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The Cinema of East Germany

The DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is the only archive and study center outside Europe devoted to the study of a broad spectrum of filmmaking by East German filmmakers or related to East Germany from 1946 to the present.

It was founded in the early 90s by Barton Byg, professor of film and German studies within the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, who hoped to make East German cinema more available and better known in the US. DEFA stands for Deutsche Film Aktiengesellschaft – the state-run East German film studios, where films were made from 1946 to 1990. The Film Library’s collection grew bit by bit, as the post-unification fate of East Germany’s film heritage was being decided across the Atlantic. In 1997, a groundbreaking agreement brought the largest collection of 16 and 35mm DEFA prints outside of Germany to the UMass Amherst campus, and the DEFA Film Library also hosted the first international conference on East German cinema in North America – thanks to collaborations with PROGRESS Film-Verleih and the DEFA Foundation in Berlin. In 1998, ICESTORM International brought East German titles on video to North America. Since then, the DEFA Film Library has continued to grow; to date we have hosted 2 international conferences, 3 Summer Film Institutes and 4 touring film series, and our holdings now include over 400 prints, over 1,000 research videos and DVDs and over 400 articles, books and periodicals.

In 2005 The Museum of Modern Art New York and the Goethe-Institut New York, in collaboration with the DEFA Film Library, presented the most comprehensive retrospective of East German films ever screened in the U.S., Rebels with a Cause:The Cinema of East Germany

Services include:

  • Sale of Videos and DVDs
    Over 70 titles available on video and DVD, with new additions each year.
  • Rental of Films 
    Titles on 35mm, 16mm, video and DVD available to universities and other non-commercial venues throughout the U.S. and Canada.
  • Film Tours and Festivals
    Thematic film series available for screening at educational and cultural institutions in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Scholarly and Educational Support 
    International conferences, panels, workshops and seminars, including biannual East German Summer Film Institutes. Curriculum development projects and information clearing house.
  • Electronic Outreach: the Website and DEFA-L
    A website with extensive information on films and DEFA Film Library activities. The DEFA-L email list for international exchanges about East German and post-reunification film.
  • Access to Research Materials
    Available to visiting researchers, on site research including books, scripts, periodicals and movie stills, as well as noncirculating films and videos. A bibliography of DEFA-related sources and basic reference works is on our website.
  • For Broadcasters and Film Producers
    Broadcasters and film producers can preview materials available at the DEFA Film Library and staff can help with European film sources

DEFA Film Library
University of Massachusetts Amherst
504 Herter Hall, 161 Presidents Drive
Amherst, MA 01003  U.S.A.
Tel: (413) 545-6681 Fax: (413) 577-3808


For questions related to the website please contact
Jessica Hale