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From saviour to mafia-fighter: girl power comes to Berlin filmfest

FILE PHOTO: Teona Strugar Mitevska

Berlin, Germany | AFP | With strong female lead roles from a saviour of street kids to a fiery mafia-fighter and an inspiring figure with Down Syndrome, directors have given girl power a firm place at this year’s Berlin film festival.

Films at the event, which is also welcoming an unprecedented line-up of female filmmakers, are challenging long-held notions such as the gender of God or the place of women in defending societies’ most vulnerable.

Macedonian filmmaker Teona Strugar Mitevska cut to the chase with “God exists, her name is Petrunya”, the true story of a young woman who decides to join a religious competition that’s usually reserved for men.

“All patriarchal societies are constructed to support male domination, where the woman’s status and social space is decided by man, so every time a story is told about, or around the so-called ‘second sex’, it is inevitably a feminist movie,” she said.

But Mitevska said feminism should not be viewed as reverse discrimination.

“Feminism is not a disease, or something to be afraid of. Equality, justice and equity for all is in the forefront of its ideology,” she said.

“Jessica Forever” by French filmmakers Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel sees a woman save the day.

In a dystopia where orphans living on the margins of society are forced to kill each other to survive, the heroine Jessica steps in to rescue the children as they are being pursued by drones.

“In the eyes of the boys, Jessica is also a mother, a big sister, a star, a muse, a magician, a sorcerer. She represents their salvation,” Poggi told AFP.

– Inspiration –

Italian filmmaker Federico Bondi uses the story of a girl with Down Syndrome to showcase her steely strength and healing touch.

The poetic film “Dafne” depicts a curious and courageous girl who after the brutal death of her mother becomes a pillar of support for her father, who is slowly descending into depression.

“Dafne represents woman empowerment because she is an inspiration for all the people that she meets. She is not affected by her diversity, she accepts it, she is in constant discussion with it and she lives her condition with mature serenity,” Bondi told AFP.

Courage is also the defining trait for the female lead in the documentary “Shooting the Mafia” by British filmmaker Kim Longinotto, who profiles Letizia Battaglia, a photojournalist for an Italian daily who fought the mafia through her career.

Now 83, Battaglia, a respected figure in Palermo, remains irreverent.

“It’s nice when your work is appreciated but success tires me out. I prefer love. I thought I’d finished with love,” said the fiery woman, who is in a relationship with a man 38 years her junior.

Proving that women can do as well as men not only in home kitchens but also in the gruelling world of restaurants, the documentary “The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution” looks at seven female chefs who talk about the battles they faced working in a very macho world.

Some fall victim to sexual harassment, but they are pressing on with their vocation.

“The irony is that women once fought to get out of the kitchen and now have to fight to get back in. This is not a women’s issue, but a societal one,” said the director of the film, Maya Gallus.

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