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Culture

Passion for discovery connects women documentary filmmakers

A group of women documentary filmmakers in Cologne offer each other support in a challenging industry. They're connected by a common enthusiasm for finding and presenting the right story.

A woman holding a television camera

Teamwork is essential in an often lonely industry

Since there is little money to be earned in the field of documentary film production, most people venture into it for the passion. That is what documentary filmmakers Magdalena Hutter, Bettina Braun and Lisa Glahn have in common - and what keeps them going. As women in the business, they're still in the minority and often get less than a fair share of available funding.

In an often lonely industry, teamwork is essential to them and is the basis of the Cologne-based organization, LaDoc - a sort of support group for documentary filmmakers who share the same passion.

"What I like most about documentary making is that you can definitely shape very strongly what you make, it's not like you just record what's there," Hutter told Deutsche Welle.

For her latest project, she and another German filmmaker were invited to work with a film institute in Montreal. They were given just three weeks to find and shoot a story.

"We just roamed the streets and looked for things that made an impression on us," said Hutter, adding that co-directing is very complicated and intimate. She's used to working alone, which is common for documentary filmmakers.

A scene from Bettina Braun's documentary Was lebst Du?

A scene from Bettina Braun's documentary "Was lebst Du?"

What impressed them in Montreal reflects something much deeper than what seems to be going on in Germany: the question of how immigration affects a whole society's identity.

"People deal with immigration in a way that just doesn't happen in Europe," she said, "[Canadian are] very open, really want people to come. There’s a diversity there that we found very impressive."

Deep human connections

Director Lisa Glahn, another member of LaDOC, also recently made a film in 2001 that dealt with immigration; "Black Odyssey" sheds light on the plight of Nigerian women who have been trafficked to Italy to work as prostitutes.

"They were living in a little flat, with five or six women in two rooms," said Glahn, "and I was there and I felt at home, so in this poverty they started to integrate me and immediately there was a friendship."

Those kind of human connections are what drive documentary filmmakers' passion for their trade.

Glahn's LaDoc colleague Bettina Braun recently made a film that focuses on immigrant families who were born and raised in Cologne.

Poster for the film: Was lebst Du?

Documentary making is sometimes a gritty business

"What drew me to these people is this question of belonging, identity," said Braun. "And then there were other things that drew me to them: a sense of humor, and maybe also certain values in life."

It took her over a year to sell the film - a time when she likely relied on her LaDOC colleagues for support and connections.

Network for a niche group

The group was founded seven years ago and now includes more than 24 women working in the documentary film industry in Cologne.

LaDOC does not have a legal structure, staff, hierarchy or its own funding, but they invite guest lecturers and participate together in film festivals. They also help each other out whenever possible with research, production assistance, legal counsel and connections to broadcasters and sponsors.

As a student for the past five years, Hutter has benefited from access to equipment and support offered by her film schools. Once she graduates, the struggle for funding and distribution will only get tougher, but she'll have her LaDOC colleagues to support her.

Author: Jo-Anne Velin / Kate Bowen

Editor: Louisa Schaefer

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