Since the beginning of 2021, German Films has been publishing the results of its own major survey of diversity on the German film and television scene in German Films Quarterly. Among others, the responses from film schools, broadcasters and some industry associations have already been presented. Now, to begin GFQ No. 4, we are focusing on responses from funders, producers and directors.
Almost all our respondents complain that their own institutions and the sector as a whole need to catch up. Nevertheless, there are some companies – usually younger start-ups – where diversity is practised as a matter of course already. This applies to their interactions internally as well as to everything that leaves the company as a product, as a creative outcome. No Limits Media, a member of the Producers‘ Alliance, for example, ensures that films are barrier-free, i.e., it makes them accessible to the visually impaired and those with impaired hearing by means of subtitles and audio descriptions.
The quota of women at No Limits Media is high, at 80 per cent, and this is true of the management level, as well, where 70 per cent of the employees are women compared to 30 per cent men. The company works in 40 languages and therefore uses numerous native speakers and employs many people with a migration background. People with physical restrictions are also firmly established in the company – including at mangement level.
Such a high level of diversity is still the exception in the German film business. In its answers to the German Films questionnaire, No Limits Media indicates the factors that could play a part in this: some issues, for example, are already well-anchored in law at the federal level in Germany, but not yet at the state level. The topic of accessibility in film and television is one of them. Since 2013, funding from the German Federal Film Board (FFA) can only be granted to projects that guarantee accessibility. This is not yet the case with some state media funding. A new State Media Treaty in Germany ought to remedy this situation soon.
Public media in Germany have already developed their accessibility quite well, says No Limits Media.In the private sector, however, the experts still see major deficiencies. The stations of the key media group RTL and ProSieben SAT.1 only subtitle a limited number of their programmes. Audio description is almost non-existent in this field. According to No Limits Media, accessibility is “practically non-existent” at smaller broadcasting stations. However, there is also a structural problem with the associations whose self-appointed task is representing the interests of people with disabilities. So far, they have “not pulled together enough” and therefore have no real lobby. In an international comparison, Germany lags behind many countries in terms of accessibility. In the USA, it has been law since 1996, while other countries such as France, England, India and Pakistan are “well ahead” in this area.
The state funding agencies, which No Limits still sees as trailing in terms of diversity, also responded in detail to the German Films questionnaire. The FFF Bayern, Medienboard Berlin- Brandenburg, Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung (MDM) and MFG Baden-Württemberg acknowledge a change in social awareness, and describe themselves as being in the process of change; however, they also point out that it was they who funded various studies on the topic of diversity in the first place. Those include the highly regarded survey “Diversity in Film” by the human rights organisation Citizens for Europe, which many other film funding institutions also co-financed.
Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, among others, supports a variety of projects that focus on raising awareness and changing role stereotypes in front of and behind the camera. These include workshops and panels as well as targeted support for material related to gender identity and diversity issues. Works and series such as GROßE FREIHEIT, WIR SIND JETZT and HIJAB BITCHES have been created in this way.
MOIN Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein is currently working on the composition of its funding committees. Following the now well-established gender-balanced composition of their committees, they now intend to specifically invite industry experts with migration experience and different skin colours to contribute their expertise. The tableau of in-house diversity measures also includes support for the mentoring programme “Into the Wild” for young female filmmakers and “ARTEF”, the Anti-Racism Taskforce for European Film, as well as non-binding diversity checklists intended to encourage filmmakers to reflect on their work.
HessenFilm, another “ARTEF” supporter”, is also backing such momentum: “Checklists can be an important element of self-assurance and self-examination; we will consider whether they are also the right instrument for us, as well as other possibilities for anchoring the topic of diversity institutionally,” the film promoters from the Main explain.
The film and media funding organisation of Lower Saxony and Bremen, nordmedia, adopted new funding guidelines on 1st July 2021. Its preamble now reads: “nordmedia supports projects that paint the picture of a free, democratic, pluralistic, diverse and cosmopolitan society. (...) Neither projects that glorify violence nor those designed to discriminate against or disadvantage people (...) will be funded.”
The FFF Bayern emphasises the purpose and importance of unconscious bias workshops, for its own team as well. The FFF now considers all measures that could “restrict creative processes or result in standardised stories” to be of little use. Nevertheless, it is emphasised that in debate within the industry, artistic freedom and diversity are rarely seen as antagonistic; in fact, the opposite tends to be true.
As a state institution, Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung has formulated a clear desideratum to the political decision-makers: “What we would like to see from politics is the integration and consistent implementation of film and media education into curricula and school lessons in order to introduce children and young people to the medium of film, teach them awareness and a critical approach to media, and make them want to work with media themselves.” This would ensure diversity and inclusion in the simplest, best possible way.
The responses German Films gleaned from funding recipients – such as representatives of the Producers‘ Association – paint a rather differentiated picture. Sarika Lakhani puts it mildly: “We can detect a sensitising, but it’s still very much in its infancy in terms of the potential to create an impact.” The topic of diversity is already frequently discussed in newspaper articles, she believes, but in practice it has not yet fully arrived. Population groups that have never seen themselves in the film sector need to be granted access to the industry “by actively inviting them to participate”. By directly addressing them in school visits, for example. She thinks that the industry is surrounded by “a certain aura of aloofness”. What is still missing is awareness that “German film means you, too”.
The question of whether quotas, rules and diversity checklists are the right means to change was answered by Saralisa Volm, also for the Producers‘ Association: “Rules and quotas are a good start towards change, but in my opinion, they are not a cure-all. Hopefully, they will succeed in changing our viewpoints. But what is important is a new awareness and regular review of the existing parameters. I don‘t think examples like Amazon‘s – where the media call for the sexual orientation of the role and that of the performer to be identical – are very effective. The goal should be for a transwoman to be able to play a cis-wifey, for actors with disabilities to embody the love interest, for BIPoCs to pass as boring Germans, and for poor people to be able to play rich people while straight people discover their homosexual side. That’s the power of art.”
There is currently a lot of discussion about what strategy is right to make German film fit for the future: What creative treasures still need to be unearthed along that route? With this in mind, the Producers’ Association presented a “Young Talent Study” as part of the Munich Film Festival 2021. It revealed the social and educational hurdles to be taken before people can enter the German film industry. When asked about their general economic situation, the majority of young filmmakers stated that it was not easy to earn a living as a full-time producer, director or screenwriter. The situation is particularly difficult for women in the field of production: 71 per cent men by comparison to only 38 per cent women producers are able to make a living in this field. According to the study, the gender gap that exists already in the field of newcomers is also reflected in production budgets: on average, female producers have a budget of just under 545,000 euros with which to produce their first feature-length film, while male producers have a budget of almost 900,000 euros.
Broadcasters and funding institutions customarily help to finance projects by film school graduates as part of their support for young talent. Projects by career switchers are an exception. In terms of the participation and visibility of underrepresented groups, this is probably a serious mistake. As in the past, it is predominantly the children of the white majority society in Germany who end up at film schools. They have their Abitur (school graduation certificate) and often the necessary financial support from their parents to be able to live and study in an expensive big city. Susanne Binninger from the German Association of Documentary Filmmakers, AG DOK for short, also refers to this and agrees with the points mentioned by Lakhani and Volm, adding: „If we want more diversity, we have to create access for people with a migration background, for example. Film school education is still partly elitist and associated with uncertain career prospects. You have to be able to afford it. Just like the membership fee in a professional association. That‘s why we are fighting for better contract and production conditions in the documentary genre.“
Sheri Hagen answered German Films‘ questions on behalf of the German Directors‘ Association. She laments the slow process of change in Germany, but now sees many established filmmakers “who have been pointing out the imbalance of German film” for years, as well as its inequality. The same can be said of associations and initiatives such as “ProQuote” and “Black Filmmakers”. International movements such as #metoo or “Black Lives Matter” have shown clearly that “sticking to old structures is no longer possible, and no longer desired”.
A dozen film festivals staged all over Germany, all members of the short film industry association AG Kurzfilm, also took part in the German Films survey – from north to south, from fiction to documentary, television to cinema, and programmes ranging from European Media Art to an LGBTQ+ focus. In the world of short film makers in particular, there are many up-and-coming talents whose stories already contain diversity as a matter of course. This may be a glimmer of hope that with the change in generations, decision-maker positions will be filled accordingly.
Their answers present obvious parallels to other areas of the film industry. For example, they point out that a lack of financial resources often leads to cutbacks in diversity. The AG Kurzfilm says: “Diversity/integration must be truly desired by politics and then financed, too. We can‘t practise it additionally with the same financial and human resources as before.” If a film festival cannot pay its staff any or only very low wages, it is hardly possible to be choosy and pay attention to the diversity of its staff. It is also clear, however, just how many festival curators are now taking very active countermeasures to make their programmes as diverse as possible and to prevent racist and discriminatory content from gaining in visibility – for example, by consistently choosing a diverse line-up on panels.
Cristina Nord (director of the Berlinale Forum) recently wrote an essay about the period of upheaval in which she believes German film currently finds itself. How is it possible, she asks, “that people who work in the cultural sector and those who take advantage of its offers are, with few exceptions, so white and so educated, even though so many taxpayers are not?” She also points out the many “economic advantages it would mean for the industry to address far more target groups. The opposition authors and cultural producers are voicing against the German mono-film culture today is not new, “what is new is that we now have social media to echo it, thereby adding momentum and making it noticed more than it was the case 25 years ago”. In other words, the spaces for discussion are wide open in Germany. But here, the same applies as always: Talk is good, action is better.
The first issue of GFQ 2022 will present the responses to the German Films survey from other sectors in the German film and television world, including world distributors and associations working for equality for marginalised groups in the film industry.