The Cinema of East Germany


Presented by The Museum of Modern Art, Department of Film and Media, and the Goethe-Institut New York,  in collaboration with the DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst



Oct. 7-23, 2005
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Curators: Jytte Jensen (MoMA), Juliane Camfield (Goethe-Institut New York)

Organized by Hiltrud Schulz (DEFA Film Library)


The film retrospective took place in tandem with a photo exhibit, FACES OF DEFA (Deutsches Haus New York, Oct. 6-31, 2005), including black and white portraits of ten DEFA actors taken by Sandra Bergemann and interviews by Christoph Lemke and an exhibition, DEFA FILM POSTERS (MoMA, Oct. 7-23, 2005) with original posters for several Banned East German films.


"The Museum of Modern Art and the Goethe-Institut New York, in collaboration with the DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, present the most comprehensive retrospective of East German cinema ever screened in the U.S. It brings together scholars, directors and actors of the DEFA period (1946–92) to present the films and reflect on the political complexities of artistic production in the East German state-owned DEFA studios. DEFA produced over 7,500 films—many of them at the famous Babelsberg Studio outside of Berlin. More than a dozen have been voted among the 100 best German films ever made in recent surveys. Yet, these and other original and creative documentaries or fiction films from East Germany are largely unknown to film enthusiasts, both in Germany and around the world.


Rebels with a Cause presents a selection of significant works, rich in theme, structure, and style, and deserving of (re)discovery. These films were crafted by inventive filmmakers who dared to test the limits of censorship, and whose films’ political engagement and depth add to their creative merit in the context of film history. In selecting films for this series we viewed over 200 titles in Berlin and New York, and were impressed by the depth and variety we found in this "other" German cinema. For this series of 21 films, we looked for a range of voices and styles from five decades of filmmaking, placing an emphasis on creative energy, artistic innovation, and challenges to authority – hence the title, Rebels with a Cause.


We are extremely grateful to the Max Kade Foundation, Inc., and the other supporters and sponsors that have made it possible to screen these films in new 35mm prints with new English subtitles. I would also like to express my special thanks to my co-curator Juliane Wanckel (Program Manager, Goethe-Institut New York) and to Hiltrud Schulz (Sales and Outreach Manager, DEFA Film Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst), who have made this project an especially gratifying and joyful collaborative experience. 


I hope you will enjoy the screenings and seek out more of these groundbreaking films."   —Jytte Jensen (Curator, Department of Film and Media, The Museum of Modern Art)


Press reactions: 

  • "…fascinating…retro from the GDR."  —The Village Voice
  • "… illustrating wealth and innovation of filmmaking in former East Germany."  —The Museum of Modern Art
  • "The Other Deutschland Films from 'anti-fascist’ East Germany offer a new perspective on Nazism and anti-Semitism."  —The Jewish Week
  • "The most comprehensive retrospective of East German film ever screened in the U.S."  —In the Loop


PDF icon 2005_MoMA_DEFA retrospective.pdf

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