Looking back over the history of cinema, one cannot fail to notice the large number of Austrian women directors – contemporary and past – who have contributed (and still contribute) to an ever richer and more varied filmography that is indeed little known, but also incredibly diversified and full of surprises.
In the beginning was Louise Kolm-Fleck
A few days after the official announcement of the Cannes Film Festival 2019 regarding the films in competition for the prestigious Palme d’Or – in addition to those presented out of competition – we note with pleasure – and also with certain curiosity – the presence of Jessica Hausner (by now at home at the prestigious French film festival) in competition with her film Little Joe. While waiting to watch her latest work, it is natural to think about the large number of Austrian women directors – contemporary and past – who have contributed (and still contribute) to an increasingly rich and varied filmography that is indeed little known, but also incredibly diversified and full of surprises.
In the beginning, then, was Louise Kolm-Fleck, considered, after the French Alice Guy-Blanché, the second most important female director in history, as well as one of the most important pioneers of the seventh art. Particularly specialised – during her regular cooperation with her husband Jacob Fleck – in comedies, dramas and transpositions of famous plays (hers, for instance, is the 1919 film adaptation of The Ancestress, the famous play by Franz Grillparzer, recently screened on the occasion of the Diagonale 2019), the director had incredibly troubled and productive life and career. Just think of the period of exile she and her husband spent in Japan during the Second World War. Founder, or, anyway, one of the mainstays of well-known production companies of the early decades of the 20th century, such as the Wiener Kunstfilm and Vita Film, Louise Kolm-Fleck made no less than 53 films with her husband, as well as producing 129, until her death in 1950.
After her, many have made their mark in film, specialising, in particular, in documentaries, in coming-of-age films (a genre in which Austria is currently second only to France in terms of production), and – why not? – even in the psychological horror genre.
If, in fact, on the one hand we have the artist and performer VALIE EXPORT (Human Females, The Practice of Love, Invisible Adversaries) together with Austrian journalists, writers and directors such as Ruth Beckermann (The Paper Bridge, Homemad(e), American Passages) and Mirjam Unger (Speak Easy, Vienna’s lost Daughters) who initially preferred documentaries, there are also several names – some now established, some, for the time being, a promising revelation – who have decided to stage, each in their own way, the difficult and controversial world of the young and very young people in the painful transition from childhood to adulthood. Mirjam Unger herself, for instance, has recently decided to stage childhood and adolescence in her own way in a series of films, whose climax is the successful Fly away Home (2016).
Masters in narrating such a difficult age are, therefore, Jessica Hausner herself – who, before starting a critic and strongly disillusioned social discourse, gave us wonderful protagonists in Flora (1995) and Lovely Rita (2001) – Barbara Albert – her film Nordrand (1999) is probably one of the most important works to have started this successful genre in Austria – as well as the promising Katharina Mückstein – already acclaimed for her remarkable Talea (2013) and L’Animale (2018) together with the young Sophie Stockinger, her favourite actress – Sudabeh Mortezai – awarded at Venice 2018 for her film Joy – Monja Art (Seventeen, 2017) and, last but not least, the young Sara Fattahi, who won the Audience Award, thanks to her film Chaos, at the Diagonale 2019.
There are, in short, many Austrian women directors who are particularly active in the film industry, and (almost) all of them are noteworthy. The problem, however, always lies in finding funding and consequent publicity. Especially when one is not yet famous. This is a particularly problematic issue, not only for women directors, but for all young people who want to take their first steps in the world of the seventh art. Austria, however, for its part, thanks to a policy that promotes a considerable number of debut films each year, plays its part. This is demonstrated by the great variety of films within its filmography. A filmography that, including – of course – good works as well as less successful feature films, proves every year to be, in one way or another, always full of unexpected surprises.
While waiting, therefore, for the world premiere of Jessica Hausner’s Little Joe, we look forward to the screening of the promising The Lodge, the third feature film (after Kern, 2012, and Goodnight Mommy, made in 2014) by the duo formed by Veronika Franz and her young nephew Severin Fiala. And woe to those who say that this nation’s cinema has nothing to offer. Our numerous, skilled and “combative” Austrian women directors know something about this.