Sun Seekers

(Sonnensucher)

GDR, 1958, 116 min, b&w
In German; English subtitles
Credits:
Director
Script
Editor
Camera
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Score)
Music (Performance)
Special Effects
Cast

Synopsis

A socialist story of "atoms for peace" and compulsory labor in an East German uranium mine under Soviet control. Two young women are arrested after a bar room brawl in 1950 and sentenced to work in the Wismut uranium mines. As chaotic as a Wild West goldrush town, their new home is full of characters with unusual destinies – old anarchists working next to former members of the SS and Russian officers.
 
Sun Seekers was banned in 1958 at the urging of the USSR, in part because it is about Soviet-German relations and the mining of uranium to support the nuclear arms race in East Germany's Wismut region and not released until 1971.

Commentary

Although the East German government introduced ambiguous environmental laws as of its founding in 1949, its ideals could not be fulfilled in tandem with the country’s economic growth plans and budget restrictions. Over the next decades, environmental problems increased to such an extent that the government classified all kinds of environmental data as “confidential” in 1972 and “secret” in 1982. At the end of the 1970s, the first grassroots environmental groups were founded, and the growing ecological movement became critical in drawing public attention to increasingly disastrous environmental problems. The activities of these groups were closely watched, infiltrated or stopped by the Stasi. In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the founding of the East Berlin Umweltbibliothek were turning points in the increasingly political environmental movement, which became a crucial player during the peaceful revolution of 1989. 

 

The DEFA Studios produced many environmental films that followed the official party line. However, the growing public environmental awareness was also reflected in some films. Several documentaries, animation and feature films touched on environmental issues and questioned the officially promoted environmental situation. These films, especially the animation films, are sharp and satirical discussion of taboo topics, including forest damage and air and water pollution. Other films deal critically with problems caused by brown coal mining, including the resettling of villages. But these film projects were a red flag for the studio officials, and scripts and rough cuts went through extensive and complicated approvals.

 

 

Encouraged by the "thaw" promised by the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, in this film Konrad Wolf presents a highly dramatic and differentiated view of the Nazi past, Stalinist political practices and the energetic chaos of the early postwar period. The film's style combines Wolf's Russian sensibilities with echoes of Italian neo-realism and Pabst's Kameradschaft (1931). It impresses even today with its political complexity, variety of characters and realistic portrayal of daily work in a top secret zone of the industrial landscape.  

 

Sun Seekers is a socialist realist story of “atoms for peace,” controversial for its depiction of conditions in a uranium mine in the East German Erz mountains. The film’s account of two young women who are arrested and sentenced to work in the Soviet-affiliated Wismut uranium mines is fictional, but it speaks to an East German reality of compulsory labor in service of nuclear armament. Wolf’s film shows the mine as chaotic as a Wild West gold rush town full of character with unusual fates. Sun Seekers was banned in 1958 at the behest of Soviet officials, and it was not released until 1971.

 

During the existence of the GDR, uranium was mined in Saxony and Thuringia in support of Soviet nuclear armament. Established in the Soviet Occupation Zone in April 1946, the Wismut AG mining district became a closed military zone as of early 1947 and was later re-founded as SDAG Wismut, in which the USSR and GDR are equal shareholders. By 1990, 230,400 tons of uranium had been mined, making the GDR the fourth largest producer worldwide.

 

The result was severe damage to the environment, including radioactive pollution. There were over 7,000 known cases of lung cancer among the miners, who were recruited with top wages. In 1982, all data about environmental conditions in uranium mining areas was classified as top secret by the GDR government. When the East German government played down the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, several environmental groups strove to inform the public about the true extent of pollution and illness caused by nuclear power. The state’s lack of transparent information led to growing unrest and motivated environmental activists.

 

 

 

 

Press comments

“Combining gritty realism and melodrama, socialist propaganda and subtle moments of ideological critique, the film today stands as one of the most complex and daring productions of East German cinema.”   —Katerina Korola (U of Minnesota)

 

"Sunseekers—a symbolic, key-note title of one of Konrad Wolf's early films. Symbolic in two respects. First, as regards the thousands of people streaming to the uranium mines in the Erz Mountains to make a new start. They were seeking sun for their own lives and the 'solar energy from the power of the atom'.. .the plot is history, a gripping copy of a tough new start almost impossible to accomplish. Nothing is white-washed, which is precisely why this film is valuable as an artistic reproduction of a historical process."   —Gerd Focke in the Halle Freiheit on Sept. 7, 1972

Availability

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DVD Bonus Features:
  • Turn Subtitles On/Off
  • Introductory Essay
  • Eyewitness: 3 Newsreels about Konrad Wolf
  • Eyewitness: 14 Newsreels about Günther Simon, Erwin Geschonneck & other cast members
  • Photo Gallery
  • Biographies & Filmographies
  • Short Film: Wismut Today

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