Hey, I'm Bernadette!
I came to filmmaking relatively late in life. The first part of my career was taken up by the study of 8 languages, moving continents, and becoming a professor of media studies after getting a PhD in linguistics from Vienna University, studying semiotics with Umberto Eco, film theory at Stanford, and feminism with Liz Grosz and others. While I felt accomplished and happy in academia, though, I also realized that just writing about film and media just wasn't doing justice to either. I wanted to know how media was made, what people felt when they were filmed, for instance and, most importantly, I wanted to understand if there was really such a thing as feminist filmmaking.
Devoti tutti is my fourth feature-lenght documentary, and the second one I am producing and directing by myself. In about twelve years of filmmaking I have learned so much! While the medium of film (especially documentary) is a devil, because it sucks up all your time and money, I would never consider doing anything else. Through film I can be closer to reality than in real life. I can cast a world where I see certain themes from "real life" reflected and compress it so as to share it with others. Sharing a worldview is what I love about film. But it's a delicate thing, and very powerful. It hurts when your worldview doesn’t come across the way you want it to. And it takes a lot of time and careful dedication to do this. When I work with characters, it is most important to me that they recognize themselves in my footage and story-telling. I want to let them speak for themselves.
In my work I combine theoretical feminist questions such as "who is entitled to have a voice?" with practical executions through documentary film. I like narratives that aren't linear and one-sided, but rather multi-facetted. I like asking questions more than giving answers, something I realized in my film The Good Breast, about four women going through breast cancer. I love contradiction and emotions that are contrary in nature, which often makes it hard for my editors!
In Devoti tutti I am finding a way to express Agatha's voice and her story for the first time in a real documentary film that goes beyond a televisual coverage of her annual festival in Catania, Sicily. I want to give Agatha a voice for what I think she might have felt and gone through nearly two-thousand years ago. I am using all the reserach skills that I learned in academia to accomplish this task. I am also working with my students on the content. I see no dividing line between documentary filmmaking and research. To me it is one big blur, and it is so rich that I always find one more layer that I would like to express with moving images.
I am drawn to images as intuitively as I am drawn to music. Something happens to my heart and mind at the same time when I see an image, or hear a melody or even just a tone. It is this emotionality that I missed in my work as "just an academic," although I love writing articles, have written several books, and would never want to have missed this way of communicating my thoughts, as I did in books like Getting Under the Skin or The Cosmetic Gaze.
But in this current phase of my life I am interested in how cinema can represent the emotions that carry us through life, for good and bad. Again, I am not necessarily looking for answers; instead I want to explore emotions, such as the devotion for a martyred Saint who lived so long ago, through my film-work, and not through literal descriptions. How can people still feel so strongly?
Besides making films and teaching at Johns Hopkins Unversity, where I direct the Center for Advanced Media Studies, I am also raising three children, Sebastian 8, Charlotte 13, and Xandi 16, together with my husband, Bill Egginton. In our family we always have someone else living with us, relatives from Africa or friends from Europe, in addition to our 2 cats, dog, with a second dog on the way! I love big communities of people and liveliness. There can never be enough people around me in my own life or when I am shooting a Verite scene as you see here with the Catania street children.
Oh, and I forgot to mention what many people wonder when they hear my accent (that I will probably never be able to erase entirely), where I am actually from: I was born in Vienna and am Austrian by birth. I am also Italian and Swiss but that's another story... But today I feel most like an American, having gained this nationality just a few years ago. The US is where I feel at home.
Saint Agatha of Catania was killed for resisting the advances of a Roman governor. Her story has always been told by men — until now.