Gay film pioneer Rosa von Praunheim turned his attention to Berlin’s fastest-gentrifying Bezirk for Survival in Neukölln. He spoke to us about the parallel lives in the neighbourhood and what happens when its Muslim and queer residents collide.
Catch it at our next EXBlicks on Monday, November 27 at Lichtblick Kino at 8:30pm with the veteran in attendance.
This is your first about Neukölln. What is your relationship to the district?
I’ve never lived in Neukölln, I’ve always lived in Charlottenburg. But Markus [Tiarks], the co-director, does and he knows a lot about the district. From what I’ve heard, Neukölln used to be a difficult place with cheap rents. Then artists from all over the world started to move there because it was so cheap and Neukölln became very interesting. It still is, although increasing rents are making it hard for people there.
How did you come to work with Markus, also a protagonist in the film, as co-director? How did the collaboration work?
Markus has helped me with many of my films. He has a gallery in Neukölln and told me about many of the interesting people living and working there, like Juwelia with her incredible salon in a small place on Sanderstraße which I hadn’t heard of before. She puts on lovely performances and exhibits paintings. Markus did all the research. Since I don’t go out so much, I don’t know all the new clubs, bars and venues in Neukölln, but Markus does. We collaborated on the script and the shooting of the film.
How did you choose the stories/protagonists you portray?
I was very moved by Juwelia and her story, her talent. We also followed her to New York when she had the opportunity to exhibit there. The African American artist Kandis Williams was suggested to me by Yony Leyser, a talented film director whom I’ve helped with film financing and whom I like very much.
Did you specifically want to picture a mix of generations and backgrounds?
No, the main criterium was the artists’ personalities. Or, in the case of Joaquin La Habana, who was in my 1983 film City of Lost Souls, I hadn’t seen him in many years and didn’t even know he was living in Neukölln with his husband and son. He is older now, but still looks young and is very active, I wanted to show how he keeps on working after all these years.
Your film paints a very positive picture of Neukölln’s artist community while glossing over the very real threat of gentrification. Why leave that out?
It’s not my thing, I didn’t want to talk about crime or gentrification. I wanted to talk about people and what they do. For 10 years, they’ve been survivors despite the difficulties of having very little money. This is what I want to show. Not the fact that Neukölln is known for its crime problems and gentrification. I wanted to paint a positive picture of people.
Did you consciously seek out a refugee to include in your film?
Yes, I think it’s important to show the situation of gay and lesbian refugees who flee terrible persecution in their homeland. That’s why I wanted to include one in my film. Enana, the lesbian singer who fled from Syria, was suggested to me by her former manager Mahide Lein. The persecution of lesbians in Syria is really tough. So it was so moving to hear how Enana made it to Berlin and how excited she was when she saw so many lesbians openly expressing their sexuality.
Is there a way to integrate Neukölln’s Muslim community and the LGBT community?
They don’t mingle. And conversely this is good for places like Schwuz – it’s smack in the middle of an Arab/Turkish quarter, but the club and locals still co-exist peacefully. I did meet one openly gay Arab schoolteacher who wears a t-shirt saying “I am gay and not Muslim” or something. It’s very provocative, but it’s not a problem because the Muslim parents like him. He helps their kids in school and is accepted. And yet that doesn’t teach most Muslims to be tolerant of gays.
What happens when these identities come into conflict? How do you report on, say, Muslim youth involved in gay-bashing, while still protecting minorities?
That is really sensitive. It’s important to name people and groups if they are offensive. For a long time the Green Party said that we can be a melting pot and it will change things, but it didn’t work. The religious rollback is so strong that it’s much more diffi cult now. We think we can do something about it, but it comes down to education – not just about gays, but also women, who still get insulted or sexually harassed.
Do you feel okay saying this?
Yes, of course it’s okay to say! You have to say what’s real. I think it’s important to talk about social problems freely so we can find solutions. Groups who get into conflicts should start to talk.
Are you involved in today’s queer scene? What do you think about its many recent shitstorms – over Patsy L’Amour’s Beißreflexe, for example?
I don’t like this infighting. I think it’s hateful. There should be solidarity among oppressed groups, not division.
I don’t like this infighting. I think it’s hateful. There should be solidarity among oppressed groups, not division. Discussion is very important, and people should listen to each other and be respectful. I feel that, as a white man, I do have the right to talk about oppression. As a gay man, I’m oppressed, too. And I also work with and know other people who are oppressed, so I think I can say something about that. I don’t think it’s good to prevent open discussion on those grounds.
You’re turning 75. Is it meaningful to you?
Of course age is meaningful. In your 20s, you don’t really know what’s going on and aren’t sure if you truly have talent or not. Then you hopefully develop and grow. I’m amazed that I’ve been able to work freelance for 50 years and somehow always find financial support for my work. I’m healthy and active and it’s a gift that I’m still creating.
*additional reporting by Whitney Jenkins
Survival in Neukölln | Directed by Rosa von Praunheim (Germany 2017) with Juwelia, José Promis. Starts November 23
EXBlicks (with English subtitles), Mon, Nov 27, 20:30 | Lichtblick Kino, Prenzlauer Berg