German director reflects on three decades of lesbian-themed films

By Hans Pedersen, July 2015 Issue.

In the 1980s, German director Monika Treut (pictured) was making LGBT-themed films, including Virgin Machine and Seduction: The Cruel Woman, when few people were doing so, and she sometimes paid a price.

Monika Treut. Photo by Ana Grillo.

The director helped bring LGBT images to audiences in an era when there was very little representation of the community, despite the mass media explosion of cable and VCRs.

In addition to directing narrative features, which include My Father Is Coming, starring Annie Sprinkle, Treut also makes documentaries now. From Hamburg, Treut spoke with Echo about her wild career and her new movie, Of Girls and Horses. (Read Hans Pedersen's review of Of Girls and Horses here.)

Echo: What was it like making lesbian films in the ‘80s, compared to now?

Treut: It was pretty tough, actually, because it was so new – especially in Germany… We had not one LGBT film festival, or anything like that. For example, when Seduction first came out … it was not greeted very well by distributors, or the so-called film industry or movie theatre owners. I had trouble finding distribution ... It was really tough, because the whole business was dominated by heterosexual men in Germany. They didn’t get it. They were like, “what the hell is this?” They had no clue what this was about. It got really bad reviews.

This was why I moved to New York in the late ‘80s, because I really had trouble working [in Germany]. I had this bad reputation as a man-hating lesbian with a knife in her pocket, it was very strange ... it was a different community and easier to find distribution in the U.S. than in Germany in those days.

Echo: Who are your influences, who are your heroes?

Treut: As a German I grew up with the films of Rainer Werner Fassbender. He made two films a year in the 70s and so it was wonderful. He was like the real pioneer in those days. Not all of his films have a gay subject necessarily but all his films have a gay sensibility, so I was very much attracted to his work. I would say he’s my major influence, but other than that I was a film buff.

Echo: What do you think of LGBT cinema today?

Treut: I think it’s wonderfully evolved … I think we are now in a new era where you find really well-crafted, well-budgeted LGBT films … you have an amazing variety these days.

Echo: Is there any advice you can offer LGBT filmmakers?

Treut: For young filmmakers, they have a wonderful situation these days … I would just advise them to experiment and just not wait too long or waste too much time to finance your films. I think there are so many great fresh new films out by people who just go and do things, right? I would advise them to go and use the tools we have now in 2015.

Echo: Tell us a little bit about what inspired your latest work, Of Girls and Horses, a great coming-of age story.

Treut: Well partly my own growing up time, in a small town in Germany. I spent -- as a child between the age of 8 and 16 -- a lot of time in the horse stable. They were actually breeding Welsh ponies, they’re almost like real horses and I was just crazy for them. And all my girlfriends -- I went to an all-girls school – we were all there together hanging out afterschool. So it was pretty much inspired by my own experiences back then.

Echo: Can you talk a little bit about the decision to include the shots of landscapes and horses? It’s very soothing.

Treut: I was very lucky, I had a wonderful cinematographer who is also a filmmaker. So we both loved horses, and we prepared ourselves, even before the shoot ,we went to the location together which is very close to the Danish border. And it’s very flat… and the ocean is right behind it and it has amazing sundowns, amazing skies, amazing clouds, and I’ve always been fascinated by this landscape. I love to go there, I go there a lot, whenever I have time to escape Hamburg… I try to go there to calm down.

Echo: Am I mistaken, or is there a little bit of sexual tension between Nina and Alex?

Treut: Yeah it was a little bit. I tried to have these two couples, or pairs, the older lesbian couple living together in Hamburg, and then the young girls slowly getting closer and I tried to mirror this a little bit. In the beginning, there was a little attraction, but then I just decided I wanted the younger girls to have some kind of relationship… The older lesbian couple is more like a background story, you know put in the film as a matter of fact. You know, these two women live together, end of story, that’s it.

Echo: How would you describe Alex’s journey or character arc?

Treut: She’s obviously a troubled teenager when she comes to this farm in the middle of nowhere, she’s a city girl.. there is no Internet, there’s no distractions, and she’s never been around animals before… Slowly she gets used to working with the horses and slowly enjoys it. And in the beginning she enjoys having this riding teacher Nina present, and at first when this bourgeois girl enters the scene, she’s not very happy, she gets a little jealous. But they find a way to communicate with one another … I really wanted to tell the subtle story of slowly developing a relationship and also giving it an open end.

Echo: What are you working on these days? Any new projects in the works?

Treut: I’m just coming back from eight hours of editing my new feature-length documentary. It’s about an especially violent favela in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Right before the Olympic Games of 2016, they’re having this so-called pacification program, sending the military into the favelas and it’s a total disaster … I’m doing a documentary about kids from the slums who are every day experiencing this violence in front of their doors … A very different subject than this film, I like the challenge (of) different things.

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