Oct. 23, 2017 – Is dating as a queer woman in Berlin difficult? According to the protagonist of the new web series Mixed Messages, it certainly seems to be. At the beginning of one of the ten episodes, we meet a British transplant to the German capital, Ren (Alana Lake), waking up hung over at a date's house, being offered breakfast in bed and a morning-after hangout. Over the course of the episode, it becomes more and more obvious that Ren has been forgotten as the date (Janni Froese) eats a lavish breakfast with her housemate. Ren makes it out of the bedroom to find out what’s going on, only to discover her date has become embroiled in WG politics of who last bought coffee, since it’s now run out, and why does no one else buy the fancy bio coffee anyway?
Mindfucks like this might feel hauntingly familiar to any participant in the dating scene in Berlin. British director Kanchi Wichmann based the series on her own experiences in the German capital that left her feeling confused. “Berlin is often presented as a party-goers' playground,” Wichmann said. “But the flip side of all this freedom and excitement is a lot of people feeling lost, lonely, confused and insecure.”
A doomed relationship conversation in the first episode covers some of the communication issues that arise in non-monogamous relationships, an arrangement that is particularly common in the Hauptstadt, compared to, say, London, where Wichmann was living previously. “People here definitely feel more liberated to explore different forms of intimacy without feeling judged,” she says. “Non-monogamy is just a more acceptable way to be in a relationship, whereas in London it’s more 'alternative' or going against the grain. Polyamorous relationships need a really high level of mature and open communication to function well, but I have experienced the reverse of that. In Berlin, the person is more likely to hide in the toilet or stare at you from the other side of the dance floor and leave without a word.”
As Ren bumps her way through the city’s queer landmarks, going on a date at Möbel Olfe, trying out a bondage workshop, or attending a meditation class, it’s noticeable how diverse the characters in the scenes are. Ren’s dates and friends are fat, trans, non-binary, hairy and in other ways emphatically not what the media depicts as attractive love interests for its protagonists. “The casting was really us just going 'round our friends and asking, 'Can you act?' So it wasn’t that calculated in terms of representation, but I definitely had an agenda in creating an authentic image of the queer scene here, where people who look like me and my friends can be sexy and attractive.” It was particularly important to her not to be tokenist in how she introduced less-represented groups by ‘ticking boxes’ – it’s noticeable and refreshing that characters aren’t defined by these labels.
“Unless we conform to heteronormative beauty standards or are hilariously funny, we are invisible in the mainstream media,” says Wichmann about the representation of queer women and lesbians. “So queer female cultural producers end up making these aspirational works that can leave the audience feeling more isolated and lonely and ashamed.” Just like other people, queer women are sometimes fucked up, rude and, awkward, as well as confused and confusing. Mixed Messages reflects these complicated selves in all their messy truth.
Preview: Oct. 25, 20:00, Wolf
Release Screening: Oct. 30, 20:30, Lichtblick Kino