Activist, artist, filmmaker and "woman-about-town"
By Sabrina Vetter
Those well-versed in abstract art, knowledgeable in collage art, modern art, Expressionism, Surrealism and Constructivism or interested in the art circles in and around the Bauhaus in Weimar are likely familiar with Ella Bergmann-Michel’s name – and, if her name still doesn’t ring any bells for you, a deeper look at the aesthetic of her collages reveals that they are created by a pioneer of modern art. Still, how is an artist, educated in drawing, inspired by Bauhaus, Surrealism and Dadaism and one of the first to include photographs into her collages, relevant to a project like FemFilmFans that looks at female filmmakers up close? The answer: Bergmann-Michel didn’t stop at drawing, making collages and photography; the abstract artist’s woman-about-town attitude also took her into the world of filmmaking.
Before she started her work as a filmmaker of short documentary films, Bergmann-Michel already had made her mark as an abstract artist and ventured into photography. Her rich oeuvre of paintings, graphic works, photography and films is marked by a deep love for art and plenty of creative ventures. Therefore, Bergmann-Michel’s fascinating story takes us from short-lived music studies to modern art collages to Bauhaus exhibitions to living in a windmill to avant-garde filmmaking – with stops in Paderborn, Weimar, the Netherlands, London, Frankfurt and Eppstein/Taunus. At the end of this journey, there is a filmmaker’s endeavor cut short at the hands of the Nazi Party in 1933.
The Art of the Filmmaker
As an artist, Bergmann-Michel took to modern abstract art, with especially her collages considered as prime examples of her pioneering ideas in this realm. She included wood, metal and other for that time quite unusual materials in her pieces of art, thereby combining fine arts and crafts – an artistic style that put her right in line with the avant-garde movement of the Bauhaus school of art. However, while some of her and her husband Robert Michel’s collages were hand-selected by Bauhaus-founder Walter Gropius to be shown during the opening of the school in 1919, Bergmann-Michel was never among the student body at school. Even though Gropius created Bauhaus Weimar, the art school’s first version, as a joint venture between Großherzoglich-Sächsischen Hochschule für Bildende Kunst in Weimar and the Kunstgewerbeschule Weimar – the former where Bergmann-Michel started her art studies in 1914 and took on drawing classes –, she didn’t warm up to the atmosphere created by teacher Johannes Itten permeating Bauhaus’s teachings and general philosophy. Ippen’s world view was marked by a strict mysticism grounded in the cult-like, religious Mazdaznan teachings, which just a few years later spoke in a favor of the Nazi Party and its ideologies such as sterilization and raciology. Therefore, Bergmann-Michel looked elsewhere to create art which was up to her standards.
Home in Hesse
Ella Bergmann-Michel was born on 20th October, 1895 in Paderborn, Germany, leaving her hometown in 1914, heading to Weimar to at first study music, eventually switching to graphic arts and ending up at the Großherzoglichen Sächsischen Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Weimar under the guidance of German painter, printmaker, and illustrator Walter Klemm. She continued her studies at the art school until 1920 and it was during that time that she refined her skills in photography, drawing and collage art and became interested in Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism and Futurism. No longer interested in the rather old-fashioned teachings of the art school as well alienated by the prevailing internal structures at Bauhaus, Bergmann-Michel and her husband – whom she met during her studies in 1917 and married in 1919 – headed somewhere else in 1920: Eppstein/Taunus (near Frankfurt) in the German state of Hesse, where they took up residence in an old mill that produced paint called “Schmelz” and which was part of Robert’s family inheritance. The Bergmann-Michels were able to live out their creative geniuses at their new home, while at the same time creating a “hang out” for a motley crew of Dadaists, Constructivists and other artists the likes of Willi Baumeister, László Moholy-Nagy, Kurt Schwitters, and, later on, Joris Ivens, Asja Lacis und Dziga Vertov. Robert would eventually re-name the “Schmelz” as “Heimatmuseum of Modern Art” (“Local Museum of Modern Art”), in order to celebrate its newfound role as the two artists’ home and studio. From here on, the Bergmann-Michels’ works would eventually find their way to the New York Museum of Modern Art via the wife of a curator from Wiesbaden. Eppstein-Vockenhausen would remain the home of the Bergmann-Michels – or the “Michelmänner” as they were known among their neighbors and friends – until Ella’s death in 1971.
From 1927 onwards, – after traveling the Netherlands with her husband and meeting collage artist Hannah Höch – Bergmann-Michel focused more and more on photography: she set up a studio in Frankfurt and started documenting moments of everyday life as well as modern architecture. In her photography predating any filmmaking endeavors, Bergmann-Michel was interested in looking at private and public spheres and how they interconnected. This meant taking a look at social circumstances and working as well as living conditions specific to Frankfurt. Bergmann-Michel’s photography style was deeply rooted in “Neues Sehen” (“New Vision”) – a style of photography originating in the 1920s which aimed at dismantling fixed structures of the artform and tried to shake up laws of lightning as well as composition and positioned the lens not just as part of the apparatus but as a second eye. “Neues Sehen” was therefore an experimental approach to photography; this style was also found at Bauhaus.
Filmmaking in Frankfurt
However, in the 1930s, Bergmann-Michel broadened her oeuvre by another artistic process: filmmaking. In between 1931-1933, Bergmann-Michel shot five short documentary films – until the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany cut her time as a filmmaker short, eventually forcing the artist to retire from shooting documentaries and to relocate to London for some years where she took up work as a graphic designer. The five short documentaries are: “Wo wohnen alte Leute?“ (1931), “Erwerbslose kochen für Erwerbslose” (1932), „Fliegende Händler in Frankfurt am Main” (1932), “Fischfang in der Rhön (an der Sinn)” (1932) and “Wahlkampf 1932 (Letzte Wahl)” (1932/33). Bergmann-Michel’s work in film is undeniably interconnected with Frankfurt am Main, Germany and especially the public housing program called “Neues Frankfurt” (“New Frankfurt”). The director’s first film “Wo wohnen alte Leute?” was actually a commissioned work by architect Mart Stam, who was responsible for the construction of the “Henry und Emma Budge-Altenheim” as part “Neues Frankfurt”.
Bergmann-Michel got involved in film in the first place with the foundation of the network “Das Neue Frankfurt” within “Neues Frankfurt”. As part of “Das Neue Frankfurt”, a special section focused on film (also known as “Arbeitsgemeinschaft für unabhängigen Film”) was founded under the guidance of Bergmann-Michel in 1931. This project was focused on creating candid films, focusing on the present and conveying stories that needed to be told via a modern style. The project was led by a three-person management body, one of which was Bergmann-Michel.
Suiting the new ways of “Neues Frankfurt” of looking at and creating things, Bergmann-Michel presented herself as an avant-garde, even experimental filmmaker who looked at everyday aspects of social interactions, and observed how individual members of society live with each other and how they are influenced by their surroundings. In her projects, she closely looked at social issues like poverty, unemployment and political campaigning.
During WWII and after she was forced to stop her artistic efforts due to the Nazi Party’s rise to power, Bergmann-Michel worked as a graphic designer in London for some years and was eventually able to return to her work as an artist – even giving lectures on modern painting and filmmaking – producing paintings and collages. After the war ended in 1945, she solely focused on this aspect of her artistic work, never returning to filmmaking. Bergmann-Michel lived and worked at the “Michelmänners’” mill in Eppstein-Vockenhausen until she passed away on 8th August, 1971.
Sabrina Vetter is freelance writer based near Frankfurt, Germany. She received her M.A. in American and English Studies from the Goethe University in Frankfurt, where she focused on film, gender, literature and post-colonial studies. Her previous jobs include editorial assistant at a publishing company and Social Media manager. Besides her freelance work, Sabrina is busy finishing her PhD on marginalized bodies in media, including film and TV. She has also created the Instagram Challenge #365Plus6Films, which will look at 371 films directed by women. Each Monday for the next year, Sabrina will post a list of seven different films directed by women on a specific theme. One film for each day of the week. So be sure to follow her on Instagram!
"The Day I Am Free": Actress, Writer, Civil Rights Leader, Swedish Romany Activist
By Christina Schultz
Katarina Taikon is not a typical candidate for our Women in Film series, and that is precisely why I wanted to include her. Read on to see if you agree with my choice.
I was first inspired to include Katarina Taikon because she is the subject of the documentary film Taikon from 2015, directed by Gellert Tamas and Lawen Mohtadi. I had the pleasure of seeing this film back in May as part of the Kinothek Asta Nielsen's film series entitled "Revision. The Romany Civil Rights Movement and Fight Against Antiziganism" and I found it to be a loving tribute to such a vibrant and determined woman. If you would like to learn about Katarina Taikon's life - through film footage, news clips, and interviews with Katarina, her sister Rosa Taikon and everyone who played an important role in Katarina's life - this is a great place to begin. But here is some information you can read right now to get you acquainted with this incredible woman.
Katarina was born on July 29, 1932 in Almby, Sweden into a Romany family from the Kalderash caste. Having spent her childhood living in camps and moving from place to place, Katarina lacked the stability of her own four walls and schooling. She learned to read and write in her teens, and once she was literate, it did not take long before Katarina had begun reading law books in order to fuel her fight with the Swedish government - she was determined to improve the living conditions of the Roma people in her home country. Her tireless efforts on that front, combined with her career as a (minor) actress and successful writer of children's books, made her into a national celebrity and champion of the Roma not just in Sweden, but in Europe as well.
Katarina Taikon was at the heart of every protest, civil rights demonstration and political debate, she asked the right questions, challenged the right people and pushed the right buttons to involve seemingly all of Stockholm in the fight for change. What makes this even more special, is that she did it all with such wit, charm and intensity, never resting, as if her very life depended on the fight for Roma rights.
She rightly earned the title "the Martin Luther King of Sweden."
Perhaps she eventually did pay with her life. After her decades of incredibly hard work as an activist, she tragically suffered from cardiac arrest, which resulted in severe brain damage in 1982. She eventually fell into coma and passed away 13 years later, on December 30, 1995 in Ytterhogdal, Sweden. It is hard to believe that a woman filled with such passion and vivacity could have been stopped from continuing her work at the young age of 50.
Knowing virtually nothing about her before entering the cinema that day, the film Taikon made me fall in love with Katarina. Watching her sad end, even on the big screen, I felt the pain her husband Björn Langhammer experienced as if I, too, had lost someone I dearly loved. This is what makes the documentary different from any others I have seen - or perhaps that is just the magic of Katarina Taikon.
A magic that one cannot deny in any of her endeavors. Watching her speak with Swedish politicians, and listening to her feisty interviews was a true delight. She was able to make her audiences, both big and small, laugh, hang on her every word, applaud her and, in the end, agree with her arguments. Her small roles in several Swedish films - Uppbrott (1948; click to watch the short film), Singoalla (1949), Motorkavaljerer (1950), Tull-Bom (1951), Marianne (1953), Åsa-Nisse på semester (1953), Sceningång (1956) - also leave a lasting impression because of her mesmerizing looks, her divine dancing and even her lovely singing. I also find it magical that she wrote about her upbringing in a series of autobiographical children's books, Katitzi, that teach readers self-pride (but not arrogance), dignity and compassion, important lessons at any time and place, while focusing on a group of people so often overlooked and cast aside in the world. She did not feel ashamed of her background, and because of this, the Roma had a hero in the real-life Katarina Taikon and the young girl Katitzi of her stories. She showed the world that Roma (and Sinti) women are more than just objects of desire, that they can use their intellect and fight against the injustices of the world. If that's not feminist, I don't know what is.
And by writing about Katarina Taikon, I hope to raise awareness for the issues Roma and Sinti face in the world today, to contribute, in some small way, to combating stereotypes about them, and to spread the incredible story about an incredible woman.
Taikon trailer (in Swedish)
From Punk Ballerina to Fierce Filmmaker
By Christina Schultz
In our quest to promote female filmmakers and raise their visibility, we feel this Woman in Film is someone you should know.
Meet Syni Pappa, the director of the short sci-fi dark comedy Whack (which has a crisp dystopian Bladerunner aesthetic) and the coming-of-age short crime The National Garden (a beautifully shot dreamlike short), and co-writer of feature length LGBT drama Feline and sci-fi feature Haunted by City Lights.
Pappa was born and raised in Cologne, Germany, the daughter of a second generation Greek mechanic and an airline worker. Her family relocated to Northern Greece, however, and there she finished school in the border town of Serres. Later, she moved to Athens where she studied Social Anthropology at Panteion University and then went on to London to study film (directing and screenwriting) at Raindance Film School. She also trained to be a classical dancer.
In her teens, Pappa was mainly a punk ballerina who dreamed of forming an all-female version of The Clash, but it was first after she watched Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995) that she wanted to become a filmmaker. Beside Jim Jarmusch it was Vera Chytilova, Robert Altman, Cohen Brothers, Roy Andersson, Thomas Windemberg, Margaret Tait, David Lynch and Andrea Arnold that equally inspired her, taking lessons from their brazenly generous originality.
Following her studies, the notions of female representation, identity and the idea of power defining normal to abnormal influenced her viewpoint on telling and perceiving stories. In the following years, she worked as an assistant director in feature films, commercials, televisions series and shot most of her experimental shorts. In late 2012, Margot Filmhouse recruited her in Athens as their Creative Director, supervising script development in feature and shorts. In 2015, she moved to Berlin because she missed Germany. She’s currently working on her debut feature film Wrong Island, a girl buddy/coming-of-age mystery film. Hopefully we’ll be able to see Wrong Island in cinemas. So stay on the lookout for Syni Pappa in the future!
Read more about Syni and check out her work by clicking on the links below:
Syni Pappa on IMDB
Syni's Film Festival Agency Profile
The National Garden Trailer
You can also follow Syni on Instagram: @synipop
By Marina Brafa
Mia May’s life is a perfect example how the early cinema system worked and developed. Born Hermine Pfleger on June 2, 1886 in Vienna, Austria, she began her stage acting career at the early age of five. At the dawn of the moving images, she and her husband Julius Otto Mandl (whom she had married in 1902) made the transition from theater to film - although they did not abandon theater completely. Joe May and Mia May, as they now called themselves, worked together on many projects making their first steps into the emerging film business. Their first 27-minute long film was directed by Joe and starred Mia and was meant to be the introduction to the theater piece Rund um die Alster/Along the Alster. In 1911 the couple moved to Berlin where Joe became a director at Continental-Kunstfilm GmbH whilst Mia continued her acting career on stage. Only their second film In der Tiefe des Schachtes/In the Depths of the Pit (1912) would push them to abandon the realms of theater: the couple wrote the script for this film about a woman who commits suicide because of an unrequited love. Again, the two of them divided work with Joe as director and Mia as lead actress.
Mia kept on working as an actress both in Germany and back in Vienna, e.g. in the 1915 film Charly, der Wunderaffe/Charly, the Wondrous Ape. The same year the Mays founded a production company in Berlin called the May-Film GmbH where Mia took over the management for a time whilst still developing her acting career. She was playing along with Max Landa (The Suffragette; Flight Around the World) in the Joe-Deebs-crime films (produced by Joe May) which became widely popular in German-speaking countries. Spurred by its success, Joe decided to produce a spin-off show featuring his wife Mia. The movies had dramatic titles such as Die Sünde der Helga Arndt/The Sin of Helga Arndt (1916) and Nebel und Sonne/Mist and Sun (1916) and made Mia May famous. Along with Asta Nielsen and Henny Porten, Mia became one of the divas of Weimar cinema. She worked with important contemporary filmmakers like Fritz Lang (Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler; Metropolis) who also scripted one of her most popular films Hilde Warren und der Tod/Hilde Warren and Death (1917) and was director and writer of the film Das wandernde Bild/The Wandering Image (1920) where Mia played a pregnant woman – again – struggling for love.
In those days, the celebrity couple was at its height: successful as director and actress, owning a flourishing production company, living a life between Germany and Austria and working with the most elaborate filmmakers of their times. However, this story came to an abrupt ending in 1933.
Joe May was a Jew and with the Nazis taking over power, the Mays left Germany and emigrated to the U.S. They settled in Los Angeles but were not able to continue their successful film careers there. Joe May shot his last movie in 1944. The Mays founded an Austrian restaurant that failed after a couple of months and only survived with the help of friends and the “European Film Fund.” Little is known about their further lives. Joe May died in 1954 at the age of 74; Mia died on November 28 , 1980 in Hollywood at the age of 96.
It just so happens that the 2018 Hamburg Cinefest, which takes place from November 17-25, 2018, is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Weimar Republic. The festival program is dedicated to Joe, Mia and their daughter Eva May, showcasing a selection of their movies: “Director and producer Joe May discovered and worked with many talented people (Harry Piel, Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbour, E.A. Dupont, Paul Leni and many others) and pioneered film genres such as the detective film, melodrama, and filmic puzzles.” Not to forget the fair (and big) share that his wife Mia holds in this!
Find further information on Mia May in her Filmportal profile (German).
Rediscovering a Female Filmmaker
By Christina Schultz
Recha Jungmann, who was active as an actress starting in the 1950s and then as a filmmaker from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, was telling stories of women when even less women felt comfortable doing so. There were no 5050 by 2020, Times Up, Yes She Cannes or Me Too movements empowering women to challenge the patriarchy and fight for equality. And yet she made three feature length films and several short films (which will be screened at Remake. Frankfurter Frauen Film Tage, more info below) that center around topics like mother- and womanhood, love and loss.
For example, her first documentary film, Renate (1968), is an intimate love story from the perspective of the eponymous 13-year-old girl. Her film Two Right, Two Left, Drop One, "a short flighty poem" about two women arguing over a man, premiered at the 1st Toronto Women's Film Festival in 1972. One of Jungmann's feature length films, Etwas tut weh (Something Hurts, 1979), is a poignant, personal investigation of what hurt (or still hurts) the director: the postwar past, the familial suffering, the destruction at the hands of the Nazis. Other titles include Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter (Our Mothers, Our Fathers) about the scars left behind in the postwar period and Zwischen Mond und Sonne (Between the Moon and the Sun), an ode to Jungmann's son Titus.
Following the above works, Recha's career then shifted from film to television (especially documentaries) after a lack of funding for a further film project. She never became a big (although "big" is still relative) name like some of her German female filmmaking contemporaries - one might think of Margarethe von Trotta, Helma Sanders-Brahms or Helke Sander, generally mentioned in German cinema books. But we hope to change that! You will have multiple chances to see Recha Jungmann's films, hear her speak about her work and perhaps even meet her in and around Frankfurt, Germany.
Here is a list of screenings for Recha Jungmann's films as part of the Remake. Frankfurter Frauen Film Tage / Remake. Frankfurt Women's Film Days (click on the events below for more info):
Saturday, November 3 at 8:30pm
Etwas tut weh and Renate
Kino im Deutschen Filmmuseum
Guest: Recha Jungmann
Sunday, November 4 at 5:00pm
Two Right, Two Left, Drop One and Zwischen Mond und Sonne
Kino im Deutschen Filmmuseum
Guest: Recha Jungmann
Thursday, November 8 at 11:00am
Etwas tut weh
Pupille - Kino in der Uni
Wednesday, November 14 at 8:15pm
Etwas tut weh
*All photos are copyright Recha Jungmann (provided graciously to us by the Kinothek Asta Nielsen) unless otherwise noted.
Please visit the links above for more information about tickets, event locations and other fabulous movies and events! The site is available in English and auf Deutsch.
Who is Bárbara Virgínia?
By Marina Brafa
Do you know the only female director whose film was in competition at the first 1946 Cannes film festival?
Yes? Congrats! Skip the first paragraph! No? Find out here: Her name is Maria de Lourdes Dias Costa, better known by her stage name Bárbara Virgínia. This Woman in Film was born on November 15, 1923 in Lisbon, Portugal. In just two years, 1946-1947, she shot or starred in a total of five movies. In 1952, she moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where she resided until her death at the age of 92 on March 7, 2015.
Here, Bárbara Virgínia’s story could end. Fortunately for us, it does not. Let’s add some more flesh to the bones and reveal the story of a female filmmaker trying to make her way in the male-dominated Portuguese cinema business of the 1940s.
During that time, Portugal was governed by an authoritarian fascist regime, the so-called “Estado Novo,” that came into power in 1933 and would continue until 1974. Briefly, the ideology of this regime regarding women was the following: A woman’s function was to stay at home for reproductive purposes, to care for husband and children, to fulfill the daily chores of a household and be silent for that matter. Moreover, despite the political oppression women suffered, Portugal had (and has) the reputation of being a patriarchal society where it is difficult for women to break through the glass ceiling. Still today, the number of Portuguese women who directed a movie between 2012 and 2016 is only 13% (according to a 2017 study for the Les Arcs European Film Festival). So just imagine how it must have been for Virgínia in the 1940s.
But let’s turn back a bit further, to the 1920s and 1930s as Bárbara Virgínia was growing up. She was born into a well-off family, her father being a Navy officer and her mother a housewife. She attended the National Conservatory and was able to establish a network of friends and acquaintances in the political and cultural realm. As an artistic middle-class woman, Virgínia was forced to live between these two poles: artistic liberalism that came with her work and conservative morality based on her familial origins. This tension would impact her whole life and be reflected in her work as well.
Even her first feature film is a perfect example of her maneuvering between two opposite spheres. Três dias sem Deus/Three Days without God (premiere on August 30, 1946 in Lisbon) is a 102-minute film focusing on a young female teacher from the city arriving at a village school who is slowly revealing complicated and traditionalist family structures in this remote and rural area.  The film’s plot and its expressionist aesthetics are partially breaking with religious and moral as well as cinematic conventions of that time whilst still being in alignment with the regime’s ideology on other aspects. Nonetheless, it is impressive that Bárbara Virgínia managed to fund and produce this film because it is not a mere propagandistic one.
Moreover, Três dias sem Deus was the first Portuguese feature film ever made by a woman, who was only 22 years old at the time of production . Even more impressive Bárbara Virgínia was the only and first female director to present a feature film at the first edition of the famous Cannes film festival.
So, why did she quit making films after this success and leave for Brazil? Paula and Luísa Sequeira summed it up neatly:
“The heaviest weight in deciding to emigrate must have certainly been the difficulty of independently financing herself, to which would have been added the growing censorial and financial restrictions […]. The lack of alternatives to this system, the gender barriers in filmmaking, the break with her paternal family, everything combined to overshadow the conditions of her remaining in Portugal. Ironically, she did not find much better conditions in Brazil.”
Additionally, the rejection of one of her projects Anto in 1950 caused Virgínia to question her life and possibilities in Portugal leading to her emigration to Brazil two years later. In Sao Paulo, she worked for the local TV and broadcasting stations, wrote some magazine pieces and books and traveled to Africa before finally settling in Sao Paulo for good. At 40 she got married and decided to abandon the art world and, instead, to open a restaurant called Aqui, Portugal – the name of the 1947 movie she was starring in. Again, we find this mix of independence and artistic longing opposed to submission and conservative attitude that marked Virgínia’s entire life and work.
What we know about Bárbara Virgínia today is based on newspaper articles, a few interviews and her personal documents. Unfortunately, the “family memory notes that, in recent decades, Bárbara Virgínia destroyed a significant portion of the photographs and papers from that time, probably due to a certain bitterness in remembering it.” In terms of her films that means that we are left with a fragmented 22 minutes (of the original 102) of Três dias sem Deus without any sound. Since 2015 – the year of her death - the Prémio Bárbara Virgínia is awarded to outstanding female artists in Portugal and a way to honor Virgínia’s career. If you crave more details about this fascinating women in film history you should check out filmmaker Luísa Sequeira’s 2017 documentary Quem é Bárbara Virgínia?/Who is Bárbara Virgínia? (2017).
 For a more comprehensive plot summary and thorough analysis have a look at Paula and Luísa Sequeira: “Forget Bárbara Virgínia? A forerunner filmmaker between Portugal and Brazil“. Comunicação e Sociedade, vol. 32, 2017, pp. 353 – 374. PDF
 Ib. p. 360f
Ib. p. 370
Ib. p. 355
- as director
Virgínia, B. (1946). Aldeia dos rapazes: Orfanato Sta. Isabel de Albarraque. Lisbon: Invicta Filmes. Independente.
Virgínia, B. (1946). Três dias sem Deus. Lisbon: Invicta Filmes Independente.
- as actress or narrator
Fonseca, R. F. da (1945). Neve em Lisboa. Lisbon: Invicta Filmes Independente.
Porfírio, C. (1945). Sonho de Amor. Lisbon: Cinelândia.
De Miranda, A. (1947): Aqui, Portugal
Check out the exhibition about Bárbara Virgínia during the 2018 edition of the Olhares do Mediterrâneo festival.
Find more information and a trailer of the documentary Quem é Bárbara Virgínia?/Who is Bárbara Virgínia? (2017) directed, written and produced by Luísa Sequeira → here
Bárbara Virgínia’s profile on the Cannes website
She wore the pants in Hollywood
By Christina Schultz
It might sound like the stuff of fiction, but it’s all true. How, you might ask?
All these factors seemed to have been a formula for her success in Hollywood, as well as with the gay and lesbian community. Her strong, independent personality arguably makes her a good fit as a feminist icon as well. We can only recommend you watch some of her films and see what you think.
We also highly suggest you read “Today in Gay History: The Inimitable Barbara Stanwyck” by Andrew Belonsky for Out magazine for more information about the late, great Barbara Stanwyck, one of Hollywood's greatest stars and suspected lesbian.
Selected filmography (click titles for selected clips or trailers):
Stella Dallas (King Vidor, 1937)
Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941)
Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
Sorry, Wrong Number (Anatole Litvak, 1948)
Walk on the Wild Side (Edward Dmytryk, 1962; a film with heavy lesbian undertones)
Roustabout (John Rich, 1964; with Elvis Presley!)
Special thanks to Felicia Carparelli for providing me with information for this piece and to filmmaker Emma Seligman who reminded me that Barbara Stanwyck was (most likely) a closeted lesbian. My interview with Emma will be published this Friday, July 20! Come back to read what Emma has to say about sex, the Jewish culture, her work as a filmmaker and, of course, Barbara Stanwyck 😊
 For those unfamiliar with the term, a “lavender marriage” refers to a “male-female marriage,” also known as a “mixed-orientation marriage,” a type of marriage of convenience, “in which one or both of the partners is homosexual, pansexual or bisexual.” The main reason several Hollywood celebrities in the golden era of Hollywood entered into lavender marriages was to hide their homosexuality because it was not accepted. One of the earliest uses of the phrase appeared in the British press in 1895, at a time when lavender was associated with homosexuality.
By Christina Schultz
“Margarethe von Trotta is two things: the most important woman director to emerge from the New German Cinema, and narrative cinema’s foremost feminist filmmaker. Bold claims indeed – but irrefutable ones in my opinion, for there is no other director, male or female, who has matched von Trotta’s single-minded determination to show cinema audiences real female characters.” - Ben Andac, Senses of Cinema
When you think of German Cinema, I bet the names of many male directors come to your mind: Fritz Lang (Metropolis 1927, M 1930), Volker Schlöndorff (Young Törless 1966, The Tin Drum 1979), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul 1974, The Marriage of Maria Braun 1979), Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo 1982, Grizzly Man 2005) and Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas 1984, Wings of Desire 1987).
Perhaps you know other male directors to add to the list but can you name any female directors from Germany (besides Leni Riefenstahl)?
To get you started, here’s one I would like to introduce you: my personal favorite female filmmaker from Deutschland, Margarethe von Trotta (1942-).
Associated with the “New German Cinema” from the 1960s to the early 1980s and aforementioned directors Fassbinder, Herzog, Schlöndorff, Wenders and others, Margarethe von Trotta is one of the few female counterparts to the heavily male dominated auteur cinema (Autorenkino) at that time. Her films tell stories of women and therefore her work has often been labelled as part of the Frauenfilm (Women’s Film) movement, which includes other female directors such as Helke Sander and Helma Sanders-Brahms. Margarethe von Trotta’s films, like those of her female filmmaker contemporaries in Germany, portray strong, emancipated women, usually sisters or close friends, and can certainly be considered feminist, which is why I recommend that you, the Femfilmfam, familiarize yourself with her works.
Below is a very small overview of some of her key films. There are, however, many more you could watch and all would be relevant if you are interested in films made by women about women.
For example, her film Heller Wahn/Sheer Madness (1983) stars the venerable Hanna Schygulla as Olga and Angela Winkler as Ruth. The two women form a bond closer than the ones they have to the men, or any other people in their lives. Olga helps Ruth free herself from the constraints and limitations placed upon her by her husband and Ruth’s subsequent transformation shows how powerful a friendship between two women can be. Another film with a similarly powerful message of female liberation and emancipation is Die bleierne Zeit/Marianne and Juliane (1981), starring Barbara Sukowa (with whom von Trotta has often worked) and Jutta Lampe. The characters, Marianne and Juliane, are loosely based on Red Army Faction member Gudrun Ensslin and her sister Christiane respectively. Marianne leaves her husband and young child to “join a terrorist group, while Juliane is active in the women’s movement and works for a feminist magazine”. Definitely not your ordinary sisters. Both of them fight for what I would consider ultimately boils down to similar causes, i.e. more control and liberation from the man and the system, but in opposite ways. A more recent film is the biopic Hannah Arendt (2012) chronicling the fascinating and somewhat controversial life of the German-Jewish philosopher and writer Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), played by none other than Barbara Sukowa. Arendt was an intellectual through-and-through and wrote important works about the Nazis, totalitarianism, the crimes against humanity and the “banality of evil” (also the title of one of her most famous works).
As you can see, Margarethe von Trotta’s film subjects, whether real or fictional, do not fully partake in the patriarchal society, even though it still exists. The women in her films, much like the women who play the characters and the woman who directed and wrote the films, choose to see the world differently and act according to their own desires. The liberation of the characters in her films has a liberating effect on us the viewers, but not just the female audience members, I would argue. Margarethe von Trotta’s films, then and now, challenge all of us to think about what life might be like were we to change the way women were treated and the way they interacted with the world around them. If you consciously choose not to follow the “rules,” if you remove the concept of woman as object, which I argue her films do by and large, we see something revolutionary: unobjectified women represented as worthy beings with their own stories, independent of men. That is why von Trotta’s films inspire, empower, challenge women to stand up, take action and play with the boys by not playing with them.
Please feel free to leave your comments or to ask me for further feminist film recommendations!
And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and on Instagram (@femfilmfans).
 Andac, Ben. "Margarethe von Trotta." Senses of Cinema, Issue 23, December 2002, http://sensesofcinema.com/2002/great-directors/von_trotta/.
 Knight, Julia. New German Cinema: Images of a Generation. London: Wallflower, 2004.
The Many Talents of Danai Gurira (1978-)
By Christina Schultz
Most of you might recognize the self-proclaimed “Zimerican” actor as Michonne from AMC’s hit show The Walking Dead (2010-), currently in its eighth season, or from Marvel’s wildly successful film Black Panther and the brand new Marvel film Avengers: Infinity War (U.S. release April 27, 2018) in her role as Okoye.
But have you heard of the film Mother of George? Nigerian director Andrew Dosunmu’s film co-stars Danai Gurira in a role more modest and subdued than the ones for which she has become famous. Danai’s performance in the film earned her a Black Reel Award for Outstanding Actress in 2014 and the film itself received critical praise. Such work reveals Danai’s versatility as an actor and I highly recommend the film to those who haven’t seen it. She is definitely capable of more than slashing down zombies with her prized katana or kicking ass with the other members of the Dora Milaje. But don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy and quite honestly relish her in these badass roles. I have had a longtime crush on (Danai’s portrayal of) Michonne, and am now in love with her sassy portrayal of Okoye.
Crushes aside, did you know that Danai is an accomplished playwright? Her first play Eclipsed, which debuted in 2009 and went to Broadway in 2016, was nominated for several Tony Awards and won for Best Costume Design. It was, more importantly, the first Broadway play in history to star an all-black, all-female cast and to have a female writer (Danai) and director (Liesl Tommy). The story is about a group of women being held captive in Liberia who describe the horrors of rape and violence. Distressing but incredibly important issues. She also won critical acclaim off-Broadway with the more comedic play Familiar (see trailer below), the story of a Zimbabwean family preparing for their first-generation American daughter’s wedding.
I believe her African upbringing, which clearly influences her works, was part of the reason she started the Love Our Girls site. Ever heard of that? If you haven’t, you should. Love Our Girls is Danai’s incredibly inspirational site, which I also think is the perfect word to describe Danai herself: inspirational. Here is an excerpt from the site’s story of “genesis” that highlights this and reveals so much about Danai personally...
“I was born on February 14th, 1978. My father named me Danai, in commemoration of my birth on the day of love and romance; Danai, in my parent’s native tongue, Shona, means to be in love or to love one another. I always embraced this day of teddy bears and excessive red roses as my day. But I have finally figured out a more purposeful meaning of Valentine’s day. This year, and every year to come, I am seeking to reclaim Valentine’s Day, to make it about loving our girls.”
She continues her story:
“I want to reclaim Valentine’s Day as a day when we seek to validate our girls and women globally and lessen the gender gap inch by inch. It has to start with love – love being a verb, not a noun. Join me in making women and girls your Valentine, in making the world a better place for just one woman or girl on the globe. Every month, on the 14th, pledge with me to bring awareness to your network of the struggles, experiences or challenges of a girl or woman across the world.
Let’s do this. Let’s love our girls.”
Real talk: I have goosebumps right now. Not only is Danai Gurira a talented and successful actor and playwright, she is an advocate for real, positive change. I cannot even express how much I admire this woman - but I’m trying my best here. Love Our Girls raises awareness for so many issues women all over the world are facing, of which we are often unaware or simply forget about in developed countries because we have it so good. Issues like lack of proper nutrition and healthcare, no access to education, being forced into arranged marriages or being sold as sex slaves subject to rape and abuse. The Love Our Girls pledge helps us keep these injustices fresh in our minds while reminding us to love our girls. The world has enough hate, so let’s love instead. Sounds like a plan to me.
It goes without saying that we at Femfilmfans have taken the pledge. If you feel as strongly about these issues as Danai does, and as we do, take the pledge too.
 Lee Miller, Victoria. "'The Walking Dead': 5 things you didn't know about Danai Gurira." Yahoo Entertainment, August 17, 2017.
I’m No Angel - Meet Mae West (1893-1980), American actor, writer, singer, comedian
By Guest Contributor Felicia Carparelli
Felicia Carparelli is a retired teacher/librarian and avid film fan, particularly of Hollywood's Golden Era, from Chicago. She is also a published author of The Murder in the Library, young adult novels and Jane Austen-inspired stories.
“Come up and see me sometime.” Iconic words from a past master.
Mae West, do you know her? Born in 1893, in the Bowery in New York, Mae was a precocious child and debuted as a singing Baby Mae. The story goes she stamped her little foot and demanded a spotlight one evening at a talent show. Mae won.
She moved on to being a shake and shimmy dancer in less than glamorous theaters. Her five foot tall figure, endowed with a rather large bust and ample hips was a hit in turn of the century Gilded Age America. More was more and Mae had it.
She was an actress and a writer long before her film career began. In 1926 she wrote a play called Sex, about a prostitute which was banned and put her in jail for eight days. The judge overturned the closing and the play went on to great ticket sales if not critical success. Mae usually laughed all the way to the bank. Another play, Drag, was also a success with theater goers not used to such vivid, racy material.
Her film career began in 1931 when she took the Super Chief, “train of the stars,” from New York to Los Angeles. Her first movie role was a small part in Night After Night (Archie Mayo, 1932), a film starring George Raft. “Mae stole everything but the cameras,” the critics said. For Mae, in her satin gown, dripping with jewels, had the best line of the movie:
“Goodness, what diamonds!” The hatcheck girl says to Mae.
“Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie,” says Mae and she slowly walks up the circular staircase to fame and movie stardom.
In 1933 she shot her best known film, She Done Him Wrong (Lowell Sherman), a period piece set in 1890s Bowery New York, which co-starred a very young and gorgeous Cary Grant. Her role in the film was inspired by her “Diamond Lil” character whom she played for years on the New York stage. This signature role, also written and created by Mae, was a great hit with the public. This one movie alone saved Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy. Audiences in the sticks, the small town folk, were both shocked and titillated by her saucy ways and amazing figure and wardrobe.
“Come up and see me sometime,” she croons to Cary Grant. “Come up and I’ll tell your fortune. Ah, you can be had.” Heady stuff for depression era audiences who also relished her singing of “A Guy What Takes his Time” and “Frankie and Johnny.”
Another film with Cary Grant followed that same year. I’m No Angel (Wesley Ruggles; Mae co-wrote the script) is a romp with Mae as a carnival dancer turned lion tamer. I know, boggles the mind, but Mae pulled it off with panache. Watch it just to see her scintillate in a black and silver spider web gown as she makes wild eyes at a blueblood Cary Grant, who falls madly in love with her despite their opposite backgrounds. Her trio of maids, also a reflection on the times, sing to her while she gets dolled up for a night out.
A personal favorite of this writer is Goin’ to Town (Alexander Hall; Mae was the sole screenwriter) from 1935. Mae is a dance hall girl in the wild west who is left a small fortune from a cattle rustling beau who gets shot. She falls for a very proper Englishman and follows him all the way to “Bonus Aries” (as she said it) to race a horse named Cactus. You must watch her dress up and sing the role of “Delilah” in Saint-Saën’s “Samson and Delilah,” as she tries to impress the swank ladies and gents of the Hamptons in New York. Mae gets the last word and the guy - who happens to be the Earl of Carrington.
After her last hilarious picture with W.C. Fields, My Little Chickadee (Edward F. Cline, 1940), she embarked on a musical career, hitting the stages of major cities, including Las Vegas, singing and surrounded by muscle men to entice and amaze. This lasted for decades, as well as radio and TV appearances.
Mae West never hid her fondness for men and made a career of overt sexuality. Now she might appear a bit dated but at her peak she was dynamite. She was also fun. Her numerous comments about love and life are as pithy and memorable as any of Shakespeare’s. Check out one of her films today - you won’t be disappointed. You will laugh - a lot - in a good way and will want to rush out and buy a satin dress just to feel fabulous.
As Mae said, “When I’m good, I’m good, but when I’m bad I’m better.” Words to live by. Enjoy.
Bibliography and Recommended Reading
Tuska, John. The Complete Film of Mae West. Revised edition. Citadel Press, 1992.
West, Mae. Goodness had nothing to do with it. 1959. Belvedere Publishers, 1989.