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DEFA Film Library Newsletter, Spring 2000, Issue #1

Letter from the Director

Berlin Film Series
1999 Conference Report
A Trip Into DEFA's Land of Fairy Tales
Re-Release of Jacob the Liar
Summer Film Institute, June 2001
Attention All Teachers
AATG Workshop Announcement
Research Visitors
New Prices at ICESTORM


Letter from the Director

It is a great pleasure to introduce the first DEFA Film Library newsletter. I hope this is the beginning of a lively and productive conversation among friends and colleagues around the world, whatever the basis for their interest in DEFA and its continuing legacy in the culture of a reunited Germany. Please stay in touch with us through our Website and new DEFA E-mail discussion list. Many other projects are underway, and we are always grateful to our many colleagues for their generous support. Special thanks to my colleague B.J. Roche in the UMass journalism department and her excellent student Lyndsay Crenshaw, whose work made this newsletter possible. I’m also pleased to announce that Sky Arndt-Briggs is now serving as Assistant Director of the DEFA Film Library, allowing me to be on sabbatical in the coming term. Sky received her Ph.D. in anthropology this spring.

In the field of GDR studies in the context of US German studies and film studies, this is a period of transition, with new opportunities and challenges. Regretfully, we mark the final year the New Hampshire Symposium took place, as Christoph and Kit Schmauch are retiring from the World Fellowship Center. During the Cold War German-German and German-US dialogue took place in Conway that would not have been possible on the European continent. I am also personally saddened the GDR Bulletin will cease publication at Washington University, where my own career got its start largely thanks to the originator of that publication, Patricia Herminghouse. All this does not mean that there is not interest in the former GDR and its film industry; rather, we need to continue to work together and communicate, across international and disciplinary boundaries. We at the DEFA Film Library look forward to playing a role in facilitating that communication, while providing provocative and artistically important films to study and enjoy.

Barton Byg, Director,
DEFA Film Library

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1999 Conference Report

The conference “The Power of Images: Representing Germany Ten Years after Unification” was held Nov. 4-7 1999 in Northampton, in conjunction with the Northampton Film Festival. Attended by over 120 scholars from 6 countries, the conference successfully stimulated discussion of German culture at the end of the 20th Century in the contexts of interdisciplinary scholarship as well as public cultural outreach. Panels addressed numerous issues raised by the conference title in its double meanings: “Representing Germany.” The range of cultural media considered and the areas of expertise represented by the conference participants was unusually broad. Acute observations on the present state of East-West and US-German cultural relations were made by a number of government, institutional and cultural leaders: Dr. Lutz Görgens (Deputy Consul); Prof. Hans-Jürgen Rosenbauer (ORB); Dr. Volker Hassemer (Berlin Partners); and Rainer Hasters (RIAS). Prof. Michael Geisler (Middlebury College) and Kevin Crane (WGBY) connected the issues of representation and identity raised by other speakers to the realm of actual production and distribution of TV programming.

The relation of culture and memory to individual experience was also a consistent theme. Addressing culture were the presentations by Prof. Karen Kramer (Stanford), Prof. Irene Dölling (Potsdam), and Ingrid Scheib-Rothbart (media consultant). How history and memory relate to the contemporary experience was discussed by author Holger Teschke (formerly of Berliner Ensemble) and by Judaic Studies Professors Eveline Goodman-Thau (Jerusalem & Berlin) and James Young (Massachusetts).

In addition to the presence of film directors Andreas Dresen, Frank Beyer, Jürgen Böttcher and Lisa Lewenz, international film studies scholars Claudia Fellmer, Laura Jackson, Massimo Locatelli, and Ingeborg Majer O’Sickey completed the program. Please see our website for complete program and watch for future publications.

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A Trip Into DEFA's Land of Fairy Tales

“DEFA fairy tales seek to portray and defend the dignity of humanity, and this aspect makes them treasures worth discovering and showing” writes Prof. Jack Zipes, University of Minnesota. These East German fairy tales that rival Disney’s in their artistic and narrative excellence are now available on home video under unprecedented circumstances: ICESTORM International, Inc., which owns the home entertainment rights for all films produced by the DEFA studios, has based its offices in Northampton and is working together with Soundtrack, a Boston post-production studio, to release classic DEFA fairy tales on video cassette – believed to be the first foreign features ever dubbed in Massachusetts.

In contrast to the animation work that is popular in the United States, the DEFA fairy tales used live characters in realistic settings that recall the historic background of the tales. But such realism rapidly becomes fantastic and magical, as the films blend imaginative plots, costumes, sets and outstanding special effects created by such artists as Ernst Kunstmann. Working with Eugen Schuefftan, Kunstmann masterminded special effects for Fritz Lang’s German classic from the 1920’s, Metropolis.

The first three fairy tales that have been dubbed are: The Story of Little Mook (1953, Director: Wolfgang Staudte); The Golden Goose (1964, Siegfried Hartmann); and The Devil’s Three Golden Hairs (1977, Egon Schlegel).In addition to these dubbed versions, three subtitled fairy tales based on the Brothers Grimm are also available: The Singing, Ringing Tree (1957, Francesco Stefani); Rumpelstiltskin (1960, Christoph Engel); and Snow White (1961, Gottfried Kolditz). These tapes provide an excellent opportunity to see and hear the original German version. They can also be used for teaching language or the history of classic European fairy tales.

These movies have been made available to children of all ages worldwide, by a unique partnership between ICESTORM, the DEFA Foundation, PROGRESS Film-Verleih (Berlin) and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. ICESTORM releases are not limited to fairy tales, but include an amazing selection representative of DEFA’s entire oeuvre.

ICESTORM’s videos can be purchased from their website, which was created in collaboration with students from the UMass Center for Research in Art and Technology. The website also provides additional background information and suggestions for further resources.

ICESTORM plans other projects with the fairy tale films, such as screenings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; a fairy tale film tour through schools across the country; and a conference “Disney against the rest of the fairy tale world” in February 2001. Contact ICESTORM via their website www.ICESTORM-video.com or call (413) 587-9334.

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Re-Release of Jacob the Liar

Following the premiere of the remake of the film Jakob the Liar starring Robin Williams last September, the original East German version was re-released by the DEFA Film Library with support from the DEFA Foundation, PROGRESS Film-Verleih, ICESTORM International and the Export Union of German Film. The re-release opened the Jewish Film Series at the 1999 Northampton Film Festival in conjunction with the conference entitled “The Power of Images: Representing Germany Ten Years after Reunification.” Director Frank Beyer was present both there and at a November screening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Other bookings have included the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, California, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, Coolidge Corner in Boston, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, and Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut.

In 1977 the film was nominated Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. It is often considered a precursor to Roberto Benini’s Life is Beautiful. The reviews of Beyer’s film are consistently positive. Newsweek calls it a movie of “quiet power, deep integrity and shattering insight.” The remake with Robin Williams has not fared nearly as well with critics as DEFA’s original version.

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East German Summer Film Institute, June 2001

A Summer Film Institute on “Interdisciplinary approaches to the DEFA film,” planned for late June 2001, will consist of lectures by leading scholars, workshops for educators who use DEFA films in their teaching and research, and film screenings and discussions with experts from Germany. The goal of our Summer Film Institute is to promote and better coordinate the inclusion of DEFA films in education in the English-speaking world at multiple levels and in a variety of disciplines.

The Institute will consist be devoted to screenings, lectures and discussion of DEFA film in four thematic areas: Genre films and cultural clichés; Women and film; Jewish themes in GDR film; Documentary film and rebellious youth. Finally, the concluding sessions of the week will then shift to the academic context of Film Studies, aiming to make GDR film accessible to educators not specializing in German or Germany.

The Summer Film Institute forms the cornerstone in a three-stage program of initiatives taking place over the course of 2000 and 2001. These focus on the development of teaching materials, accompanying support materials, and curriculum development workshops and seminars.

This institute hopes to build on the successful record of the biannual Summer Institutes in German Film offered over the past two decades by Professors Anton Kaes (Berkeley) and Eric Rentschler (Harvard). These have contributed much to the successful integration of Film Studies into German Studies curricula in the United States. Recently they have included GDR film alongside the traditional emphases on Weimar, Nazi, and West German cinema.

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Attention All Teachers

Join us with active collaboration on educational development and research projects. The DEFA Film Library, in close cooperation with ICESTORM International, is launching a series of projects in educational and curriculum development to support and coordinate the use of films from the former GDR and relating to Eastern Germany since reunification. If you are interested in joining educators’ seminars and workshops to meet regionally to work with the films, or if you are merely interested in staying in touch and sharing information with colleagues who also work with this aspect of German cultural and film history, please write defa@german.umass.edu We also encourage you to join DEFA-L, an on-line discussion group.

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AATG/ACTFL Workshop Announcement

We will present a DEFA Film Workshop on music and youth culture in the film The Legend of Paul and Paula at the November 2000 national convention of the American Association of Teachers of German / American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (AATG/ACTFL) in Boston. A film screening and reception will follow a reading by author Holger Teschke (until recently dramaturg at the Berliner Ensemble); these will be co-sponsored by the DEFA Film Library and ICESTORM International, along with the AATG, the Goethe-Institut Boston and the German Information Center. Please attend!

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Research Visitors

As an archive and research center devoted to the study of the cinema of the former GDR and films from and about Eastern Germany since unification, the DEFA Film Library welcomes scholars and filmmakers interested in doing research on these subjects. Visitors in 1999 have included:

  • Hava Beller, Director of the Kohav Theatre Foundation, who came to do research for her documentary on dissent and opposition in the GDR; Beller is best known for her independent film, The Restless Conscience.
  • Xavier Carpentier-Tanguy, a Ph.D. candidate from the history department at the Marc Block Center at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, a Franco-German center for social research; his dissertation is about “Time representations and history in the GDR, 1961-1989, as mirrored in film.”
  • Claudia Fellmer, a Ph.D. candidate in the German Department at the University of Southampton in the UK; whose dissertation is on the making of DEFA Stars.
  • Gerd Gemünden, Professor at Dartmouth College, viewed videos for teaching and ongoing publications on DEFA film.
  • Evelyn Preuss, a graduate student at Yale University conducted pre-doctoral research on strategies of resistance in the cinema of the GDR.

Additionally, the DEFA Film Library was able to offer travel subsidies to student research visitors, including:

  • Anja Behm from the Remarque Institute, New York University, who furthered her research on traditional gender relations and the role of women in East German socialism.
  • Arno Bosse from the University of Chicago, a third-year Ph.D. student working on German modernism and aesthetic theory in East German films of the 1960’s.
  • Jennifer Good, a Ph.D. candidate at UMass and lecturer at the University of Indiana South Bend, who is working on a dissertation entitled, “A woman and her work: The revolution of female workers in feature films of the GDR.”
  • Matthew Niednagel from Princeton University, a doctoral student who wrote his M.A. thesis on Post-Wall cinema and Vergangenheitsbewältigung.

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New Prices at ICESTORM

As of July 1, 2000 ICESTORM International is bringing its video cassette pricing into line with the recommendations of the American Library Association. This new pricing structure considers more thoughtfully the various needs of public libraries, schools and educational institutions, and makes acquiring DEFA films on video even more attractive.

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For questions related to the website please contact
Jessica Hale