Wide Angle: Wild Women Gentle Beasts

Wide Angle is our  books and films segment at continnect.

Today on Wide Angle, we look at Wild Women – Gentle Beasts, a film by Swiss film maker Anka Schmid

A scene from the film ©ankaschmid

The Story

Wild Women – Gentle Beasts explores the lives of women animal tamers from different cultures. The story unfolds through five women from four different countries –Namayca from France, Carmen from Germany, a mother-daughter duo Nadezhda and Aliya from Russia , and Anosa from Egypt. They earn a living by taming wild animals for circus shows. Their days revolve around lions, tigers and bears.

As audience we visit circus to be entertained. All we see in an hour of circus is glamour, shiny clothes and smiles in midst of loud claps and music. But what really goes behind the scenes of a circus? What does it take to be an animal tamer? Director Anka answers these questions as she tells the story of these women following them through their training days, the highs and lows and the beautiful moments with these wild beasts.

It took four years for the Wild Women – Gentle Beasts to be completed. Starting with the research, getting to know the women animal tamers, getting comfortable with the animals and finally to film and produce the documentary. Since 2015, the film has been screened at many film festivals. Wild Women – Gentle Beasts will be screened for the first time on the 29th of July on Swiss television SRF1. Ahead of the screening, continnect caught up with Anka Schmid, to know more about the movie and the creative force behind it.

continnect: Let’s start with the obvious question, what was your inspiration behind making this movie?

Anka: As a child, I dreamt that I want to be a female animal tamer. At that time, I use to watch a television series about circus and it featured a female tiger tamer. I was very fascinated by the circus. As I grew my ambitions changed and I wanted to be a filmmaker. But when I started taking my son to the circus, after 20 years I felt a connection. A fascination for this profession (animal taming), because you have to be totally passionate and it’s different if women do it because you work with your body and you work with something you cannot tame. So it’s this ambiguity. I also wanted to see how is the situation for women in different cultures working with animals. I wanted the movie to be more than a portrait of this profession, on what goes behind the scenes in a circus – The glamour, the shiny things and the hard work.

Anka with Anosa ©ankaschmid

continnect: As a circus artist, the women in your docu-film are used to being around wild animals. But as a filmmaker how was your experience?

Anka: My interest was really to focus on the women, but animals were also the main characters of the film. However I was not alone, I had a cameraman, a soundman. It is not possible to work with these women, if we do not know how they behave with the animals. These creatures are used to loud noise, tapping or music and even to people in the circus, however but they are not used to be confronted up close and we had to work very very close and this was risky. We had to study how they behave. We had to get close to the profession to understand it. I also wanted to present a close and intimate image to the public. So the women were with the microphone all the time. The sound you hear in the film is always coming from inside the cage. So it’s not like being in a circus. The camera was outside but the sound came from inside the cage.
Anka with her crew ©ankaschmid

continnect: What was the connection you felt with these women?

Anka: I was happy to work with each of the women I filmed. Namayca, the French lady is exactly a month younger than my son. For me it was like a mirror of the young generation. At the same time, she is not like a teenager, she is so responsible. She is not drinking or just doing things that you see teenagers do. Then there is Anosa, breaking all the barriers. She is opposite of a woman from the Arabic cliché, – blond, sexy and independent. Her late grandmother was the first female lion tamer in the Arab world, and she is still known and respected today.
With the Russian women, the mother is my alter ego. It was like what you do if you have someone. But I don’t have to wait if my son wants to follow my steps. So it was interesting to capture the conflict between two generations. The most complex relation was with Carmen Sanders, the German woman. She doesn’t belong circus family. Her mother is a writer and we speak the same language. For me she was really the key to enter into this world (of women animal tamers) It was a strong experience to be with them and film them. But I am glad I was not attacked!

While promoting her current film around the world, Anka is also busy working on her next project – Haare Von Kopf Bis Fuss (Hair Form Head to Toe). The idea for the film comes from Wild Women – Gentle Beasts she says “Having spent so much time with animals while working on this film, it struck me there is a little part of hair we all humans have. How is it seen in different cultures? I am looking at the tender question- men and women why do we have different hair cuts? I will be acting in the film and the film will be told through my perspective of hair from my childhood to now.”

About Anka


55 year old Anka Schmid is a Swiss filmmaker born in Zurich. She attended the DFFB (Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie) film school in Berlin. Anka has spent over 30 years as a filmmaker and she enjoys telling stories through moving pictures and sounds. She also enjoys knowing her subject and living their life before she begins working on her film.

You can reach Anka here and you can know more about the film here.  You can also reach Anka on facebook and Twitter

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