DEFA Film Library Marks 20 Years of East German Cinema Scholarship with Films and Lectures

AMHERST, Mass. – The DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst will celebrate its 20th anniversary this fall with a wide range of lectures and screenings both locally and across the country. Founded on Sept. 23, 1993, the DEFA Film Library is the only archive and research center outside of Germany devoted to a broad spectrum of filmmaking from and related to the former German Democratic Republic.

DEFAstands for Deutsche Film Aktiengesellschaft – the state-run East German film studios, where films were made from 1946 to 1990.

German Minister of State for Culture and Media Bernd Neumann, in a recent letter to UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, praised the Film Library’s work as an “outstanding contribution to presenting Germany’s cultural heritage,” as well as “an inspiration in overcoming prejudice and developing new ways to approach the cinema and history of former East Germany.”

DEFA founder Barton Byg said that the library has worked for two decades to broaden popular and scholarly understanding of filmmaking in the GDR by critically exploring its aesthetic, political and ideological bases.”

Since the beginning, such ideas have formed all our outreach and research projects,” he said. DEFA executive director Skyler Arndt-Briggs added, “We’re thrilled at the enthusiasm and interest in (East) German cinema that the library has helped generate so far and we look forward to an exciting third decade.”

The commemoration begins locally on Nov. 4 with an anniversary lecture, reception and film screening. All events are free and open to the public. At 4 p.m., Byg will speak on “Socialist Cinema, Cultural Capital: the DEFA Film Library at 20” in the Lee Edwards Lounge of the Studio Arts Building at UMass Amherst. A reception will follow the lecture.

At 7 p.m., I Was Nineteen (1968), an icon of East German filmmaking by director Konrad Wolf, will screen at the Amherst Cinema on Amity Street. Byg notes that “the work of Wolf, one of the leading filmmakers of his generation, was an early inspiration for all my work with DEFA films. For spanning styles and generations, as well as the Jewish experience in exile and in Germany—both East and West—his films are a continued object of fascination.”               

Elsewhere in the U.S. over the course of the fall, the “20@20” tour will present films from the library’s collection in 20 cities nationwide, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The tour begins Sept. 19 in Los Angeles.

In Denver, Oct. 3-6, a film program focusing on the early post-WWII years of East German cinema will comprise the 10th annual series organized by the DEFA Film Library at the German Studies Association conference. The GSA conference will also feature a six-panel series (involving 26 participants from North America and Europe) on “GDR Film & the Global Cold War,” organized and hosted by the DEFA Film Library.

Finally, DEFA Film Library DVD releases this fall include long-awaited titles from the canon of German and international cinema, such as the Holocaust classic Marriage in the Shadows (1947, Dir. Kurt Maetzig), Büchner’s Wozzeck (1947, Dir. Georg C. Klaren) and the Wagner opera The Flying Dutchman (1964, Dir. Joachim Herz).