Female Voices Disrupt a Male-Dominated Film Industry

As so often in male-dominated industries across the globe, a woman particularly struggles to make her voice heard. The Georgian film industry is no different to these obstacles, where male directors receive the most significant junk of financial funding. This is insofar surprising, as the proportion between men and women is far weaker in Georgia than in other countries. With a long tradition of female directors starting in the 1920s, Nutsa Gogoberidze became the first female Georgian film moviemaker at the age of 25 and, in the sector of documentaries, there are even more women than men operating today.

Five women, three from Georgia and two from Sweden, decided to do something against this male dominance by supporting rising female directors from the South Caucasus region.

Renowned Swedish movie directors Karin Ekberg and Johanna Bernhardson teamed up with Sakdoc, a leading Georgian movie production company run by Salomé Jashi, Anna Dziapshipa, and Keto Kipiani, to hold a workshop for female documentalists. 

A competitive selection process chose three female motion picture artists from each state in the South Caucasus region to participate in this nine-monthworkshop. From September last year, all nine directors met up in Tbilisi three times to pick the brains of their trainers from Sweden. From developing their ideas in scriptwriting sessions to the screening of their work, Ekberg and Bernhardson carry the women through the different steps of movie-making. “Work in progress” is what the accomplished directors from Sweden call their workshop informally.

“We aim to generate a momentum away from male-influenced storytelling in movies. When we visited Tbilisi for the first time, we were stunned by the male domination in the industry, which produced stories told in a very traditional way. We decided to do something about it and to organize workshops to empower female narratives,” explain Ekberg and Bernhardson the start of the project.

Supported by the Swedish Institute, they found the perfect partner in Sakdoc, which is a harbinger for female movie-making in Georgia. Their pride doesn’t just stem from the fact that three women run the company, but that they have successfully influenced the Georgian movie industry. Besides functioning as a mouthpiece for rising directors and producers, an essential aspect of Sakdoc is the organization of educational workshops to spur innovation and emancipation in the movie industry.

“The cooperation with Karin and Johanna works excellently. Also, we work with many local partners to facilitate the workshop, such as the Goethe Institute or Frontline Club, where we hold our workshops and screenings. We have selected a highly competitive group of individuals, many of whom have even featured longer productions already,” says Keto Kipiani of this year’s workshop. In fact, it is already the 3rd edition, and more than 20 female directors enjoyed the training by the Swedish professionals. They explain how, at the beginning, only Georgians participated in the workshop, but with additional support from the Swedish Institute, they were soon able to bring female voices from Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to Tbilisi.

From September 10 to 12, the first session was held focusing on the introduction of the different participants. After everyone was comfortable with each other, Ekberg and Bernhardson helped them to develop their first ideas. “What should the subject be?” or “How can I narrate my subject’s story most compellingly?” were questions they tackled together. “It was important to identify the individual styles and to advise them how they can improve their storytelling methods using those styles,” the trainers highlight.

The next session was scheduled for December to intersect with the Tbilisi International Film Festival. However, in the meantime, there was no time to rest as the nine directors were tasked with developing their stories. Many shot their first footage for the project, and others revamped their initial idea by changing the storyline or the protagonists. When they met in December, they delved into detailed questions integral to a top-notch narrative. The trainers evaluated their work and gave essential tips to improve their productions.

After December, the directors were given again the freedom to develop independently and work on their stories. In the frames of the Tbilisi Documentary Film Festival CinéDOC, they met up again this week for the last time. The session was used to put the final touches and comments on the productions before everyone screened their work at Frontline Club to conclude the workshop.

Sitting in at one of the sessions, I noticed the empowering emotional discussions between the trainers and the female moviemakers. Karin Ekberg spoke about her works and how the beginning is often very frightening to every director. “It is important to overcome this fear and to know that the stuff I'm producing is fantastic. Be it a mentor or other people from the industry; a support system helps me walk the extra mile knowing that others like the work I produce. One important aspect of the workshop is to create a strong cohesion among the women so they become each other’s support network after we leave,” she explained. Giving some PR tips, the trainers elaborated on the importance of finding a unique style to make the movies recognizable in front of a wider audience. Movie directors with an individual way of directing stay in people’s mind, which is essential to building up a profile.

A female director from Azerbaijan explained her issues with putting her ideas onto paper. “I once explained my storyline to a colleague, and he loved it, but when he read my script he was confused as I couldn’t replicate the ideas in my mind into a strong script,” she told the group. Female director Tatia Skhirtladze mentioned her struggle to conclude the movies appropriately. Living in Vienna and Tbilisi, one of her productions deals with the different personalities of two female chess players. “Often, people ask me about the end, and I struggle to give a concrete answer,” Skhirtladze smiles while telling the other participants her experience. It was visible that the group is functioning as a great team when multiple participants then offered Skhirtladze some ideas and solutions.

During lunch, I sat down with moviemaker Elene Mikaberidze to understand the impact of the workshop on her work. “I'm thrilled that I could finally participate in the workshop, I had already applied two years ago, but back then my application wasn’t successful.” Her eyes light up enthusiastically. “This time, I applied with my first full-length feature tackling the issues of borders in our society. The workshop helped me to put my thoughts together and to discover who I am as a director. I'm a shy person and usually afraid of speaking up, yet my self-confidence experienced an incredible boost. I feel very supported by other talented directors, who make amazing features themselves. I will leave this experience with a network of filmmakers,” Mikaberidze says, thanking the organizing team.

Before the workshop ends for good, Ekberg and Bernhardson sit together with each participant discussing the next steps and where they plan on heading. They are aware of the misconceptions of funding institutions. Often, documentaries with substantial emotional and psychological work don’t receive the attention desired, whereas action movies benefit from vast amounts of money. They see it as essential to break with these traditions and to value the work and time that went into long documentaries. When they leave the workshop, they hope that the group will work together to become a rising voice in the male-dominated movie industry. All three countries have the same fate and men are an advantage over female counterparts. “As we sharpen their skills and give them a network, men will have difficulties to make them compete with each other; a phenomenon widely observed across male-dominated industries,” the trainers explain.

Looking ahead to next year, Keto Kipiani is convinced that there will be the 4th edition. “We still don’t know the exact framework, but at the moment we plan on starting in January 2019. We want to spice up the workshops a bit and incorporate more activities, such as lectures and master classes. Like the previous years, we aim to have a very diverse group from different areas so that they can learn from each other,” Kipiani says. The team behind the workshops also wants to make the individual sessions longer to benefit more efficiently from the time the participants spend together in Tbilisi. 

The selection process will be very competitive, and dozens of moviemakers will try to grab a spot in the workshop. The focus is on beginners and semi-professionals who have the potential to become a mouthpiece for their society. “There are three things we are looking for in applicants. First, she must show her motivations for the project, keeping in mind multiple aspects of narratives. Then, we require a compelling CV to evaluate past achievements, before we ask for a project, with which they strengthen their application,” Bernhardson says.

Interested artists should stay in touch with Sakdoc online to see upcoming calls for applications. For individuals hoping to explore also other aspects of directing, Sakdoc hosts many more workshops improving the skills of moviemakers. A recent workshop, called RoughCut, supported directors with the editing of their footage. Searching through hours of footage, certain techniques help to be more efficient in finding the right shot. A group of trainers equips directors with methods which will save them hours of work. Another workshop, called PitchDoc, deals with anxieties and presentation skills when pitching an idea to producers or a completed feature to movie distributors. Audiences don’t notice it when they watch a movie, but behind the scenes, many strings are pulled to bring a motion picture to the movies. The work of Karin Ekberg, Johanna Bernhardson, and the team of Sakdoc is the first stepping-stone for future directors to enter this intricate industry.

By Benjamin Music

Photo: Sakdoc

12 May 2018 12:05