Sundance 2017 Women Directors: Meet Cate Shortland — “Berlin Syndrome”
Cate Shortland’s films have screened at film festivals around the world, including Cannes Film Festival and Sydney Film Festival. Her previous credits include “Somersault” and “Lore.”
“Berlin Syndrome” will premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival on January 20.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
CS: A young Australian photographer, Clare, meets Andi at the lights in Berlin. Lust and intimacy are replaced by entrapment and obsession.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
CS: The mix of sex and both personal and state politics was potently interwoven through the novel the film is based on by [Australian author] Melanie Joosten. Clare is imprisoned by Andi. His parents were imprisoned by the state in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). He is trying to create a bizarre utopia in his apartment in Berlin, with Clare as his created “girlfriend.”
I am fascinated by how she transcends her situation. How history is always present. How both Andi and Clare become ruled by the psychology of entrapment — he as the capturer and she as his prisoner. Clare cannot rely on anything or anyone. In the end, I fell in love with her resilience. She is a survivor.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
CS: What are we entrapped by? Why, as young women, are we still fed and half-believe the fairy tale of the strong male figure and the erotic fixation with the passive female? What is the nature of obsession and control within our fictions and realities?
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
CS: Staying true to the relationship between Clare and Andi. Not letting fear guide me while getting inside an obsessive, terrifying relationship where mutual need is still very strong. I had to stay true to this, even though at times I was so angry, so fearful.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
CS: In Australia, we are fortunate to be funded by government film agencies. Polly Staniford, our producer, also sought private investment within Australia, and we were supported by the wonderful people at Momento Films International.
W&H: What does it mean to have your film play at Sundance?
CS: Sundance feels like a great fit for “Berlin Syndrome,” as it has always has a really interesting mix of documentaries, dramas, and genre films.
W&H: What’s the best and worse advice you’ve received?
CS: The best is to keep making making work. Don’t stop. This is hard sometimes with kids and life. This is strong advice given to me by Jane Campion.
I forget the worst, as I didn’t take it.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
CS: Make work. Keep making work.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
CS: When I was 16, I saw “My Brilliant Career” by Gillian Armstrong. It had a profound effect on me personally, as it is the story of a young woman fighting to find her identity. The story landscape of the Brindabella mountain range was my landscape; when I was growing up, I could see it, snow-capped, out of my kitchen window. I still love the film.
I also love Lynne Ramsay’s “Morvern Callar” and many more, like Jennifer Peedom’s “Sherpa” and Andrea Arnold’s “Red Road.”
W&H: Have you seen opportunities for women filmmakers increase over the last year due to the increased attention paid to the issue? If someone asked you what you thought needed to be done to get women more opportunities to direct, what would be your answer?
CS: In the last 40 years, we have had a real push from women to be involved in the film industry in Australia. This becomes harder and harder as opportunities for training and female-centered funds drop away. I believe women haven’t “made it,” and this is obvious when we look at the percentage of films and TV series made by women. We need to push for more specialized female-centered film funding, training, and support.
Read the original interview here