UMass Amherst Professor Honored in Hamburg for Preservation of East German Film Archive

AMHERST, Mass. - Barton Byg, professor of Germanic and Scandinavian studies and founder of the DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, was honored last month in Hamburg, Germany, for his work to preserve films produced in the former East Germany.

Byg was presented the 2011 Reinhold Schunzel Award at the opening gala of CineFest Hamburg on Nov. 12. The award is an honorary prize given for long-time achievements in the field of restoration, preservation or dissemination and popularization of the German and European film heritage. Schunzel was an actor and director, born in Hamburg. After returning from exile in Hollywood, he died in Munich in 1954.

The "laudatio" before the award presentation was given by Helmut Morsbach, director of the DEFA Foundation, which administers all the intellectual property rights related to East German cinema. Byg "is a bridge-builder above all," said Morsbach, who is "a rigorous scholarly worker, for whom the artists and their work are most important."

Morsbach praised the DEFA Film Library at UMass Amherst as an independent center for film research and stressed especially its role in making DEFA films known in the U.S. and its "broad impact" on film scholarship internationally.

The award presentation was made via video recorded earlier in Berlin by Wolfgang Klaue, member of the jury for the award and also former president of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) and former director of the State Film Archive in East Germany. In his remarks, Klaue offered some personal reflections on the impetus for founding the DEFA film library and the key role of Eberhard Wagemann during the early years after German unification. Wagemann was the executive charged by the German "Treuhand" to privatize portions of the East German film industry and to set up the future administration of the film rights. The agreement between UMass Amherst and that German government entity laid the groundwork for the DEFA Film Library’s success in the years that followed.

CineFest is an "International Festival of German Film Heritage" co-sponsored by CineGraph, a publisher of scholarship on German and European film, and by the German Federal Film Archive in Berlin. CineFest also has affiliates in Berlin, Prague, Udine, Vienna and Zurich.

The jury for the Schunzel Award, appointed by the CineFest board, consisted of Jan-Christopher Horak, director of the UCLA Film and Television Archive; Wolfgang Klaue, former president of FIAF and director of the national film archive of the GDR, and Reinhold Schunzel laureate Leonardo Quaresima, a film historian at the universities of Udine and Bologna.

Before Byg, the only previous U.S. recipient of the award was Ingrid Scheib-Rothbart, coordinator of film and media at the Goethe Institute New York for many years and board member of the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, and president of the New York Film/Video Council.

Established at UMass Amherst in 1997, the DEFA Film Library is an archive and study center that allows both scholars and the general public a chance to view everyday life behind the Iron Curtain as depicted in films created by the state-run East German film company Deutsche Film Aktien-Gesellschaft (DEFA) between 1946 and 1992.