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Wednesday, 7/3/2019

New Voices

Young Female Filmmakers at the Festival

New Voices

One of many films directed by exiciting new female directors: SONG WITHOUT A NAME

The situation of women in the film industry is something that's been talked about a lot in recent years: how women are systematically disadvantaged in front of as well as behind the camera. Whether in terms of roles that are hardly distinguishable from one another, roles in which women function only as accessories, or the relative lack of recognition given to the work of female directors, there's a lot of catching up to do. Yet for a while now, it's been possible to observe how the industry is slowly changing its attitude. The realization is starting to sink in that somewhere out there, waiting to be discovered, are first-class female filmmakers who will show us the world from a completely different perspective and who will set exciting trends. FILMFEST MÜNCHEN is proud to welcome several of these artists and their works this year.

One of them is Melina León. She was the first female director from Peru to be invited to the Cannes Film Festival, where she presented her debut film, SONG WITHOUT A NAME. In this shocking black-and-white drama, she tells the story, based on true events, of a woman whose newborn child is stolen from a purported clinic. The woman and a journalist desperately struggle with bureaucratic indifference and forgetting in the hope that she'll be able to hold her child in her arms once again.

The relationship between parents and their children is also an important part of REAL LOVE. French director Claire Burger paints a portrait of a love that is falling apart and a family's desperate attempt to stick together. While Mario, the father, fights for his wife, Armelle, she's only interested in the kids — who, for their part, have less and less of a clue of what to do with their 50-something dad. This is a thoughtful appeal for love and for renewed self-discovery. 

MÄR – A GERMAN TALE, THE ORPHANAGE and AN EASY GIRL

Shahrbanoo Sadat, an Afghan director with Iranian roots, offers an unusual portrait with a child at the center of things in THE ORPHANAGE. Fifteen-year-old Qodrat doesn't have any parents or anyone else to take care of him. In an orphanage, he finally comes into contact with the cohesion that life has denied him. He also comes to realize, though, that life isn't like it is in the Bollywood films he enjoys so much, because Afghanistan in the late 1980s is in a time of upheaval.

In the bleak drama THE TRUK by French director Sarah Marx, a son has long since grown up and has the obligation of taking care of his mother. Above all, he has to pay off to the debt she's piled up. This isn't an easy thing to do if you've just been released from prison and the world hasn't exactly been waiting for your return. So Ulysse does what he does best: commit a crime. More precisely, he sells water laced with ketamine to partygoers, hoping to accumulate the money that he so desperately needs.

RELATIVITY and THE TRUK

Twenty-two-year-old Sofia doesn't need to worry about money. She's used to having others pay for her. She doesn't hold back her feminine charm; after all, a life of luxury has to be earned. In the beguiling story of AN EASY GIRL, Parisian-born Rebecca Zlotowski takes us to the sunny south of France, where well-to-do men collect works of art and beautiful women in equal measure. To Sofia's 16-year-old cousin Naïma, this world is as exciting as it is new; she will spend a whole summer finding out about this world and about life itself.

In RELATIVITY, it's death that forces the protagonist to fundamentally rethink everything. How is Nora to carry on now that her boyfriend's dead? She hadn't known Aron for very long, but it was clear to her that they were meant for each other. Aimlessly wandering the streets, she meets Natan, with whom she seems to have a strange connection. Munich-born filmmaker Mariko Minoguchi makes her debut as a director with this unusual and thoughtful drama.

Her colleague Katharina Mihm, from Berlin, has chosen an unusual subject for her first film. MÄR – A GERMAN TALE begins with news that no one's really prepared for: the wolves have returned! In this drama, artfully permeated by elements of mystery, a journalist sets off to find out why people are so fascinated by these predators, and uncovers a legend that causes him to question everything he knows.

VITA & VIRGINA and director Chanya Button

The relationship between authors Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf wasn't quite as much of a fairy tale, but it was that much more historically significant. Two women in love with each other? That was a real scandal in the 1920s, ​mainly among the high society. In VITA & VIRGINIA, English director Chanya Button portrays two great artists who rebelled against the decorum of their time and whose works made them notable pioneers of feminism.

How Button arrived at this subject and how she sees the current situation of female filmmakers are things she revealed to us in an interview on the occasion of the German premiere of VITA & VIRGINIA at FILMFEST MÜNCHEN 2019.

Do you feel that there is a lot of support for women to direct their films? Especially films about strong women?

Films about strong women are the films that I want to make. I’m sitting here at a festival and got a chance to make my film. So my answer is going to be yes. But I think you could ask a lot of female directors who are struggling, who are pitching ideas, who are pitching films and don’t feel heard or listened to. Right now I feel tremendously supported. But making films is a tough endeavour in the first place. I have no doubt that there is still a lot of work to do in terms of supporting. It’s something I get asked a lot. But sometimes people ask this question as if this was a trend. But it’s not a fashion. It’s not something that will be gone next season … hopefully. It’s something we always should have been doing. We don’t have only room for one great strong woman at a festival.

Like the token woman.

Exactly. That’s the only thing that I think we need to be mindful of that it’s not treated as if it was some sort of trend. It’s something that should be happening anyway.

But if you look at Cannes it isn’t really happening.

Oh no, that is miserable. Sometimes you see the things that people say and you think: Did no one tell you not to say that? You read the things and the lack of reason is almost pointless to go into.

Why Virginia Woolf. Is she for you some kind of role model?

I started reading her when I was a teenager. My mother gave me a copy of “A Room Of One’s Own”, very wisely.

You can’t start soon enough with that one.

No, you can’t. As soon as you can read just get on with “A Room of One’s Own”. So I was introduced to her work through her essays that empower women to make their own work and their own identities. She was so incredibly eloquent. If you have a problem or need an advice then Virginia Woolf will probably have written an essay about it. She actually wrote an essay about film called “On the Cinema” which was part of my encouragement to become a filmmaker. Even though we might think of her as a figure of the past, as we often do with iconic writers, she in particular was very forward-thinking. She was very excited about film as a new technology. She said it was the first opportunity to see ourselves objectively because it’s the first time that humans look at themselves not through the pen of a writer or the brush of an artist but through a machine. That’s such an interesting idea. That would be as revolutionary as Zadie Smith or Salmon Rushdie saying that Instagram is the greatest new art form. There’d be many of us saying: Are you sure about that? Just like back then people questioned cinema. From an early age I thought her way of thinking was fantastic and later I got into her novels.

And how about Vita?

Well, I was aware of her as the inspiration for “Orlando”. But I didn’t really know her outside of that. So it’s been a lovely experience personally to make that film. Vita is someone I was able to discover by making that film.

In your opinion how important was Virginia Woolf for the feminism movement in the last 100 years?

Tremendously important. Just “A Room of One’s Own” as a way of thinking and a rallying cry in itself for self-expression is incredibly important. But we didn’t make a traditional historical film but wanted to do our own version. We didn’t make a documentary. We made something with very bold artistic choices and is very focused on the elements of their lives that we were interested in, Gemma, Liz and I.

How much part did your two actresses have in recreating these two writers?

A huge part. I work in a very collaborative way. I tend to have quite big, broad ideas but I really listen to the people I’m working with. Gemma and Liz were very involved, they gave input for the script and anything they cared for. It’s not something I rely on but it’s something I welcome.

How much experience did they have with the two writers?

Neither of them very much. Which I think is very good because they weren’t weighed down by that. They did a lot of research, they were very knowledgeable and respectful. And they both really like them now.

When you started working on the film were you intimated to tackle two such important historical figures?

I have a great respect for the academics who work in that kind of field and the remaining family members and other people who have a relationship with their work. Bit I feel very strongly that we are all entitled to develop our own relationship with things that really move us. So I wouldn’t say that I was nervous or intimidated. I had the good fortune to have an education that taught me that my opinion is valid. No more than anyone else’s. But a lot of people don’t naturally feel that way. I think it’s important to teach people that their opinion is valid. Everyone’s is. So when I came to make the film I just had that knowledge of great respect for other people who felt ownership over these women and their work and their lives. But also the confidence to think that I’m not going to tell anyone that this is the definitive truth. It’s a piece of art. Art is an opinion. And this is mine. I hope it can become part of a big conversation on these two great women. THE HOURS is a wonderful film that brings the spirit of Virginia Woolf and the latter part of her life. It brings “Mrs Dalloway” to life as well. Sally Potter made an incredible film adapting “Orlando”. And I hope that people might want to like to watch all three.

How much research did you put into the film? How much of it is pure facts?

I came to the project with a lot of knowledge I already had about Virginia Woolf’s life. So I had a bit of a head start there. There are the letters that Vita and Virginia wrote to each other. There are the diaries. There are the houses that they lived in and you can go to and look around. So what I did was I spoke to the living descendants of those two women and spoke to a couple of academics whose lectures at the university I used to go to. I visited their homes. I looked at the artworks of Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell and her artistic partner Duncan Grant. Those are the main things that I did. But at a certain point I had to put that away in the knowledge that it was in there somewhere because I had to make up my own mind and make my own choices. For instance the soundtrack being super contemporary. I knew that some people would be totally into it and others would be wondering what I was doing. For me it’s reflective of how progressive those women were. Virginia Woolf in particular broke all the rules of literature. Her reputation was of a very avant-garde writer. They published her novels initially from her basement as you see in the film. They published T.S. Eliot, they published Sigmund Freud in English for the first time. Vita and Virginia both had very progressive marriages and had a very progressive marriage with each other. The visions that Virginia has in the film, these effects you see, I wanted to do a thing that was a different look at her mental fragility. So you see these effects when she is struggling but also when she is having these brilliant ideas. All the bold choices are tied to research and knowledge.

What encouraged you to be a filmmaker and an artist?

Virginia Woolf was one of them. What I love about film is that you can totally disappear into another world. It always moved me more than any other art form. That’s totally subjective. I wished I could ask the people once they leave VITA & VIRGINIA not what they learned but how they felt. And how they feel now. The memories of the formative films that you watch while growing up can be just as livid as things that happen to you. I don’t know whether that’s healthy or not but I remember films that I loved when I was a child. I was an only child and I loved reading. I was a bit of a nerd. I wasn’t hanging out with people all of the time. The films form a part of who we are and how we communicate with each other. It’s so brilliant to travel around as a filmmaker and meet all kinds of different people with very different backgrounds. For instance it’s amazing sitting here with you and sharing the thoughts I had two years ago.