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Beyond the Frame: Stories behind “Century of Women” with Writer and Director Uli Gaulke

“World history has been written almost exclusively from a male perspective. However, as a filmmaker, I have always been interested in developing a different point of view, a new perspective.” - Uli Gaulke, Writer, Director and Cameraman of "Century of Women"

“World history has been written almost exclusively from a male perspective. However, as a filmmaker, I have always been interested in developing a different point of view, a new perspective.” – Uli Gaulke, Writer, Director and Cameraman of “Century of Women”


JMSC lecturer and award-winning filmmaker Uli Gaulke’s latest documentary, “Century of Women”, will premiere at more than 70 theatres in 50 cities across Germany, Austria, and Switzerland on March 7, the eve of International Women’s Day. 

Uli on location in Austria with centenarian Ilse Helbich

Uli on location in Austria with centenarian Ilse Helbich

100 years of wisdom told in 100 minutes, this documentary features five female centenarians from Israel, India, Cuba, Austria, and Turkey, who share how they defied male-dominant norms and made significant impacts on their respective societies.

This film, the third in a trilogy, marks the culmination of Gaulke’s exploration of aging via his previous award-winning films, “As Time Goes By in Shanghai” and “Sunset Over Hollywood.”

Critics have praised this film as a poignant mosaic capturing the insights of centenarian women. Cinema Time praises it as a film one should simply listen to, highlighting its enduring power of dreams. Indie Cinema applauds its relevance, echoing Nermin Abadan-Unat’s timeless call to “Don’t give up hope – resist.” edp Film commends Gaulke’s “free rhythm” storytelling approach, seamlessly weaving together the everyday lives and stories of the protagonists. Kino-Zeit lauds the film’s focus on gratitude, appreciation, and empowerment, noting its ability to magnify stories from the past and “produce a twinkle in the eye.”

In addition to being the writer and director, Uli also served as the cameraperson for two of the segments in the film. The planning of this film began in 2017, with its research, production, and post-production spanned well beyond the COVID-19 years. This is one of the most challenging films of Uli’s filmmaking career.

The JMSC team caught up with Uli before his departure for Germany and the red carpet premiere.

Q: What inspired you to create “Century of Women”?

A: I was interested in capturing the perspectives of individuals who have lived through a century, crossing the boundaries of human experience. I wanted to delve into their rich histories, the societal changes they witnessed, and their lasting impact. 

World history has been written almost exclusively from a male perspective. However, as a filmmaker, I have always been interested in developing a different point of view, a new perspective. That is how I came up with the idea of telling world history of the last hundred years from the point of view of women who have left a footprint through their actions and have shaped the society in which they live in a special way and still do.

Q: How did you select the specific women featured in the documentary?

A: I focused on five centenarian women who remained active and influential throughout their lives, showcasing their current activities and contributions. My goal was to highlight diverse stories from different cultures, including an Indian yoga teacher who defied societal expectations, a Turkish political activist who fought for social change, and others who left their mark on their communities.

Haydée Arteaga Rojas, one of the centenarians in the film

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced while making this film?

A: Filming centenarians requires special care and consideration. It’s unbelievably complex because sometimes, they’re not in the best condition. And the pandemic added another layer of complexity. Sadly, some of the women passed away during the extended filming process. We had to restart our research and filming process. It was a big risk for the producer to seek funding because when we started financing the film some of the centenarians had died. However, the project was also energizing, particularly when encountering individuals like the Turkish and Austrian centenarians who remained sharp and politically active despite their age.

Q: What’s the key to making a film in foreign languages and culture?

A: Finding a local partner who understands both. For example, in filming the Turkish centenarian story, I was very lucky to find Aylin Kalkan, a Turkish-German actress and researcher, who played a crucial role as my assistant director. Not only did she have the right skills, she also connected deeply with Nermin Abadan-Unat, who saw her young self in Aylin. Aylin’s presence embodied the protagonist’s dream of a young Turkish woman pursuing her career aspirations. They connected on an emotional and intellectual level, building bonds and trust which is important to making any documentary.

Q: What is your distribution strategy?

A: Our distributor, Mindjazz, identified the target audience and will focus on theatrical releases in German-speaking regions, including Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The film will also have a dubbed version for German TV and limited screenings with subtitles. We aim for weekend screenings, with matinees catering to older viewers. An English-subtitled version is available for international markets.

Director Uli Gaulke in front of Eliot Hall

Q: Beyond the theatrical release, do you have plans for streaming or further distribution?

A: Initially, the film will be released in theatres. Based on its success, we might explore distribution in Canada and other regions. However, theatrical releases for documentaries are increasingly challenging due to the high volume of new films. Streaming services prioritise successful content, which can limit opportunities for new stories. While streaming may play a role in the future, innovation lies with young filmmakers pushing the boundaries of documentary filmmaking and cinematic language. We will consider all channels and adapt our distribution strategy based on audience interest and the evolving media landscape.

Q: Can you share the funding and support you received for the film?

A: The project involved a multi-step fundraising process in Germany. We partnered with a production company, Fruit Market, and received initial research funding from the North Rhine-Westphalia Film Fund. Script development and production funding came from the same fund and Arta, a German-French TV channel. Additional support came from state film funds in North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria. Overall, the budget reached around 800,000 euros, with some overrun due to the pandemic.

About the Director: Uli Gaulke is an award-winning German filmmaker and a full-time lecturer at JMSC where he teaches Documentary Production and AI Application in the Media. “Century of Women” is the third instalment in a trilogy that began with “As Time Goes By in Shanghai” (2013), winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival.  “Sunset Over Hollywood” (2018), was nominated for the German Documentary Film Award and was selected for the SXSW Festival in the U.S. He is also a faculty member of the Master of Journalism – Documentary Filmmaking Program launching in Fall 2024.

For the English-subtitled trailer, please visit 

“Century of Women” poster in German

Official Synopsis – Century of Women

They are five impressive women who have collectively spent more than 500 years on this earth. They come from Cuba, Israel, Austria, India and Turkey and have inspired those around them through their strength and actions. With strong will and firm belief in themselves, they have grown beyond role clichés and made their dreams come true. They are an incentive for all women to consistently follow their path and stand up for equality. YOUR CENTURY – WOMEN TELL HISTORY is 100 years of emancipation from very different perspectives.

As a young girl in Cuba, the young Afro-Cuban Haydée Arteaga Rojas had the dream of a better and fairer world in which there would be equal opportunities for all. As an ardent communist, she is a strong advocate for the disadvantaged in society in order to give them a dignified and equal life. 

Amma Nanammal – one of the centenarians in the film

The yoga teacher Amma Nanammal practised yoga as a child and, against all odds, was the first woman to pave the way for the triumphal march of yoga in her country and worldwide. The diplomat and secret service agent Tamar Eshel was one of the founders of the State of Israel and has unswervingly followed her path, working for the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Arabs and for the rights of women.

For the sociologist and activist Nermin Abadan-Unat from Turkey, the fight for the Turkish Republic and its ideals, which were once declared by Atatürk, is still a top priority today. Just now, where it comes under the present president Erdogan to a massive restriction of the rights of women and dissenters, it raises again and again its weighty voice, in order to support the fight for democracy. 

The writer Ilse Helbich freed herself from social conventions late in life by separating from her family and husband to go her own way from then on. With her first novel at the age of 80, she began her own unsparing, often painful, linguistically powerful and precise examination of her life and that of her generation. 

As diverse as the stories appear, they tell in a very personal and powerful way the social changes that have taken place in the last hundred years of world history, from the perspective of these women who have actively promoted these changes throughout their lives. The women chose to tell their stories in CENTURY OF WOMEN because they want to share their experiences and inspire future generations to consistently follow their own path and advocate for a better and more just world.