Jutta Brückner, Christina Perincioli,
and Helga Reidemeister

Conversing together finally

by Marc Silberman

from Jump Cut, no. 27, July 1982, pp. 47-49
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1982, 2005

Each of the filmmakers was given an opportunity to revise and update the original interviews from June, 1979. In addition, the JUMP CUT editors and Marc Silberman asked them to respond to some general questions. The following conversation was conducted by Jutta Brückner, Christina Perincioli and Helga Reidemeister in response to these questions. It took place at the Tegel Airport in Berlin in April, 1981.

What do you see as the relation between your feminism and your film form, your filmmaking practice and other political concerns or activities?

Perincioli: For me film primarily serves as a means to stimulate certain things in society and in people. Therefore, I haven't made films so much to express my personal problems or to experiment with formal problems. Rather, I do so to express things that are important politically — to use a cliché. Formally I try to make my films accessible, which does not imply a bad style or careless work, as is so often the case with TV. In terms of film practice, I take certain political themes and attempt to make films about them with public subsidies. Often it doesn't work, because my themes clash with generally held social standards and public powers.

Brückner: Feminism does not necessarily lead to a particular film form, and even less are feminist politics connected to some particular feminist style. I may seem to address very personal themes. But these personal problems are frequently public problems, which we have to reconstruct on the screen as such. Feminism has been important to me, not only for my filmmaking but also to help me know who I am.

As far as my film practice is concerned, I like to work with women professionally whenever possible, but not as a precondition. The way I make films depends on a high level of professional competence. Of course, in another sense, feminism was the prerequisite for my filmmaking. It’s been the essential trigger for developing self-confidence and for tackling issues which I wouldn't have dared approach without the support of the women's movement behind me. On the political level, what I do as a filmmaker is my political activity.

Perincioli: In contrast to Jutta, I prefer to work together with women, even if less professional than men. The film team's atmosphere and the support that it develops are of prime importance. Not all women can or will participate this way. But it's more likely to be so in a women's group than with individual men, who are so proud of their craftsmanship and are actually very isolated.

Reidemeister: I can't say much about feminism's relation to film form because I come from a completely different direction, from social work and working class problems. The question of feminism here still clearly has a class bias, which — at least in the early 70s — excluded working class women. Perhaps it has changed now with the battered women's centers, where working class women are involved and also find support. In any case, the feminist problematic did not pose itself when I began making films.

I did broach the question about feminism in the last scene of SCHICKSAL, when I asked Irene whether she could imagine doing something together with other women. She was very candid and clearly stated that women from her class and of her age had been excluded from feminism. Therefore she didn't see how she could participate in the feminist movement, strategically, with her economic burdens and all the kids. My situation is somewhat similar. I have a child, and I have never participated in the feminist movement. On the other hand, I could not imagine my film work without women. The women with whom I work and who have supported me all come out of the women's movement.

Have your ideas about working with women changed over the course of your filmmaking career?

Perincioli: Nothing has changed for me. The most important factor is still the group cohesion and solidarity as a creative basis from which to work.

Brückner: Something did change for me, pleasantly. I made my first three films with teams of technical personnel, whom I just happened to find. Not until my fourth film did I find two women with whom I want to continue to work collectively, not only in the production but also in the script and distribution phase. We have decided to be collectively responsible for the content and images. That new experience for me will certainly affect my films. In terms of what influenced my film practice, in the university, I only worked on theoretical problems, and practice was at first a strange thing. Theoretical and aesthetic questions are still important to me, but women's struggle was less so. That is, unless you mean the struggle with myself, not to be underestimated, which I externalized when I began to make films.

Reidemeister: When I began to make films, I only had my friends from the Film Academy to work with. After that I was unemployed. Recently I worked with two TV teams. This experience proved to me that I have to continue to work on two separate levels, like a schizophrenic. To earn money I must work in a completely alienated atmosphere with TV teams whom I don't know. They fly in for a shoot, and they do not understand me. As we cooperate with the TV networks to get money, they deform us. We are terribly powerless and helpless in our struggle against these public institutions, but we need their money. Then I hope to make films with a group of friends, hopefully subsidized by TV networks, films that are the product of trust based on real relationships. What I don't like about this latter procedure is the fact that afterwards — as was the case with SCHICKSAL — one person, myself, was singled out as the filmmaker, as the "careerist." That was a bitter and disruptive experience, but I don't know what to do about it.

What role do formal or stylistic innovations play in your films?

Perincioli: What bothers me is that we are co-opted so quickly by institutions. You make a wonderful film, you struggle for more money, finally you move onto 35mm. Pretty soon you are thinking more about aesthetic questions than about the possibility of revealing really explosive things with the camera. I make that as a self-critique. In the end, the courage with which you started out is completely lost.

Brückner: I am involved in something very different from Tina. She is interested in contemporary issues and social problems. In contrast, my films are an attempt to reconstruct disrupted body relations, and space-time relations. Both kinds of filmmaking co-exist. Neither can lay sole claim to, or be denied, feminist status. We must recognize that these two directions coexist, and are different.

What do you see as your relation to your audience?

Brückner: I could tell you empirically about the viewers who see my films, but I don't produce my films with a particular public in mind. I make my films as I must, which has a lot to do with me and very little to do with the public. I always knew my films would probably interest women more because my themes relate to women. Also, because of quirks in our distribution system, my first films were shown to groups and organizations to which few men belong.

HUNGERJAHRE, my last film ran in the theatres. Although it treats a woman's problem, many men were moved by it, by what they saw about their own socialization and biography. Indeed, male viewers tended to overlook important differences in sex role socialization, because so much of the film seemed convincing to them. But I didn't make the film with either women viewers or mixed audiences in mind. I am confronted with audience reactions only after the film is completed.

Perincioli: My case is reversed. My public is very important to me, especially that they laugh and cry and express their emotions. In earlier film discussions, many people — especially men — would try to ask very cunning questions or would argue with each other or discuss politics in order to make themselves look important. The discussions after DIE MACHT DER MÄNNER, however, were different because the audience felt the need to express their solidarity and warmth.

I am just beginning to work on a play about Three Mile Island and want to take up more general questions, not specifically women's issues. For example, why have men built the world with such destructive potential? Why might women perhaps do it differently? I want to engage the audience directly, this time without the film's tricks but with the physical presence of actors and spectators in a common space.

I don't want to film again in the style of DIE MACHT DER MÄNNER: realism according to TV norms. Perhaps I will return to film with new experiences from the theatre. I want to get away from dramatic stories that use such long detours to stimulate something in the mind or the soul. I am looking for a more direct route.

Reidemeister: The audience is also very important to me. But I have learned through my recent travels in the United States and France that I cannot rely only on the feedback of the German audience. Here I was really criticized for my films. They tended to split the audience into diametrically opposed groups. In France, though, taboos against expressing family problems and women's aggression do not seem so strong. The French understood SCHICKSAL correctly, in its context of the damage and wounds a fascist past has inflicted upon the German family. Unfortunately the German public didn't, and I find little encouragement to continue presenting problematic issues.

What forms of censorship have you confronted?

Brückner: Recently I was asked to make a film in a series about women's midlife crisis. The producer and TV editor — both men — had their own ideas about how a film about a woman, written and directed by a woman, should look. Their interference began with the script and became ever worse. You face such censorship in almost all productions that institutions commission. There’s censorship of how one approaches the theme, of the dramatic structure which — by conventional norms — must not be "boring." Generally, there’s a narrowing of topics, because the private sphere is to remain private. In my case the problem became acute in a male masturbation sequence. Everyone expected, naturally, that the camera would show a painfully distorted face and only suggest something happening below. That wasn't my idea, though, and everyone was shocked. The sequence was edited out as not "psychologically convincing" (in other words, a German man doesn't masturbate). That was brute censorship, dictated by the program director's standards of taste. Moreover, the TV network took the unusual step of forbidding me to make changes of any kind, even keeping me from preparing a completed copy even at my own cost for festivals that had requested the film.

Reidemeister: Here are some of my problems getting my Carola Bloch project accepted [Carola Bloch is a long-time Jewish political activist who joined the German Communist Party in 1932 and after the War belonged to the East German Socialist Party until 1956 when she was expelled]. After rejection slips from nine different TV studios, I finally received one quarter the budgeted amount. The problem is Carola's past as a CP member, something I can't and don't want to conceal. I am supposed to make a 30-minute TV version, which will of course be censored. I am now looking for additional money so that I can prepare an uncensored feature-length version.

Perincioli: A lot of my projects weren't accepted because they weren't currently fashionable. For instance, in 1973 I wanted to make a film about witches. TV producers considered it ridiculous, although today they will accept virtually anything on that topic. Recently, for my Three Mile Island film project, I wrote to fourteen German and foreign TV studios, studios which knew me or had purchased my earlier films. Two responded affirmatively, but their offers then evaporated. Of course, in the United States it is even worse. As I understand it, there is no coverage at all of such issues.

I have also had my scripts completely rewritten, and then filmed so I didn't recognize them. That is even worse than censorship. In another instance, I was fired as director for my own script ANNA UND EDITH because the TV network thought I was too partisan and that a man could deal better with a lesbian relationship.

Reidemeister: It is becoming increasingly difficult to pry money out of the networks. And our money, of course, is always tied to the magical incantation, "low budget." I have been advised by one of the more progressive TV editors that I should work with video because it is cheaper and fashionable. That, too, for me is a form of censorship. All the faucets are being turned off.

What does the tern "women's films" mean to you?

Brückner: It points to a kind of film which proves that women are much more sensitive than even they themselves had imagined. My position is miles away from that. The notion as presently used is very harmful, and I would suggest that we abandon it.

Reidemeister: We are stuck in such narrow categories. The concept "women's films" serves only to discriminate against all of us.

Perincioli: We've struggled so long to be able to make films about women's issues. Now we have done that for a while. We women are becoming interested in issues such as nuclear power and the military. Helke Sander and I have found, however, that TV producers will not accept our script suggestions on these "male" themes. It will take a long time to overcome that prejudice.

Brückner: The notion of "women's films" also serves to mainstream women's position as a "minority." When their films belong only to the alternative cinema, it becomes a convenient way to repress the fact that women constitute half of the world's population. Our problems are not minority problems.

Perincioli: I would keep the concept, "women's films," if we could really call all the rest "men's films." Men's films are not just made by men. But they also are situated in a completely different social framework, and they represent society as if we didn't exist.

Brückner: Furthermore, the best "women's films" are generally considered to have been made by men. Much better than anything we women could ever make!

Do you have any comments on the U.S. response to your films?

Reidemeister: We women filmmakers from West Berlin, who visited California in November (1980) as part of the Berlin-Los Angeles cultural exchange, were frequently criticized for making "aggressive" films. "Why are you all so grim?" Perhaps viewers assumed we women should produce "soft" films, and became upset to find us depicting certain problems with great vehemence.

Brückner: The same questions came up in France when I was at the Festival of Sceaux. Rather than a critique, I see that as a kind of shock reaction, respectful shock. We debated why German women approach personal and social contradictions with such vehemence, whereas the French either remain on the surface, in the worst cases, or enter the imaginative sphere. I'm not sure whether this holds true in the United States. However, in our postwar generation, we had no other possibility than to confront our history and that of our parents, i.e., our autobiographies. That our films are so grim has a lot to do with German history.

Perincioli: Being Swiss, I can observe this phenomenon as an outsider. I do find Germans somewhat "grim." They do everything so seriously and with such profundity. In other cultures, perhaps with the French, the same precision prevails but with a laugh now and then.

Unlike in other countries, German women have had many more opportunities to make films in the last five years, and they have produced a tremendous quantity. After the Los Angeles Program last November, I was able to attend the "Feminar” at Northwestern University. I saw several shorts one evening and was impressed how these women were trying — with almost no money — to make films, even if only three or ten minutes long. Under those conditions you can't expect a women's film culture to blossom. Perhaps that is a false impression, but I did hear how difficult it is to fund any kind of reasonable project.

Actually, I too would like to know why things developed the way they did in Germany. Part of the answer relates to German TV. It is different from all other European systems. It has more money and it is decentralized. Most important probably is the fact that so much money is circulating in West Germany. Even an outsider gets a chance to do something. Should the economy slow down, we will certainly feel the effects quickly.

Brückner: We women were also in a position where at a certain point we could begin to profit from a system that men had built up for themselves. Our situation is typified by the Autorenfilm (auteur film), where individual filmmakers have control over all phases of production), and the TV subsidy system responds to it. That is an important factor, especially when you compare internationally recognized film cultures like those in France and Italy. There, too, you find a strong women's movement. Yet the women hardly have access to the film industry, even though that industry is stagnating. Because an auteur’s control doesn't exist in these other countries, a woman can rarely become a filmmaker in the classical industrial system. Those women are faced with even stricter censorship than we know.

Perincioli: You know, after we've heard what each has to say in response to the questions, we should begin a second discussion about what we have said. We are really grateful that this "interview” has forced us finally to talk with each other. We've never done it before.