• Alison Kuhn © Christian Zipfel
    Power Structures


Alison Kuhn © Christian Zipfel

In spring 2018, Alison Kuhn was confronted with a traumatic memory. Then 22 years old, the German-Vietnamese was in the midst of entrance exams for the directing programme at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF. But one of the applicants recognised her from a context that she had been repressing up until then: Kuhn also works as an actress, and three years earlier she had attended an audition that went far beyond what might be considered tolerable. In front of the camera, the director and his team harassed the applicants with violent and sexual assaults – all under the pretext of art. Although Kuhn had been spared the worst excesses at that time, the chance conversation stirred up those “super unpleasant experiences“. Not least because she found out that the casting recordings were going to be exploited in a film. But she told herself, “If I manage to get accepted here, I‘ll make a film out of it. That gave me the strength for the rest of the application week.“

In spring 2019, therefore, she brought together five actresses who had been particularly viciously attacked for her documentary THE CASE YOU. In a theatre auditorium, they set about working through the events on various cinematic levels. With enormous emotional authenticity and simultaneous formal reduction, which directed a clear focus onto the protagonists‘ emotional lives, she asked sensitive questions and got the young women to reconstruct the events of that time. Thanks to the intensity of her work, she impressed the jury of the German Documentary Film Award, among others, and they presented her with a prize in the category ‘Art and Culture‘ this year. She also succeeded in winning the megaherz Student Award 2021 at the 36th DOK.fest in Munich.

At the very beginning, however, there was an idealistic dream. Growing up in a village north of Saarbrücken, the local cinema offered her a perspective on a bigger universe: “When I stepped out of the projection room, the world was suddenly different“. The desire to direct a film arose early on, therefore. She shot – and edited – her first film on her father‘s camcorder, but it was never finished. At 15, she completed a directing internship in Berlin, where she was asked to speak a monologue in front of the camera: “Then, something happened to me psychologically, and I wanted to explore it further.“ And so first, she completed a training course in acting from 2013 to 2015. The experiences of the following years were to shape her view of the industry in particular and social encrustations in general. Although she filmed with directors such as Jan Schomburg (series RABENMÜTTER) and won the Federal Prize for Young Poetry ‚lyrix‘ in 2017 with one of her poems, she found herself repeatedly confronted by absurd prejudices. In auditions for daughter roles, she was always eliminated in the second round, “because my ethnic origin did not explain itself“. And when she then applied to study directing, she heard voices like, “you‘ll have a particularly hard time there as a woman.“

She has proven all the doubters wrong with her short films, which were screened at the Max Ophüls Festival, among others, and her screenplays that have put her on the shortlist for the German Young Screenwriters Award and earned her a prestigious grant, the ‘Stipendium des Deutschen Volkes‘.

THE CASE YOU, which has been shown at festivals from IDFA in Amsterdam to Encounters in Cape Town, marks a new stage in her career. “How power structures emerge and become entrenched“ has emerged as a central theme for Kuhn. This is also the subject of her graduation film, a modern adaptation of Rainer Maria Rilke‘s novella “The Gym Class“, which she is preparing currently as a broadcasting co-production. Even if she is aware that “hierarchies are necessary on the set“, she still attempts to break down those structures. For example, by emphasising a balanced gender ratio in her teams or “meeting actors eye-to-eye“ during castings. As a director, Kuhn stands for an era in which gender stereotypes and the abuse of power could be overcome. She has a tool for this, which also played a decisive role in the filming of THE CASE YOU: “Communication is the key. You can talk about everything; you should talk about everything. That‘s what the craft of directing is all about.“

Rüdiger Sturm