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Berlin, Divided Heaven: From the Ice Age to the Thaw
Touring Film Series

Lights from Afar (Lichter aus dem Hintergrund)

1998, Germany, color & b/w, 96 min.
Dir.: Helga Reidemeister
Script: Helga Reidemeister, Guntram Weber
Camera: Lars Barthel
Music: Konrad Bauer
Editing: Dörte Völz-Mammarella
Cast: Helga Paris, Jenny Paris, Maren Herzig, Mathias Noack, Petra Gräwe, Robert Paris, Ronald Paris
35mm, English subtitles


Merely a few years after the fall of the Wall, Berlin is in a state of upheaval. Mammoth construction sites, particularly in the new government district between Bellevue and Tiergarten, reveal the city's efforts to take on the architectural appearance of a modern new capital - a task that risks scarring the face of the old metropolis, forever wiping out the material presence of its history, marring the memory of it in the minds of its inhabitants. Helga Reidemeister documents these changes with a poetic eye for the complicated beauty of today's Berlin, while avoiding sentimental or conventional language. Music by world-renowned jazz trombonist Konrad Bauer contributes much to the haunting beauty of this work.

The documentary focuses on the young photographer, Robert Paris, and the beliefs he shares with his friends and family. Representative of many people in East Berlin, the former capital of the German Democratic Republic, he, his friends, and family are irritated by the building developments, which they see as a disastrous caesura, as if the structural changes have finally made them conscious of the demise of their former state. Robert and his friends have lost what used to be their native country with all its familiar niches and have not yet found - or accepted - a replacement for it. "It is no longer my city," says Robert, "it no longer interests me." Unable to find a home in Berlin, Robert departs for Kerala, India, where he takes pictures of workers scrapping ships - images not unlike those of his native city. The workers’ portraits are also juxtaposed with the work of Robert’s mother, photographer Helga Paris.

Lights from Afar is about a German conflict that is perhaps too commonly and simplistically labeled 'GDR nostalgia' (Ostalgie). When those such as Robert and his friends complain, they are often criticized for seeming self-pitying, confused and egocentric. This is primarily because these complaints are rarely expressed in specific terms and many people are ultimately unable to define their problems. The best they can do is find a vague description of their feelings, almost as if there were no words available with which these former East German citizens can express their problems and unease - moreover, many do not belong to the mainstream and certainly not to those who profited from the system. Such complaints ultimately revolve around the loss of identity, both national and personal, and the changing cityscape is merely one symptom of this process.

Robert Paris' photographs of Berlin become his language of expression. Repeatedly inserted into the film at cuts, these pictures are much more specific than Robert's words, images which reflect upon the hidden demise of a city with an almost archeological interest.

This film takes seriously Robert's unease, as it is a sign of the consequences of a historically unique situation: the partition of Germany and its reunification as a result of the two halves which have yet to grow together.

About the Director:

Helga Reidemeister was born in 1940 in Halle/Saale. She completed her secondary school studies in 1959 in Cologne. From 1961 to 1965 Reidemeister studied painting at the Academy of Arts in Berlin, and from 1966 to 1968 she worked on restoration projects of castles and gardens. She then spent five years doing social work in a newly-developed section of Berlin. This experience served as an inspiration for her first documentary film Der gekaufte Traum, which she worked on between 1973 and 1978. Reidemeister decided then that she would only make documentaries. “She is of the opinion that the documentary film is closely connected to the psychic and social reality of mankind…” (Inter Nationes). Reidemeister has become one of Germany’s leading women filmmakers.

Major Films: 

Der gekaufte Traum (1974-77), Von wegen Schicksal (1978-79), Karola Bloch (1980-82), Ernst und Karola Bloch (1981-83), Mit starrem Blick aufs Geld (1982-83), Drehort Berlin (1985-87), Aufrecht gehen:  Rudi Dutschke-Spuren (1987-88), Im Glanze dieses Glückes (1990), and Rodina heisst Heimat (1992).

About the Musician:

Konrad (Conny) Bauer, the world-renowned trombonist, studied at the Dresden conservatory and began his career playing in the Manfred-Ludwig-Sextett with Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky in the late 1960’s. He founded numerous groups pioneering and influencing the development of Jazz in East Germany. Together with Ernst Ludwig Petrowsky, Ulrich Gumpert and Günter Sommer, Bauer performed in the "Zentralquartett", took part in Ulrich Gumpert's Workshop Band and also headed his own workshop groups, such as "Klangprojekt ‘86". In 1986 he toured Japan for several weeks encountering numerous Japanese musicians. Since 1983 he has worked with Tadashi Endo, Sheryl Banks, Tony Oxley, Derek Bailey, Maggie Nichols, Peter Brötzmann, Peter Kowald, Han Bennink, Barry Altschul, Jay Oliver, Louise Moholo, Gerry Hemingway, George Lewis and others. Bauer has recorded widely and has staged renowned solo concerts, whereby his distinct virtuosity always pronounces but never dominates the musical message. He currently plays with “Fo(u)r Bones” East German trombone quartet with Johannes Bauer, Iven Hausmann und Jörg Huke. His music for Lights from Afar is his only film soundtrack.

Major recordings:

Synopsis Amiga (1974), FEZ Amiga (1977), Was ist denn nun? Konrad Bauer Trio (1977), Secret Points Conny Bauer & Gianluigi Trovesi (1979), Konrad Bauer Solo Amiga (1980), Round about Mitweida Konrad Bauer Quartett (1982), Flüchtiges Glück Konrad Bauer Solo (1984), Reflections Doppelmoppel (1986), Jazzorchester der DDR Leitung Konrad Bauer (1987), Live im Völkerschlachtdenkmal Konrad Bauer Solo (1988), Zentralquartett (1990), Torontotöne Konrad Bauer Solo (1991), Three Wheels - Four Directions Konrad Bauer Trio (1992), Plie Zentralquartett Intakt (1994), Generation from (East) Germany Konrad Bauer with Joachim Kühn (1995).

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