GSA Film Series



HER VIEW: East German Women on Screen

Three Short Documentaries by DEFA Women Filmmakers



This program features three women filmmakers—Helke Misselwitz, Gitta Nickel and Petra Tschörtner—at the East German DEFA Studio for Documentary Films, where only a handful of women worked as film directors. The three selections are films made by women about women’s experiences in the GDR in the 1970s-80s, thereby offering candid views on issues that affected everyday life – from family planning to consumer shortages to emancipation. Her View is inspired by the 2019 retrospective in Germany, Self-Determined: Perspective of Women Filmmakers at the Berlin International Film Festival and the book SIE by Cornelia Klauss and Ralf Schenk that was published in tandem with the retrospective.



2023 German Studies Association Conference

October 5 | 8:00-9:00pm

Le Centre Sheraton Montréal Hotel | Salon 1

(1201 Boulevard René-Lévesque West)

Free and open to the public!


Introduction by Dr. Victoria Rizo Lenshyn (Associate Director, DEFA Film Library).  


The DEFA Film Library dedicates these screenings to Ralf Schenk (film historian, journalist, co-editor of the book SIE and supporter of the DEFA Film Library), who died in 2022.


35 Fotos (35 Photos, dir. Helke Misselwitz, 1984/1985, 7 mins.) 

A woman born in 1949, the year when the GDR was founded, speaks frankly about her life while discussing a montage of 35 photos from her family album—each representing one year. The short was intended to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the GDR, but officials rejected the film as an ostensibly negative portrait of East German family life presented by an atypical woman. It was released one year later.


Das Freie Orchester (The Free Orchestra, dir. Petra Tschörtner, 1988, North American premiere, 17 mins.)  

A group of young workers—a saleswoman, a mechanic and a maintenance man—leave the monotony of their jobs and gather in the legendary East Berlin underground avantgarde scene to make music that conveys feelings of unfulfillment with everyday life, while also exploring possibilities of imagination for a different life. The lead singer, Barbara, expresses her frustration with having to always tell her customers “Ham wa nich!” (We don’t have that!) in a powerful performance at the famous Erich Franz Youth Club at Prenzlauer Berg. 


Sie (She, dir. Gitta Nickel, 1970, 30 mins.)  

A young doctor specializing in family planning speaks with five East Berlin women workers at a textile factory. All the women represent different ages, positions and social backgrounds. The topics: birth control, children’s education and women's emancipation. Their open discussion about contraception caused a sensation when the film was released. The 2019 Berlinale called the short “a deliberately modern portrait of working women in the GDR.”


Supported by DEFA Film Library, DEFA-Stiftung Berlin and the German Studies Association.

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