Shannon Getty and Shari Mahrdt met while going to already-establish Berlin filmmaker meet-ups, but still saw a lack in the kind of networking environment they were searching for. So they decided to create their own space, the Women’s Film Network Berlin, aimed at creating opportunities for female identifying filmmakers in the city.
When did you come to Berlin and what brought you here initially?
Shannon Getty: I came to Berlin one and a half years ago. It was one city on a list of many I was considering in order to focus on my film career. Berlin ticked all of the boxes and I moved here sight unseen. I have never looked back. I heard someone describe Berlin as a good place for a Second Act. I totally agree.
Shari Mahrdt: I arrived in 2014! I’m from Germany but I grew up in Sri Lanka and after university in England, I felt like I should get to know my own country. At the same time I yearned for a city full of people from all over the world, so Berlin ended up being the best place for me.
One of the biggest challenges when arriving here is finding a network of friends and collaborators. Did you struggle with this? What were some moments that helped you to expand your network here?
SG: Yes, I absolutely struggled with this. I think people underestimate how hard it is to move to a new city where you have little to no network. It takes time, patience and thick skin. After about six months of sitting alone in too many cafes, I started going to film meetups and eventually met Shari. We started the Women’s Film Network, which more suited our needs, and it has been an incredible way to meet many wonderful and talented friends and collaborators.
SM: At first I was working remotely for a company based in the US so I worked from one of my friend’s startup offices/co-working spaces, which was definitely a less lonely experience than just working from home. After half a year or so I joined Clue, a Berlin-based menstrual and reproductive health tracking app, and it felt like I had joined a mini community of people who all had similar values. Through this company I met some of my closest friends as of yet.
An absolute game changer in finding collaborators, however, has been the Women’s Film Network Berlin. It’s not really “networking,” which makes me think of business cards and handshakes. There’s something special in the atmosphere at these events; it’s the women who show up — everyone is supportive and open-minded and just wants to get to know other creative people. So I can really recommend joining an event or meetup group that speaks to you, even if you’re more on the introverted side.
How did the idea for Women's Film Network come about?
SM: We were looking for a group like this and events like this to go to. But we didn’t see any other film-related groups for women geared towards the international community. So we thought, may as well start one ourselves!
SG: We saw a gap. It was just before all of the Harvey Weinstein stuff broke and there was a palpable frustration amongst women who were trying to make it in film and media. We wondered what it would be like if we could all come together to learn from each other’s experiences and collaborate. We hoped for maybe fifteen or twenty women to join, but now 2,000+ members later, we’re still amazed at the response WFNB has received.
Has founding the network helped you to feel more rooted in Berlin? Do you feel that it has helped you to find your people?
SG: Very much so. It’s helped shift my perspective, even on an average day when passing by strangers on the street: I now know that under the surface we all have a lot in common and it just takes a short conversation to find some way to relate. Knowing and practicing this has helped me make more connections in my neighborhood and beyond. I’ve lived in several cities internationally and starting a network has increased my sense of community and belonging tenfold.
SM: Meeting so many great people who are all on the same page (regarding getting more stories told through the eyes of women) really strengthens, reassures and infuses you with courage. Shannon and I have even decided to start a production company (called Unframed) for female-driven and diverse content together with Melina Voss, a producer we met through WFNB!
Do you have any advice for new expats in Berlin in regards to reaching out and finding like-minded people to collaborate and socialize with?
SG: Grab yourself by the scruff of your neck and throw yourself out the door. You just have to do it. Berlin has an infinite amount of meetups. Go to the same one a few times until you recognize some faces, then trust your gut and ask someone out for a coffee or beer. Bit by bit your network will expand and before you know it you’ll have some good friends and new opportunities knocking.
As the founder of this network, do you have any thoughts for other newcomers who are considering starting their own organizations and projects?
SM: If you have an idea for something, a meetup or a group, just try it out, post something on social media, ask people you already know if they want to organize it with you and see what the response is. Then go from there!
SG: Berlin is a great city in the sense that it still feels like there’s room to carve your own path. Find people with whom you share similar values and take the leap.
To join the WFNB and hear about upcoming events, visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WomensFilmNetworkBerlin and join their mailing list.
The “Lost to Found” series showcases several amazing Berlin-based organizations run by expat women, with goals exactly like Cluster’s: bringing people together to learn and grow.
Check out the first interview of the series with Margherita from Women's Writing Lab Berlin!