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Women Make Film (3)

Women make films. This should go without saying - but it doesn’t. Women have been behind the camera since the beginning of film history. But there is no question that in the 125-year history of film, access to filmmaking has been made difficult or even impossible for women, that they have not had the same opportunities as men, that the films they have made against the odds have rarely been included in the canon, that they have been overlooked, marginalized and forgotten, that their legacy has been neglected and that they have often been written out of film history. In a series extending over four months, we will present works by women directors from a wide range of countries and eras, that have not received enough attention and continue not to receive enough, in order to give them visibility.
A little-known fact of film history is that the first two decades of cinema there were more women active in the film industry than ever since. Back then, the new and as yet unrecognized form of art and expression offered both men and women an opportunity to experiment and try things out.
Once cinema had established itself as a serious career option and industry, women were pushed back particularly from the profession of directing, but also from screenwriting and producing. Their original contribution to film history was ignored and eventually forgotten. The few women directors who were able to hold their own, especially during the heyday of the studio systems, confirmed the rule as absolute exceptions. More and more, filmmaking became a matter for men. This is only changing slowly and makes a constant reassessment and rewriting of film history all the more necessary.
Our series was inspired by the 14-hour compilation WOMEN MAKE FILM (GB 2018) by film critic and director Mark Cousins. It consists of extracts from several hundred films by a total of 183 women directors: "This is a film school of sorts in which all the teachers are women: an academy of Venus.” (Tilda Swinton)
We have selected 13 of these female filmmakers for our program. We will show several films by them all and contextualize them with introductions, texts, and discussions. The resulting knowledge will be permanently available on our homepage and will provide an initial access.

Gilda de Abreu
Born into a wealthy family, Gilda de Abreu (1904-1979) is an important figure in Brazilian cinema. She and her husband, the famous singer Vicente Celestino, had a production company that produced operettas for theaters in Rio. Abreu also worked as an actress and a singer, in radio, film, and theaters, and wrote and adapted musical numbers for theater and film. When she made O ÉBRIO (1946), her first work as a director, she became the third woman in the country to be responsible for a film. Based on a play by her husband, the film was a box-office hit in Brazil and 500 copies were made. Two more feature films, which were also influenced by musical theater in style, followed: Pinguinho de gente (Tiny Tot, 1950) and Coração materno (The Maternal Heart, 1951), in which Abreu also starred. To make it, she founded her own production company, Pro-Arte, in 1951. However, directing proved to be a difficult undertaking for her: In interviews, she described how her co-workers doubted her skills on set, despite the undisputed successes. In 1977, she made a short documentary film about her husband, who had died in 1968, Canção de amor (Love Song). At the moment, only O ÉBRIO is available. Analogue copies of the other two films exist but they are so fragile that they would need restoring before they could be screened. There are also no DVD versions.  

Vera Stroyeva
Born in Kyiv, Vera Stroyeva (1903-1991) studied at the conservatory and then participated in experimental theater in Moscow where she met her future husband Grigori Roshal. She began working as a screenwriter for her husband's films and then co-directed her first films with him. She was at the center of the Soviet film industry for over 50 years, from 1930 to 1983, and created an oeuvre "that was always in the mainstream of ideological conjuncture, but hit the mark and exhibited massive cinematic artistry." (Barbara Wurm) Her opulent revolutionary and war epics combined "harsh realism with occasionally emphatic lyricism" (Irène Bonnaud and Bernard Eisenschitz). Her 1934 film A Petersburg Night, based on a short story by Dostoevsky, was presented at the Venice Film Festival, and in 1947 she directed the Soviet Union's first feature in Lithuanian, a film about a young Lithuanian woman who joins the Soviet partisans. Stroyeva’s love of music inspired two lavishly produced adaptations of operas by Mussorgsky, BORIS GODUNOV (1954) and Khovanshchina (1959).

Maria Plyta
Maria Plyta (1915-2006) was a Greek film director, author, and journalist. Although she had a successful directing career that spanned two decades, during which she made 17 feature films and helped to shape post-war Greek cinema, she later fell into almost complete oblivion. Having written two novels in the 1940s, she started working in the cinema in 1947. Her directorial debut was in 1950 and she was the first woman to make a film in Greece. She created multi-layered female characters searching for their place in patriarchal Greek society, rebelling against the social order in an uncompromising, headstrong, and determined manner. Her 1960s melodramas, influenced by neorealism, focused on people marginalized and forgotten by society. Throughout her career, she faced massive prejudice. Most of her films were produced by small production companies; the largest Greek studio of the time refused to work with a woman director. "Her work was an open provocation to the perception of women as passive recipients of the male gaze, with its distinct social hierarchies and ethical valorisations.”  (Vrasidas Karalis) Plyta’s work is being rediscovered and two of her films will be presented at the Thessaloniki Film Festival with specially created English subtitles. (Annette Lingg)

The program has been made possible by a grant from the Capital Cultural Fund.

Past screenings

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media