Across the broad continent of a woman’s life falls the shadow of a sword. On one side all is correct, definite, orderly; the paths are straight, the trees regular, the sun shaded; escorted by gentlemen, protected by policemen, wedded and buried by clergymen, she has only to walk demurely from cradle to grave and no one will touch a hair of her head. But on the other side all is confusion. Nothing follows a regular course. The paths wind between bogs and precipices; the trees roar and rock and fall in ruin. (Virginia Woolf, Harriette Wilson, in Collected Essays, 1925-28)
What Virginia Woolf so prophetically captured about the duality of women’s lives in the 1920s has become a daily reality for many women today: once the traditionally-prescribed roles of wife, mother, house-wife, care-giver, home-maker, etc. have been lifted, women find themselves restlessly soul-searching and constructing their own identities, their homes, their lives. They have choices, options, opportunities, and freedoms their mothers’ generation did not have. Yet all that freedom comes with completely new and also same old challenges as well, such as financial insecurity, health problems, relationship challenges, existential fears, biological clocks, etc.
Berlin documentary filmmaker, Beatrice Möller touched on several cultural nerves in her new film Everything We Want, which will premiere at the Achtung Berlin Film Festival in April. Born in 1979 in Düsseldorf and raised in Pretoria, South Africa, she made her first documentary in 2003, entitled Omulaule heißt Schwarz (Omulaule means black), followed by Shalom Salam (2006) and Shosholoza Express (2010), which documents a train ride through South Africa and the experience of Apartheid.
She began making this film when she was 28. Her protagonists, Claudia, Mona, and Marie-Sarah, who recently turned 30, are facing increasing restlessness as they try to balance jobs, relationships, and family. Their different paths and development along the way are presented in three parallel narratives. Along with Bea’s camera, we follow them from their jobs, to their apartments, to their parents’ houses, and on their grocery runs. We observe them as they learn to live with new challenges, overcome various fears and problems, and become the women they are.
Bea: “Every woman in her late twenties or early thirties, after completing her degree(s) is faced with self-reflexive questions: what next? What is the blue print for my life? Do I choose career or family or both? These reflections, voices, glimpses, and developments are shown in the film.”
The film nicely shows a generational shift between the protagonists and their mothers. The mothers claim that they had no time to think about whether they were happy and what makes them happy. They were busy raising kids, getting their degrees, working, and providing for their husbands. They are amazed that with all the incredible freedoms available to their daughters, which were not available to them, that they still feel restless or unhappy, or simply don’t know what they want.
Mona: “We want to have as many open doors as possible. That’s good, but it can also make you feel trapped. You feel tied down and cannot more forward. I want to free myself from that. I want to close two doors and leave only one or two open. Eventually it means that there is only one door left, but that could also be liberating.”
This paradox of seemingly endless choices and freedoms is also picked up by Marie-Sarah in her conversation with her mother:
Marie-Sarah (to her mother): “In your time you simply lived your lives, dealing with what was there. Perhaps there were some existential things from war times. Since the possibilities were limited that meant you took the offers that were available and you felt satisfied. Today you’re surrounded by too many options, and you really have to pick out what’s yours. And I see it as a great chance to say: ok, we have so many possibilities, we can be in New York in six hours, we can buy things online, make movies with very little money, we can do everything we want. So, what do we want?”
While it is rare to see an all-female documentary film that deals with real concerns of women today, as it turns out, many men are able to identify with the portrayed struggles of the female protagonists. One male viewer from Australia commented: “Although I am a man, I can relate to many things in the film.”
Marie-Sarah: “Dealing with financial insecurity is like surfing. You just have to ride the wave for the moment.”
Themes such as financial instability, constant job searches, constantly moving around in an attempt to establish a career and to find oneself, and establishing one’s sense of self apart from one’s family of origin run throughout the film.
Marie-Sarah: “I concentrate on dancing and acting, and once my career is on track, I will be more ready for a relationship, I guess. If I keep following my path and as a result feel more complete, then I won’t have to feel the need for validation in relation to someone else, who may bring something valuable into my life. I want to build this confidence on my own first.”
Interview with Bea:
KS: Your film touches several nerves that many women around the world face in their daily lives. Questions of careers, self-knowledge, financial (in)security, health, relationships, kids, etc. all come to a boiling point in the few years between the late 20s and early- to mid-30s. Your film captures this transition in the lives of three women and in conversations with their mothers as a comparison to how things used to be for their generation. When did you first get the idea for making this film? And how did you go about conceptualizing it?
BM: The idea of making a personal film about my generation turning 30 came when I turned 28. I myself had a really hard time in those days. I found myself jobless after studying for 6 years, I found myself in a relationship that didn’t fulfill me. I felt like I haven’t found my place. And then the question came up: how do my friends deal with all these questions of life, growing up and finding oneself in a world that changed a lot in many ways. We were not in our early 20s anymore, we are in our late 20s, long old enough to have our own family, but the feeling of not having arrived anywhere was much stronger. I was asking myself: where would we all be when we turn 30? Which decisions are we going to make? When will our paths separate and when will we have that feeling that we have arrived somewhere? So I started following my close friends and had many conversations with them about our lives. I was lucky. Once I got funding from a foundation (Stiftung Menschenwürde und Arbeitswelt) I was able to start filming. After a while I also filmed women who I were not close friends with. The circle opened and step by step I found out that I was not alone with all my doubts and questions. And that’s how everything started.
Were there particular personal questions that you wanted to have answered for yourself while working on this project? Which ones did you manage to find answers to, and which ones still remain unanswered?
This is a difficult question. Yes, the idea for the film was very much a personal drive. I wanted to find out why I had the feeling of not being “grown up” or not having arrived somewhere. But I also had doubts about myself and where I was supposed to be going in the future. Maybe it was the whole process that I found myself in and which I wanted to share with other women. Because sooner or later everyone will arrive at his point in life where these questions come up. Also the conversation with my mother and the other mothers were very important to me. I was amazed how different their lives were and how differently we grew up. The questions for the two generations were maybe the same, but the choices they had and the path society expected were very different. In contrast to them we have so many opportunities and suddenly we don’t know which is the right path to take. It is not that I was looking for answers. I wanted to paint an emotional picture about these women and their thinking and feeling. During that whole process of filming and working with that topic I realized that I started to feel stronger about myself. The acceptance grew and I the feeling of having to change in order to be someone or something disappeared. I am much happier with myself and actually enjoy the freedoms that our mothers did not necessarily have. Maybe this was one of the answers I found during the 4 years it took me to make the film.
You are a documentary film-maker in your early 30s, you’ve made several successful and important films, have you figured out what it is you want out of life? Or is that a never-ending question?
I hope it’s a never ending question. Because life is changing every day. We as people are changing and therefore our aims change too. For me it is important to be open and try to find my own flow in the world of film-making.
Could you describe your relationship with your mom?
After some rough times in my early and mid-20s my relationship with my mom is much calmer with mostly mutual acceptance now. I am lucky to have a mom who is still very curious and who also still has lots of questions that drive her. She is very alive, and also someone who pushes me to see and discover things. My mom is open with her personal life and we often sit together and talk about how she grew up and how society in her days influenced her life. Which was very different from how I grew up.
Your film leaves the viewer with many questions and perhaps even a desire for self-evaluation. Did you have a certain goal or aim in mind when making the film?
Since I am part of this generation of women in modern, western cities who search for their identity, it was important for me to paint the picture of what we are dealing with today in contrast to our mothers. I also wanted to follow the main characters to show how they deal with changes and challenges of all kinds. I am very aware that these women don’t stand for a whole generation. That’s why I am careful with that term. My film portrays a certain kind of women and their thinking in a modern, educated, western world. It was not my aim to make a film about my generation. I think many women and men will find themselves somewhere in my film and reflect on their lives.
You’ve shown the differences between the generations of mothers and daughters, but do you think this restless searching is only particular to our generation, or do you think our children will also have the same options and challenges, and questions?
I think every generation will have more or less the same questions and challenges to deal with in their circumstances. For example, it is amazing to see how the children who grew up with the internet deal completely differently with it. For them it is obvious. They use it in a clever way. Much more than we do. And maybe the challenges with connecting and with the globalized world are growing. The challenge is to find out what you really want is becoming more important.
How do men react to your film? Are there differences in reactions from men and from women?
Men who saw my film said that it is not necessarily a film only for women. They also found themselves in all the questions and thoughts. Men are dealing with the same things and the reactions were similar. Men should watch this film! There was one guy my age who came up to me saying that men identify with the same problems that the protagonists face. On the other hand, there was a much older man who could not identify with the protagonist, and who believed that these are not real problems that they face. I see this as a gap between generations in general. In the film Claudia’s mother comments that her problems are not real or challenging and her dad says they should be more efficient, that’s what he taught his daughter. You can feel that there are points of misunderstanding or lack of communication between the generations.
Can you tell us what the three protagonists (Claudia, Mona, and Marie-Sarah) are up to today?
Claudia from Leipzig resigned from her job at the Kreuzer. She is now trying to make her way as a freelance journalist in Leipzig and to built her career. She works for radio and newspapers. Fritzi her daughter is now 18 month old and goes to kindergarten. She is a happy little child.
Mona is still working as a translation manager in Berlin. Since she realized that this job doesn’t make her happy she started looking for new jobs and new challenges. She hasn’t found one yet. Health-wise she is stable and no new operations were necessary.
Marie-Sarah left her new job in Munich soon after she started. She felt it wasn’t what she expected. Now she is working in Stuttgart for a new company and also does acting again.
What are your next projects?
I am currently working on a new film project in Eritrea as well on a TV-series that will follow people around the world who go on spiritual journeys. I am also working more and more on radio projects for German Radio.
What would be your dream project?
All the films I am working on are dream projects 😉 If they weren’t, I would not have had enough energy to pull them through! Every film is like a new baby that wants to be delivered healthy and save. The aim is of course to get them fully financed. It is not always possible. That’s why crowd funding for EVERYTHING WE WANT was so important!