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Culture

Women Behind the Camera in Cologne

Long gone are the days when a woman’s work in the film industry meant posing in front of the camera. This week the Feminale Film Festival in Cologne pays tribute to the role of the "working girls" behind the camera.

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"Working Girls" by Dorothy Arzner

You’ve come a long way, baby! From the days of silent film starlets to black and white sex bombs and million dollar superstars, the role of women in film has pretty much been relegated to positions in front of the camera. But today more and more women are getting involved behind the scenes as directors of their own distinctive female film genre.

And this week in Cologne, Germany, the Feminale Female Film Festival pays tribute to the best of their creations. With more than 120 short and feature length films by female directors from around the world and an expected audience turnout of around 12,000, the Feminale is the second largest film festival of its type in the world.

Beyond the single common denominator gender

For 11 years now, the German city on the Rhine has played host to dozens of female directors, some well-known, others just starting their career. But they all come with a similar purpose in mind: promoting their art and the female contribution to film history.

With a variety of topics on the program from debut films and European productions to queer looks and a focus on globalization, the Feminale is designed to show that female directors produce films on topics just as varied as their male colleagues.

"We want to address a broad audience, because female films are not automatically about lesbians or typically female problems," says festival director Verena Mund in an interview with DW-WORLD. In this regard, the quirky American TV lawyer Ally McBeal belongs just as much to the "working girls" of film and video as do the groundbreaking Mary and June from the 1931 cinema rarity Working Girls by Dorothy Arzner, Mund explains.

ausgezeichnete Ally

Calista Flockhart as Ally McBeal

In this early film, women are presented as individuals on their own who don’t need to rely on male counterparts to pull the plot along. For the first time in cinematographic history, Arzner made a film for a primarily female audience.

By women, for women

Women’s films are made by women for other women, but they are not exclusively about women, as the festival’s featured director Ngozi Onwurah’s creations show. As a Nigerian-born director working in England, Onwurah’s films focus on broader issues that affect both men and women, namely racism and integration.

Like Onwurah, other female directors such as Pantea Bahrami, a Muslim film maker living and working in Germany, focus on inter-cultural issues, while Belgian director Marie France Collard takes a closer look at working conditions in Levis’ jeans factories. Each of these directors relies on women to tell their story, but they are stories affecting a broad-range of people, not just women.

Men included

With film and video productions from 24 countries and more than 40 directors and academics presenting lecturers on issues from gender and media to Cuba’s film heritage and the role of women in India’s "Bollywood," the Cologne Feminale, sets out to offer interesting topics for every shade of female film enthusiast – men included.

And lest women viewers fear they will only get glimpses of their own sex during the four-day festival, a cameo appearance by the rocker Jon Bon Jovi as a friendly handyman in the Ally McBeal show is sure to put them at ease. "Why shouldn’t women also enjoy looking at good-looking men," Mund asks provocatively. The Feminale has something for every one.

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