Filmmaker Zschoche to Screen East German ‘Life Lesson’ Series as Part of UMass Amherst DEFA Film Library Series

A scene from the film Swan Island.
A scene from the film Swan Island.
A scene from the film Carla.
A scene from the film Carla.

AMHERST, Mass. – Fresh from his showing at the Morelia International Film Festival in Mexico, East German filmmaker Herrmann Zschoche will visit the Five College area from Oct. 30 to Nov. 7 to present the film series “Life Lessons.”

Zschoche’s films have been subtitled in English, many for the first time, prepared for screenings in the U.S. by the students and staff of the DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Barton Byg, founding director of the DEFA Film Library, says that Zschoche uses different genres to critically and honestly examine the heart of everyday life.

“His poignant stories are also often told through the experiences of young people and strong female protagonists,” said Byg.

Locally, the series will include a 35mm screening of Half Of Life (1984), a unique film about the German Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin (played by Ulrich Mühe, The Life Of Others) at Amherst Cinema. Three other films—the science-fiction film Eolomea, the U.S. premiere of the DEFA Film Library’s DVD release of the youth film Swan Island (1982) and the banned film Carla (1965-66/90), recently shown at The Museum of Modern Art in New York—will be shown at UMass Amherst.

These screenings of Half of Life, Swan Island andCarla will be followed by a question and answer session with the director.

The Five College community will also have the chance to view three more of Zschoche’s films via Kanopy streaming though the main library website: the poetic summer-camp story Seven Freckles (1978); its sequel, Just Married (1988); and a humorous critique of East German travel restrictions, Next Year At Lake Balaton (1980).

During his U.S. visit, director Zschoche will also present his films at: the Goethe-Institut in Boston on Nov. 4, the New Haven Free Public Library on Nov. 5 and in Worcester at Clark University and Assumption College on Nov. 7.

All films are in German with English subtitles, and all are free and open to the public.

Sunday, Oct. 30, 5-7 p.m., TBA, UMass Amherst

A Sci-Fi Night and Screening

Eolomea (GDR, 1972, 79 min., color)

Suggested dress code: Space traveler or 1970s jetsetter.          

Eight spaceships disappear without a trace! Suddenly, contact with the orbiting space station is lost! The space council cancels all flights… but one spaceship secretly takes off for the space station.

Tuesday, Nov. 1, 7 p.m., Integrative Learning Center (ILC) 240, UMass Amherst

Carla (Karla, GDR, 1965/90, 129 min. b&w)

A young, idealistic teacher discovers that her students are hiding their thoughts and feelings. She works against the routine opportunism, hypocrisy and small-mindedness all around her—but is met with resistance. Written by Ulrich Plenzdorf, Carla was banned and not screened until after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Introduced by UMass Amherst’s Skyler Arndt-Briggs. (Director Q&A)

Wednesday, Nov. 2, 7 p.m., Amherst Cinema, Amity Street, Amherst        

Half of Life (Hälfte des Lebens, GDR, 1984, 93 min., color, 35mm)

This love story recounts 10 decisive years in the life of the great Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843). In order to support himself, Hölderlin—played by a young Ulrich Mühe (The Lives of Others)—becomes a live-in tutor for the children of the wealthy Frankfurt banker Gontard… and falls madly in love with Susette, his employer’s wife. Ordinary family life is disrupted even further by the events of the French Revolution. Introduced by Barton Byg. (Director Q&A)

Thursday, Nov. 3, 7 p.m., ILC 240, UMass Amherst

Swan Island (Insel der Schwäne, GDR, 1982, 88 min., color)

When Stefan is 14, his parents decide to move to Marzahn, a desolate high-rise suburb of Berlin still under construction. Innocent childhood suddenly ends when Stefan encounters the bullying of an older boy and his gang. Officials required several edits, accusing Zschoche and scriptwriter Ulrich Plenzdorf of giving a distorted, negative view of socialist reality. Introduced by Katrin Bah of UMass Amherst. (Director Q&A)

The following youth films by Herrmann Zschoche may be streamed through Five College Kanopy access at

Seven Freckles (Sieben Sommersprossen, GDR, 1978, 76 min., color)

This sensitive summer-camp story, about first love and sexual awakening, struck a cord with East German teenagers and became a box office hit.

Just Married (Grüne Hochzeit, 1988, 95 min., color)

In this sequel to Seven Freckles, Susanne and Robert want to get married; but Susanne is still under-aged and needs parental permission. Soon, the newlyweds feel overwhelmed and the love that brought them together fades.

Next Year at Lake Balaton (Und nächstes Jahr am Balaton, GDR, 1980, 89 min., color)

Jonas and Ines are in love and want to spend their vacation camping. But Ines’s parents insist they join a family trip to Bulgaria. This road movie is a humorous critique of East German travel restrictions and a look at the lives of young people who long to roam and see the world.

This retrospective was made possible with the support of the Massachusetts Arts Council, the DEFA Film Library, the German and Scandinavian studies program at UMass Amherst, the Max Kade Thatcher German Language Suite and print services. Additional Five Colleges support and cooperation come from the Amherst College German department and the Mount Holyoke College department of German studies. Further support for the “Life Lessons” tour comes from the Goethe-Institut Mexico, Goethe-Institut Boston, New Haven Free Public Library, Clark University, Assumption College, DEFA Foundation, Max Kade Foundation, PROGRESS Filmverleih, Amherst Cinema; Emily’s Amherst B&B, durchblickreisen and zenon design.