The Association of
Women Film Workers

by Petra Haffter
translated by Marc Silberman

from Jump Cut, no. 30, March 1985, p. 66
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1985, 2005

Petre Haffter, filmmaker and producer, is one of the founding members of the Verband der Filmarbeiterinnen and sat on its board of directors for two years.

The Association was founded at the Hamburg Film Festival in Fall 1979, as a spontaneous reaction to the lack of representation by women in discussions there on film subsidy policies. Among the goals outlined in the constitution are the following:

  • to support, encourage and inform about all films made by women which reflect feminist, emancipatory and non-sexist content and intent;
  • to list, catalogue and collect old and new films made by women;
  • to collaborate with and to support persons publishing information on women film workers and women in film;
  • to support with advice and ongoing exchange of information women's film projects and applications for subsidies;
  • to cooperate with domestic and foreign institutions and groups pursuing related goals.

Contact address of the Association is: Ellen Wietstock, Arostel-Paulus-Strasse 32, D-1000 Berlin 62.

The following essay is a shortened version of an article which appeared in Filmfaust 27 (April/May, 1982), pp. 52-53.

The Association of Women Film Workers is an antidiscrimination group fighting for gender parity in all areas of audio-visual media … That is the common basis, the consensus upon which we were able to agree, so that women with a wide variety of occupations and interests could join the Association. So states our constitution.

As I helped write this constitution and consider the Association's goal still unfulfilled, I will continue to support it. However, I find it pigheaded and tiring to constantly repeat our 50% demands. If the goal were reached, we could dissolve the Association immediately. Still, I believe that we cannot afford to lose sight of our main goal despite our many other activities: the primary work of the Association of Women Film Workers must be political. Our most important task remains that our demands be taken seriously, that they be taken into account in allocating subsidies and prizes, in appointing members to film juries and boards, and in formulating subsidy guidelines.

Our Association's membership extends from makeup artists to directors, from professionally employed camerawomen to film students. This creates problems — for example, when deciding what position to take in questions of film policymaking. A producer among us will have a different viewpoint from a film editor organized within a union. The differences arise from the women's differing economic conditions. In this specific case, the fact that both are women must not obscure their real differences. Therefore, in the future we must examine more carefully where we should take a position as women and where we can be politically more effective by working together with male colleagues in professional organizations which represent common interests — without forgetting, of course, our demand for 50% parity.

We also make dissimilar products — in content, form and aesthetics. We should continue to regard these dissimilarities as our diversity and strength and not use every opportunity to quarrel with each other. Nonetheless, we should also have the courage to talk about our films and their successes and failures. All the organizations representing the New German Cinema have neglected substantial cinematic discussion for years, out of fear that it will divide the ranks and injure individuals. Only recently has a cautious exchange begun. I think it must take place to build solidarity and do justice to our work. From our opponents we can only expect attacks.

As dissimilar as our professions and films are our attitudes toward women's politics. That was clear when we established the Association. We agreed on a minimal consensus in our constitution … But for some time now our greatest potential has no longer lain with the filmmakers marked by the women's movement. Women have joined who were working usually in the specifically female film branches (editors, secretaries, costumers, etc.) for years. Moreover, young women have been joining (and in recent months that has affected the life of the Association decisively), young women for whom it seems self-evident that the film industry should contain a women's alliance.

As far as new talent is concerned, I wonder whether or not the special interests represented by the women who have not yet worked in the industry or have not yet produced a feature-length film could be better served by their respective professional organizations. The task of the Association of Women Film Workers is to assure that the demand for gender parity should also be accepted by the Association of Young German Talent (Verband deutscher Nachwuchsfilm — an organization representing the interests of directors who have not yet produced a feature-length film — i.e. more than 60 minutes). Any other position will lead, in the long run, to concentrating the needs of women employed by the film industry within our Association, and so lead to a new ghetto for women. If we keep in mind that we want to reach gender parity in all audio-visual areas, then we must recognize that retreating into a corner will remove us from rather than bring us nearer to our goal

Women film workers must not be taken for granted in our country, and we all need support. As long as it was fashionable and popular, women were favored when it came to female themes, but reduced to that. How else should we interpret what we've heard so frequently of late — that a woman could make one episode of TATORT [Translator's note: one of the most popular detective series on German TV]? Women who want to work on something other than "typical female themes" get rejections. This reductive process reaches the apex of cynicism when, for example, in choosing a camerawoman, the director does not take artistic qualifications into account. The only thing that matters is that in a women's team shooting a women's film, a woman should stand behind the camera. I can only encourage all women to carefully consider such offers before accepting them, so we do not disqualify ourselves as women. We must fight against sex discrimination, but we also must prevent ourselves from being employed because we are women rather than professionally trained workers.

In this connection we should not overlook two facts: first, the economic basis upon which women filmmakers work; and second, the miserable educational opportunities for women film workers. Most women directors are still working with extremely small budgets because they must prove themselves individually as filmmakers and collectively as women. Consequently, they have particularly diminished free space, and this fact only emphasizes the imagination women have developed in order to find new possibilities and ways. Furthermore, we should not overlook the pressure to succeed from which we all suffer. We know quite well that flops by women come under much heavier attack and more quickly endanger a woman's career.

Nonetheless, we should begin to learn from our past experiences. If each of us accepts any condition just because we are thankful for a job, they will break our necks. We must begin to consider what we can achieve, for how much money, in what dimensions, and with what expectations. We must become more realistic in evaluating our own capabilities and qualifications if we want our demands and wishes to be taken seriously. When a woman acts consistently, her colleagues should not see that as betrayal but as a contribution towards achieving gender parity.

I understand some women's aversion to continuing discussions about the Association's tasks and goals, and I understand their weariness. Considering, however, the recent developments in film and television policy-making that result from more general trends in our country, I find this weariness suicidal. The future has already begun and with it the dismantling of democratic rights, censorship measures, budget reductions and restructuring in all areas of film subsidy and financing through television. Our politics must become defensive politics — and by that I mean not only that of our Association but of all organizations allied in the National Coalition of German Film (Bundesvereinigung des deutschen Films — an umbrella organization coordinating ten other professional groups such as distributors, producers, filmmakers, etc. who are involved in the New German Cinema). Our work and solidarity among the organizations are becoming increasingly important.