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On the occasion of the Diagonale 2023, director Katharina Mückstein presented her documentary Feminism WTF. Cinema Austriaco had the opportunity to have a chat with her and learn more about her work and career. Interview by Marina Pavido.

Marina Pavido: How did the idea of making Feminism WTF come about?

Katharina Mückstein: Before studying film, I studied philosophy and gender studies and continued to delve into feminist theory. A few years ago, I had a conversation with my friend Ina Freudenschuss, who was still working as a journalist at the time, about how frustrating it is that, even when feminism is spoken about in the mainstream field, it is always dealt with without competence. One gets the impression that when it comes to feminism, it is enough to have an opinion, but knowledge does not matter. So I had the idea of making a film that deepens this feminist knowledge, or at least builds a bridge to the mainstream.

M. P.: In your opinion, has the situation of women in the working world or in the film industry changed in any way in the last 10 years?

K. M.: I think the situation is constantly changing. The idea of what ‘gender’ actually means is also constantly changing and in practice it probably means progress for some, but also no progress for many. I think you also have to consider the fact that women’s life experiences are very diverse. One has to consider, for example, whether a woman is rich or poor, whether a woman is white or black, whether a woman has a background as an immigrant. In Austria, of course, this also changes how one benefits from progress in gender equality. A privileged woman certainly benefits more from the political steps forward that are taken, so at the same time one has to ask oneself whether these steps forward are really such.

M. P.: How important is it to do politics with films today?

K. M.: I always feared that my film was no longer topical. Now I have the feeling, also because of the strong crisis of our time, that feminism and progressive ideas in general are extremely important for our society, because these are matters that have led us to patriarchal ideas and a capitalist ideology. The whole world is somewhat afflicted by the results of this ideology and it is absolutely necessary to have counterprojects. I think that interdisciplinary feminism has many, many ideas that we could use to address current problems. I don’t want to say that feminism can solve all problems immediately. We must first recognise the complexity and ambivalence of things and deal with them.

M. P.: What were the main difficulties during the making of your film?

K. M.: The biggest difficulty was precisely the pandemic. I was planning to shoot the film in English and had already started filming with experts from the UK, the US and Australia. Then the pandemic came and it was clear that we could not shoot the film that way. So we decided to try to shoot with experts from German-speaking countries and that was a great stroke of luck for me. I realised that it is very important that the feminist debate, which is very much influenced by the Anglo-American world, can also take place in German-speaking countries. Issues such as racism must also be discussed in Europe, in the so-called ‘white countries’, such as Austria and Germany. The issue of anti-Semitism, for example, was also addressed in the film and the connection between anti-Semitism and feminism is something we never find in the American discourse. I am really very happy that this was the case.

M. P.: In your films you often talk about female characters going through particularly delicate moments. What do all these characters have in common?

K. M.: I think what touches me most emotionally is that moment that perhaps comes just before emancipation. It is the moment when you are afraid and at the same time face fear. The courage you have to have inside you to be able to break free from constraints. Somehow, all the characters I am interested in are experiencing this moment.

M. P.: You have often included Italian songs in your films. Why this particular choice?

K. M.: I have a great passion for Battiato, Battisti, I love the feeling of Italian singer-songwriters. What I really like about Franco Battiato is that he dealt with so many different genres. You can see that he was someone who went through a lot of changes. And that is something I also want in my work. And at the same time there is such an italophilia in Austria and Germany, because Italy is somehow a ‘projection canvas’ for desire. In my films I also like to play a bit with music, with this place of nostalgia, and also laugh a bit about the Nordic people (laughs). We can’t express our feelings, so we need Italian music, for example, to move us a bit, but then we end up as cold and inflexible as before.

M. P.: You have founded your own production company. Is it difficult to start such a project in Austria nowadays?

K. M.: We founded La Banda Film in 2014. Since this year, however, I am no longer a producer, because I am now very much involved in TV directing and therefore don’t have much time. But I think it is still very difficult to get into the production business because there is simply little security, because it takes a long time to get funding. I also think that there are too few young talents in the production field in Austria and this could be a problem in 20 years.

M. P.: Are there any particular films or directors that were particularly important during your studies?

K. M.: When I was still at school, I watched Barbara Albert’s Northern Skirts and somehow I already had the idea that filmmaking also existed as a profession. I just saw that this young woman was somehow making art cinema and also winning awards. I watched this film at the cinema, it impressed me a lot and I thought: ‘Maybe I can do that too’. I was also very impressed by Claire Denis’s films in the 1990s. I used to watch them at the Viennale. Beau Travail, for example, is one of my favourite films and I watched it again recently. This film is still so topical, with this look at patriarchy and its aesthetics. Her works also had a strong impact on me, and I also find it impressive that she dealt with so many different genres.

M. P.: One last question: are you working on any new projects at the moment?

K. M.: I have made four films for television in the last three years and this year I will write a new feature film. I am looking forward to working on films again and finally having the time to write again. At the same time, I find it absolutely exciting that in television you have to shoot so much in such a short time. When you make auteur films, you can make a film every five years because you always have to spend a lot of time on each project. In television, I shot four 90-minute films in two and a half years and it’s great to gain so much experience on set.

Info: the page of Katharina Mückstein on iMDb