Lesbian visibility is and has been a topic in Berlin for the past year – last September’s L-Mag sponsored event Dyke* Out made that abundantly clear (see our November issue for more on that). And with the exception of the porn scene, there’s a major dearth of Berlin films featuring lesbian characters. Kanchi Wichmann’s Mixed Messages is poised to change that. An episodic journey of 36-year-old queer woman Ren (played by Alana Lake), it navigates the pitfalls of dating in Berlin, each episode resulting in “mixed messages”. A refreshing take on the queer dating scene in which many of the actors play “themselves” with a candid sense of humour, Wichmann’s film will leave you with anything but mixed feelings. Join us for the EXBlicks screening on Monday, October 30, 8:30pm at Lichtblick Kino in celebration of its DVD release with Wichmann in tow.
So what drove you to make Mixed Messages?
Well, it was about my personal experiences, but it then expanded into having conversations with my friends and realising that we all were dating and coming away feeling very confused by it. When I realised it was a universal problem I selflessly decided to make it about our collective experiences in a public piece of work. You’d think it wouldn’t be a comedic subject when talking about these disastrous dates, but given the amount of times we ended up labelling these experiences as “mixed messages”, it seemed to have this real comedic element.
So “mixed messages” is actual queer jargon?
It might be just me and my friend circle but we would all text each other asking how their date was last night and the reply usually was “mixed messages”. I don’t know if it’s used beyond that, but it could happen after this film though.
Why did you decide to make it an episodic format rather than a single narrative?
I think because the nature of it is so repetitive. You see one person go through the same experience over and over again and if it was a feature film audiences would expect there to be some sort of narrative arc where the main character learns and achieves something. But that isn’t what happens here, [Ren] almost always finds herself back to square one, because that’s the experience me and my friends often felt we had. So I think that fits an episodic, almost sitcom format, as it was the nature of the material. I never considered making a web series before as I consider myself to be a filmmaker and wanted to make a second feature. But I felt this format suited the circular nature of the material so much more.
Are the situations in Mixed Messages exclusive to Berlin?
Yes, definitely. I’m only really comparing it to London as it’s the only other major city I’ve lived in, but this was not my experience there at all. Before in London if you had dates that didn’t work out, you knew where you stood with people. There would still be some sort of communication and people would move on with their lives. However, here in Berlin I felt continually baffled with dates and people I had interacted with as potential partners because there seems to be a general communication problem here.
Would you say Berlin has a commitment problem, even?
It’s like everyone’s constantly hedging their bets as if there’s always something better coming along. I’ve spoken to both male and female friends of many orientations about it and I thought it might have just been my specific scene dating lesbian women or trans people but no, it turns out from conversations I’ve had even with straight cis-guys, that they said they related to the film, which really surprised me at first.
When you’re making films do you consider yourself a queer or lesbian filmmaker? If so, have you ever thought about the lack of lesbian visibility in Berlin film?
I think the film industry here is split into two levels. It’s either super-DIY where you grab your friends and a camera and you make something over a weekend with varying levels of quality, or you have a super professional, TV-funded, studio-produced effort but there’s nothing in the middle. I feel lesbian filmmakers are operating on that DIY level so their work is not really getting seen outside of that scene. I think that’s true overall, not just Berlin, but in my experience, that lack of a middle ground seems to mean it’s impossible for the DIY filmmakers, whatever their sexual orientation, to reach a wider audience.
We’ve got distribution for this film, which I really pushed for, so it will get seen by a wider audience, but some DIY filmmakers don’t do that for various reasons, such as principles, confidence or perhaps just not having the technical standards required to achieve distribution. In America, for instance, there is a healthy indie film scene because there are distribution companies working with less experienced directors outside of Hollywood. There are at least a good number of straight women who seem to be operating at that higher level in Berlin, so that’s something at least.
It must be rewarding at least to be getting Mixed Messages out there as an example of queer Berlin cinema for a wider audience to consume?
Yeah it’s exciting because it’s getting the normal trailer, posters and streaming services treatment – it’s highly validating to get that. I’m really proud because I made it in an entirely DIY way, with a crew of just five people, so I feel it’s a very authentic picture of both my world and my scene without having to compromise on anything such as casting or script. It’s a big achievement for me as a young filmmaker and I hope I can inspire others to do the same.
EXBlicks: Mixed Messages, Oct 30, 20:30 | Lichtblick Kino, Prenzlauer Berg