Berlin Boosts Female Representation in 2019 Competition Lineup

The Kindness of Strangers
Courtesy of the Berlin Film Festival

Seven of the 17 films in the running for the 69th Berlin Golden Bear are from women filmmakers, a 41 percent share.

While Cannes dithers and Venice shrugs, Berlin is making real progress towards the goal of 50-50 gender representation.

Of the 17 titles in the competition lineup for the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival, seven, or 41 percent, are from female directors, it was announced Thursday.

That's not quite the 50 percent set out as a target by industry lobby group 5050 by 2020, but it's pretty close. And it is miles ahead of Cannes, which had three female directors among its 21 competition titles last year (14 percent), and Venice (one of 21, a measly 4.7 percent).

“If you make an effort, you can make progress,” Berlin festival director Dieter Kosslick told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview. “You can do things differently.”

Kosslick is stepping down as Berlinale boss at the end of this year's festival, which is set to run Feb. 7-17. During his previous 17 Berlinales, a total of four female directors have won the fest's Golden Bear for best film, including the last two winners — Adina Pintilie for Touch Me Not and Ildiko Enyedi for On Body and Soul. That's equal to all the female winners of Venice's Golden Lion honor since its inauguration in 1946. And, infamously, only one woman has ever won Cannes' Palme d'Or for best film: Jane Campion for The Piano in 1993.

This year's Berlinale is set to open with Danish director Lone Scherfig's The Kindness of Strangers, a New York-set drama starring Zoe Kazan, Andrea Riseborough and Jay Baruchel. Other female filmmakers with features in competition at Berlin this year include Spanish director Isabel Coixet with her black-and-white period drama Elisa & Marcela; Polish auteur Agnieszka Holland with Mr. Jones; and German helmers Nora Fingscheidt and Angela Schanelec, who will celebrate the world premieres of their dramas System Crasher and I Was at Home, But, respectively. Macedonian filmmaker Teona Strugar Mitevska, whose drama God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya follows a women who throws herself into a traditionally men-only ceremony, and Austria's Marie Kreutzer, whose The Ground Beneath My Feet focuses on a high-powered business executive who starts to lose her grip on reality, are also in the running.

They will compete with such (male) Berlin festival regulars such as Francois Ozon, represented this year with his Catholic drama By the Grace of God; Sweden's Hans Petter Moland, whose Out Stealing Horses will have its world premiere at the 69th Berlinale; and Chinese master Zhang Yimou, who returns with the historic drama One Second.

French actress Juliette Binoche heads this year's competition jury, which will pick the winners of Berlin's Gold and Silver Bears.

There are few high-profile standouts in this year's competition lineup, with the possible exception of Fatih Akin's The Golden Glove. It will be Akin's first film in competition in Berlin since the Hamburg-born director won in 2004 with Head-On. Coming on the heels of his well-received (and Golden Globe-winning) drama In the Fade, Golden Glove is one of the few Berlin competition films getting much attention ahead of the festival.

Also missing this year is Hollywood. Adam McKay's Vice, starring Christian Bale as former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Yuval Adler's The Operative, a thriller starring Diane Kruger and Martin Freeman, are the only titles in the main lineup with any traditional star power. Both are screening out of competition.

But for his final year as Berlinale boss, Kosslick has at the very least set a new high bar for gender representation. It remains for Cannes and Venice to follow.