last sunday was the final day of this year’s – snowfree – Berlinale. Two events especially stuck out for me in those 11 exciting and inspring days and nights: I was lucky to get a ticket for the premiere of the Japanese competition entry 小さいおうち/ CHIISAI O UCHI (The little House) by Yôji Yamada. A wonderful film! One of the leading actresses, Haru Kuroki, was awarded a Silver Bear.

And secondly, I met Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanić, whose very impressive and touching film ESMA’S SECRET: GRBAVICA I saw 8 years ago, when it won the Golden Bear at the 2006 Berlinale.

Žbanić participated in this year’s panel discussion „Get yourself connected – a discussion on the status of women in film and gender equity“ organized by the International Women’s Film Festival Dortmund Köln, and she started the event with an intervention which I may use in this blog. Hvala puno!

But bevore we get to that here are some statistics on this year’s Berlinale competition: 20 films were in it, among them BA RI YAN HUO (Black Coal, Thin Ice), which won the Golden Bear for director Yinan Diao.


I did the 6-departments-check for the films, calculation the shares of women among the heads of department for direction, script, production, cinematography, sound and editing.

Sources I used for this were the programme of the Berlinale, the films’s websites and the databases of Crew United and IMDB. A special thanks goes to Mayho Ho (Hong Kong) who helped me determine the gender for many crew members of the three Chinese films in the competition. (It was Mayho’s birthday yesterday, so a belated Happy Birthday!).

The next figure shows the statistics for 2014, and the checkered columns in the background those for last year’s competition. In five of the six divisions the share of women is – sometimes cosiderably – below 30 %, only for editing the value is just over a third (36 %).



Four female directors had been invited to the competiton: Claudia Llosa with ALOFT, Celina Murga with LA TERCERA ORILLA, Sudabeh Mortezai with MACONDO and Feo Aladag with ZWISCHEN WELTEN. Two film teams had a female director of photography: HISTORIA DEL MIEDO (Soledad Rodriguez) and ZWISCHEN WELTEN (Judith Kaufmann). No film had a woman as head of department for sound, furthermore, six films did not have a single woman as head of department for any of the six divisions: 71, AIMER, BOIRE ET CHANTER, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, KRAFTIDIOTEN, TO MIKRO PSARI and WU REN QU. George Clooney’s MONUMENTS MEN that was out of competition also has a 0 % share of women for the categories.

And whom did we see on the screen?

Figure 2 shows an evaluation of the main casts that are named in the programme of the Berlinale – 3 to 15 parts per film, a total of 54 actresses and 115 actors.


Those striped little hats on top of the columns symbolize the first parts on the casting sheets. 6 times it was a female role, 14 times a male role. The numbers of the films in the x-axis are coloured according to the gender of the director.

Two films, ´71 (directed by Yann Demange) and PRAIA DO FUTURO (directed by Karim Ainouz) had all-men main casts. All other films had a more or less strong male majority, except for HISTORIA DEL MIEDO, which had more female than male roles (6:5), and two films with even main casts, CHIISAI O UCHI and BOYHOOD).

So the main casts and the six investigated crew positions for the 20 films show twice as many male as female filmmakers. Maybe this is normal for film reality. But it is not alright, because a large group – all women – are thus represented as a minority on screen and employed as a minority behind the camera. To put it bluntly: We don’t see what is happening in the world but rather in a male world. We don’t experience the creativity of filmmakers from all over the world but only that of men.

Director and script writer Jasmila Žbanić expressed similiar thoughts much more eloquently. This is her intervention:

Jasmila Žbanić. Photo: Birgit Kleber

Jasmila Žbanić. Photo: Birgit Kleber

“Thank you very much for creating this event and for raising awareness of unjust treatment of women in European and world cinema.
When I go to a cinema, I don’t care if the film is made by a man or a woman as long as it tells me a story, as long as it offers pictures that shed light on my existence, characters I can identify with, jokes I can laugh at.
Unfortunately, not many films do, and some films offend me as they portray old-fashioned and sometimes fascistic images of women which I cannot identify with, and most definitely cannot laugh at.
Film is the most liberal of arts and, at the same time, it can be a very conservative art. Money that is involved in filmmaking is distributed mostly to men thus creating a celluloid ceiling for women. A US research shows that only 9 % of women share in this cake and are allowed to tell theirs stories, though women compries 50 % of audience in cinemas, and the / WE are not happy with what we see.
As a filmgoer and a filmmaker I want to participate and tell stories of woman and man that will move us forward, I want to creat films that will speak to different parts of our hearts and brains, stories told from a different angle.
Jane Campion said: „We should mandate that 50 % of films produced are made by women. That would be possible with public money. Instantly, the culture would change. It can be done.“
She also gave advice to young female filmmakers: „Please do not play the lady card. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Just do your work and let someone else deal with the politics“.
I totally agree with the part about NOT feeling sorry for yourself and doing your work and not playing the lady card, but unfortunately I don’t know who that other authority might be, that Someone Else who will deal with the politics in our name.
We shouldn’t give our husbands and fathers the right to represent us, we have friends like you to support us – but the main work is still on us. We should do it with love and dignity, and not feeling sorry for ourselves, but we should demand a change in how women are portrayed in films, demand our right to share our stories, our passions, needs, fantasies, jokes that we can laugh at – not being pissed off. Because – guys – it’s not funny!”


On Feb. 23, 2014 Jasmila Žbanić was awarded the KAIROS-Prize in Hamburg, with a 75.000 € prize money: “Jasmila Žbanić demonstrates by her example that artistic interventions can be a source of crucial societal impulses. (The KAIROS-Prize has been awarded anually since 2007. It is “honouring European artists and academics (..). The award is designed to be given above all to individuals for artistic achievements, (…) to creative personalities who give important impulses to art and culture in Europe.”)