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Top work at the PornFilmFestival

INTERVIEW. There's a show of feminine strength at this year's PornFilmFestival (Oct 22-26 at Moviemento), with director Tatjana Turanskyj part of the milieu. Her film Top Girl explores feminist issues through the story of a Berlin sex worker.

Image for Top work at the PornFilmFestival

Women are on top at this year’s PornFilmFestival Berlin (Oct 22-26 at Moviemento). More than half the entries at this year come from female filmmakers – like Tatjana Turanskyj, whose Top Girl screens on Oct 23 at 4:45pm and Oct 26 at 22:45.

German-Ukrainian director Tatjana Turanskyj’s Women and Work trilogy explores its themes with a wry sense of indignation. The second installment, Top Girl or La Deformation Professionelle, follows single mother Helena as she attempts to reconcile her hopes and plans with the practical and structural constraints of her job in the sex trade.

What was the idea behind the trilogy?

When I made the first film, Eine Flexible Frau, I was thinking that the idea of women and work is so embarrassing here in Germany, because we’re still in the breadwinner system – the man works and the woman has the kids. People pretend that it’s different, but when you see the statistics, women earn 23 percent less than men in some areas. Men have executive positions, or sometimes get to work more hours than women. So then I decided to make this trilogy and I was still thinking…. It’s because in today’s employment climate we are not “workers” anymore, we are Dienstleister, service providers, and so I was thinking of the sex industry, because here they also say they are now service providers. And there’s a distance between the sex and the service, so that it’s really a question of wording. The whole world is really a question of wording these days. I was really thinking about how to get the violence into the film, but not into the sex. So that’s why it comes at the end.

And why was it important for you that violence is in the film, but not part of the sex?

Because, first of all, I didn’t want to shoot it. And sometimes film violence is so much of an end in itself. I don’t like to see that. The sex is an intimate situation – but the structure of prostitution is a violent system, for me. In feminist theory, there’s always two groups talking about prostitution – for some of them it’s the breaking open of patriarchy, and for others it has a basis of patriarchy.

Where did the image of women picking their way naked through the forest and the idea of the hunting game come from?

This picture was in my mind for a really long time, because I had read a book, Angélique ou l’enchantement, maybe 20 years ago by the writer of Last Year at Marienbad [Alain Robbe-Grillet]. There was one part based on an anecdote from Uruguay, where First World War soldiers from all over the world – some of them German – met, and were apparently buying girls from the poorest, poorest villages, and then they had a hunt – but they really hunted them to death.

The most open feminist rhetoric in Top Girl comes from someone selling a certain cosmetic procedure that that is kind of hard to reconcile with feminism – vaginoplasty.

[laughs] Yes… The idea that I can do what I want – it’s the slogan “my body belongs to me”. We have a problem in feminism I think – our idea is to be independent women and earn money, be part of the system. So the question is, what kind of system are we in now? Is it the right way for feminism, the Sheryl Sandberg feminism for example, just to get into the capitalist system, and to make it much stronger so that we all fit in… Lots of this feminism has nothing at all to do with real emancipation. This surgery also doesn’t have to do with sex for the woman – it has to do with the image of sex for the woman.

How about the men in Top Girl? Even though they’re the ones with the money and the power, they don’t always have much dignity.

It’s a question of how I see this situation between men and female sex workers. But David, the main male character – with him I think it’s different. He stands by his idea of sexuality, and that makes him very strong and I think he has lots of dignity. I wanted to show that in this situation there can also be a connection, just in the moment, an intimate conversation and connection, a little bit of desire…

A spark.

Yes, tension – which makes it interesting for both sides.

And how did you come to the Porn Film Festival?

I think I might be the first German filmmaker ever who is in the Feminist Film Festival and in the PornFilmFestival [Laughs]. That is quite funny. I know Jürgen [Brüning, the festival’s founder], from the collective hangover ltd.*, and our 2008 film Petra. I was talking to him, and he said, you know, our festival is not about porn. It’s about how to deal with sex in film.

In independent filmmaking in Germany, or in Berlin at least, do you find there’s much of a gender divide?

Actually, I’m involved in a new community of 180 woman directors who are coming together to campaign for more money – ProQuota Regie. We are working for a quota for German women in film and film funding, because there’s a big gender gap there.

Some people criticise the idea of gender quotas.

It’s an economic instrument, and it has nothing do with quality – if it were about quality, then women would already work! And we think that the quota is also good for diversity in film. Because if you have this quota, maybe you can also have others – age quotas, migrant quotas. We can maybe see more themes through that, because creating films is so subjective. Why should just the men be able to tell their personal stories? We’ve heard that already.

So women need more of a chance to be culture creators and to steer the discussion?

Exactly. The quota is an opener for more discussion. If you can’t work you can’t join the discussion.