How a change in location helped Karin Fornander find her stride
A conversation on the ambivalence of relocation
Karin Fornander originally moved to Berlin about ten years ago with dreams of becoming a diplomat.
Her intention was to complete an internship at the Swedish Embassy and then head back to Sweden to apply for diplomat training. But Fornander’s carefully laid plans quickly came undone once she arrived. “The thought of going home became very daunting once I had gotten a taste of carefree life in Berlin,” she recalls. “You know how it is, you come here and think, hmm, I’m going to stay!”
Fornander credits the permissive spirit of Berlin, as well as its affordability, relative to other European cities, for giving her the courage to start a film festival without any professional experience. “Berlin allows for a lot more personal freedom and expression than Sweden and it probably has taught me to dare to try things out,” she says. Relying on her friendship circle for support and advice (“I owe everyone who has helped me with the festival so much!”), Fornander put on the first edition of Berlin Feminist Film Week in 2014 and was astonished by the size and dedication of the audience: “I think we had 800 guests, which was way more than I was expecting. I was like, yeah, I’d be happy if some of my friends come!”
Five editions later, the festival has presented movies from over 50 countries and told stories ranging from a black comedy about a pregnant serial killer (Prevenge), to the first woman judge to be appointed in the Middle East’s religious courts (The Judge)—all with the aim of representing the diversity of women’s experiences.
“A slower pace and cheaper lifestyle makes more room for thought, creativity, and mistakes.”
You’ve been in Berlin now for almost ten years. Are there still things you miss from home?
Of course, the obvious things: I miss family and friends—but also living in a country with less formality and hierarchies. I miss more banal things too, like Swedish bread, lollies and bakery treats, and especially the coffee. It’s a running joke that Swedes can’t go abroad without complaining about the coffee, objectively it’s probably no better in Sweden, but I still have people bring me coffee here!
Did moving from Sweden to Germany alter any of your views on feminism?
Sweden has a long tradition of social democracy and focus on equal rights, so in terms of feminism, Sweden is more progressive when it comes to a lot of everyday things, such as work, family life and the presence of feminism in public and pop culture.
When I came to Germany it was a little different; different from what I was used to. I grew up in a place where women and men were usually both breadwinners. When I came to Germany a lot of the people who I studied with had moms who stayed at home, which is not at all bad but it’s just different as a lot of the social system and society in German still revolves around the one-breadwinner-family-unit. You know how it is, when you’re put in a new context you start thinking much more about these differences and why it’s so important to you.
The festival feels very much like a passion project of yours: Do you think it would have been possible to organize in a different city?
I think a lot of time when we read articles about people who start their own business, they’re always like “oh, just do it,” but not everyone can just do it. You need to have some other security in order to take the risk, and I think in Berlin, because it’s still cheap, it’s possible. When your friends aren’t making a shit load of money you don’t have to feel bad about being the person who can never afford to go out to dinner.
Do you hope one day to be able to support yourself financially from the festival?
When you do something like I do with the festival—it’s a political thing; it’s about activism and you don’t want to necessarily get paid for that. But it is hard work, and holding up another rent-paying job while doing any sort of activism or creative job on the side is a balancing act, so it would definitely help focusing on one thing. Ideally, I would like to see less focus on work for everyone. It shouldn’t be that you have to sacrifice work and income to do something meaningful. Maybe in the future we’ll have to work a little bit less and there will be less focus on productivity.
How do you choose which directors and stories to give a voice to?
We limit our program to mainly female, trans, queer, and non-binary filmmakers—anybody who is not already represented in the film industry. The film also has to have a story that’s not just reproducing the same stereotypes. What’s really important to us is that these films are not just made by white filmmakers and aren’t just representing the same thing we see in film and TV all the time.
We have shown films by men, but I feel like it’s not my job to give them a space. I think there are enough festivals and spaces for men to show their films at this time. Of course, if there are films by men that also touch on the subject of feminism without putting words into other people’s mouths… I think that’s the main issue: men already tell the story of the world and we don’t need them to also tell us about feminism.
“We have shown films by men, but I feel like it’s not my job to give them a space.”
Do you think the pace of Berlin is sustainable for you in the long-term?
I think the pace in Berlin, in comparison to many other bigger cities, is quite chilled, which I appreciate and it’s definitely something we shouldn’t take for granted. A slower pace and cheaper lifestyle makes more room for thought, creativity, and mistakes. I wish we’d have more time to focus on the way we do things rather than always producing and generating more output, and Berlin allows or maybe allowed for that, at least. Even now, though, this is a privilege not within everyone’s reach. Obviously with rent increases, this will change for even more people.
What is the biggest, most lasting impact the city has had on you and what impact that you hope to leave behind?
I think I have less material desires and have learnt so much about tolerance and inclusivity, as well as meeting the most amazing people. What would be my lasting impact on Berlin? I’m not sure, but I hope that the topics we highlight at the festival will have an impact and inspire people to think beyond their own interests. I am happy when I manage to put on an event that doesn’t reflect my feelings or struggles but actually resonates with the group whose interests we’re trying to reflect or if we manage to actually open somebody’s eyes to an issue they were previously unaware of.