Filmmaker Nora Fingscheidt: "It's a good time for female directors"

With her first film, German director Nora Fingscheidt directly competed in this year's edition of the Berlinale.

Filmmaker Nora Fingscheidt at the Berlinale 2019

Filmmaker Nora Fingscheidt at the Berlinale 2019. / Photo: Harald Krichel

DW | Ángel García Catalá

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With her debut opera, "Systemsprenger" (System Breaker), German director Nora Fingscheidt directly competed in this year's edition of the Berlinale. There, she ended up winning the Alfred Bauer Prize. Now, the film is the German representative to the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

In it, Fingscheidt tells the story of a problematic nine-year-old girl, Benni, whose mother renounces custody, so she goes from one shelter to another.

Dpa: Why did you choose specifically for your debut the story of little Benni, the system breaker?

Fingscheidt: I've wanted to make a movie about a small, furious girl for a while, but I never found a story to tell. One day, when I was making a documentary about a shelter for homeless women, a 14-year-old girl suddenly moved there. I asked myself: "What is a 14-year-old girl doing here?" Then a social worker told me: "Ah, 'Systemsprenger' (System Breaker), we have to take care of them when they turn 14." That was the moment I asked myself: "Systemsprenger? What kind of term is that?" Then I started to collect material. That was six years ago.

Dpa: Have you worked on the film all this time?

Fingscheidt: We are not entirely dedicated to this project during this time. Other films emerged during that period. There were times when I had to interrupt the work because I realized that I was getting too involved, I couldn't stand the documentation. I needed some distance to be able to retake it. So it was in waves.

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Dpa: The main actress, Helena Zengel, was nine years old during filming. How did you find her?

Fingscheidt: Little Helena is amazing and is a great gift for the movie. We found it by a classic casting, it was the seventh to appear.

Dpa: How did you explain to a nine-year-old girl what she should do and how?

Fingscheidt: We knew we would need a lot of preparation time. For me, it was important that Helena knew the script before accepting. She read the script with her mother. Then we start preparing the role together. Helena was there at every casting, I wanted to see how they worked. This is how this world was slowly emerging also for Helena.

We also decided that we would not film too many strong scenes in one day, but that we would carefully dismember the content. We also talk a lot about "how would Helena react now and how would Benni react?", With the idea that she should not be confused.

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Dpa: The role of women in the film business is increasingly discussed. Is it harder to work behind the camera as a woman, what is your experience?

Fingscheidt: My personal experience is good, however, it is important that the debate takes place. I am very happy to have grown up in a generation where the doors were open to me. When I wanted to be a director, nobody ever told me "but that can't be." (...) My professional relationship with men is great. I have experience with many open-minded men, who work warmly with a female director. I'm curious to see how things will continue. This is a good time for female directors. It's great that the trend is changing now. I realize that many things are changing.

Nora Fingscheidt was born on February 17, 1983, in Braunschweig (Lower Saxony). She studied stage directing at the Baden-Württemberg Film Academy and finished his studies with the documentary "Ohne diese Welt" (Without this world), shot in Argentina, with which he won the Max-Ophüls Prize and the First Steps Prize in 2017. In Berlin, she participated in the creation of the Arco film school, where she also made short films. "Systemsprenger" is her first feature film. Fingscheidt lives with her family in Hamburg.