Helke Misselwitz is one of Germany's most important  documentary filmmakers. Born in Planitz in 1947, she held apprenticeships as a carpenter and a physiotherapist after graduating from high school, then worked for nine years as an assistant director and director with East German television. From 1978 to 1982, she studied directing at the Academy for Film and Television in Potsdam-Babelsberg. Misselwitz's request to enter the DEFA Studio for Feature Films was refused, so she took other jobs while working as a freelance artist making short essayistic pieces for the DEFA Studio for Documentary Films. In 1985, director Heiner Carow accepted her as a master student at the East German Academy of the Arts.


Misselwitz made her mark early in her career as a documentary filmmaker, chronicling with great sensitivity and artfulness the citizens and society of East Germany in the years leading up to and following the fall of the Berlin Wall and German unification. She began her career by making short documentaries, before making her first documentary feature, Winter Adé, a pioneering and profoundly illuminating group portrait of East Germany seen through the eyes of women she encountered as she travelled through the GDR by train.


Winter Adé immediately established Misselwitz as one of the most gifted non-fiction filmmakers of her generation, a status confirmed by the films that followed, including Who's Afraid of the Bogeyman and Bulky Trash, both of which extended her interest in the lives and perspectives of those at the margins of East German society. With Herzsprung in 1992, Misselwitz made a bold leap into fiction filmmaking, retaining her deep social and political engagement while demonstrating stylistic flair and a talent for storytelling. In 1996, Misselwitz directed a second feature film, Engelchen.


Misselwitz taught for years at the Academy for Film and Television (now Film University) in Potsdam-Babelsberg, after which she began to focus on her own directorial work more actively again. Her most recent films have been portraits of the acclaimed (East) German photographer Helga Paris, followed by Die Frau des Dichters a full-length portrait of the Türkish artist Güler Yücel (1935-2020), produced for arte TV. Helke Misselwitz has been a member of the Academy for the Arts since 1991 and, since 2018, she has been the deputy director of the Academy’s division of film and media art. 



"The situation of women's inequality under the socialist regime, the difficulties of the working class and the loss of a youth cultural identity are central themes of this brilliant filmography. Misselwitz's films, which shun political slogans and question official discourses, are above all an honest and unsentimental portrayal of the complexity of human relationships."   —2022 PlayDoc, Spain

Festivals & Awards:

2022 Retrospective Helke Misselwitz: Viajes por un país que ya no existe, Play-Doc International Film Festival in Tui, Spain
2021 Retrospective POESÍA DE LO COTIDIANO: Los primeros films de Helke Misselwitz, Mar del Plata Int. Film Festival, Argentina
2021 Retrospective Everyday Poetry: The Films of Helke Misselwitz, Anthology Film Archives, New York
1997 New Director’s Showcase Award for Engelchen, Seattle Int. Film Festival
1997 Interfilm Award for Engelchen, Max Ophüls Festival
1996 Nominee Golden Alexander for Engelchen, Thessaloniki Film Festival
1993 German Film Award Nominee for Herzsprung
1992 Special Mention for Herzsprung, Debut Film category, San Sebastian International Film Festival, Spain
1992 Special Jury Prize for Engelchen, San Sebastian International Film Festival, Spain
1990 La Sept Cultural Television Prize for Wer fürchtet sich vorm schwarzen Mann, Cinéma du réel, France
1988 Silver Dove for Winter Adé, DOK Leipzig, East Germany


Bibliography & More:

Bonetto, Julia. Documental contemporáneo hecho por mujeres I. Winter Adé, en Figuraciones, cuerpo y narrativas del yo en el cine documental contemporáneo hecho por mujeres. Buenos Aires: Universidad del Cine, 2018. P 48-84. Free access here:


Creech, Jennifer. “Narrating Women’s History in Winter Ade.” DVD Winter Ade. Amherst: DEFA Film Library, 2012.


Creech, Jennifer. “Image, Voice, and Truth: Narrating Women’s History in Winter Ade.” Seminar 43:4. Toronto: Univ of Toronto Press, 2007.


Dexter, Elizabeth. “Film Is Always the Present – A Conversation with Helke Misselwitz.”, 2022.


Holzapfel, Patrick. "Helke Misselwitz: Journeys Through a Country which Doesn’t Exist Anymore." Catalogue Play-Doc International Film Festival, Tui, Spain, 2022.


Löser, Claus. “After Winter Comes Spring – Presaging the Wende.” DVD Winter Ade. Amherst: DEFA Film Library at UMass Amherst, 2012.


Paz, Victor. “The Act of Filming Is an Inner and Physical Journey in Itself: Interview with Helke Misselwitz.” Sensens of Cinema. Issue 101. 2022.


Ritzenhoff, Karen A. “Helke Misselwitz’ SPERRMÜlll oder eine Art unfreiwilliger Erinnerungsfilm.” DDR – erinnern, vergessen: Das visuelle Gedächtnis des Dokumentarfilms. Marburg: Schüren, 2009.


Ritzenhoff, Karen A. “The Dissolution of the GDR in DEFA Documentaries.” Seminar 33:4. Toronto: Univ of Toronto Press, 1997.


Romano, Florencia and Julia Bonetto. “Sobre las películas de Helke Misselwitz.” La vida útil. No. 6, 2023


Schulz, Hiltrud. “Herzsprung and Filmmaking during the Wende: Interview with Helke Misselwitz.” DVD Herzsprung. Amherst: DEFA Film Library at UMass Amherst, 2010.


Steingröver, Reinhild. “Reimagining Women: The Early Shorts of Helke Misselwitz.” Gender and Sexuality in East German Film. Rochester, New York: Camden House, 2018.


Steingröver, Reinhild. “Flight into Reality: The Cinema of Helke Misselwitz.” Last Features: East German’s Lost Generation. Rochester, New York: Camden House, 2014.








2024 The Beast in Me Is Germany (short, doc.)
2021 Die Frau des Dichters (The Poet's Wife, TV, doc.)
2019 Helga Paris, Fotografin (Photographer: Helga Paris, short, doc.)
2004 Quartier der Illusionen (A Place for Illusions, TV, doc.)
2001 Fremde Oder (Foreign Oder, TV, doc.)
1996 Meine Liebe, deine Liebe (My Love, Your Love, doc.)
1996 Engelchen (Little Angel)
1995 Leben – Ein Traum (Life – A Dream, short)
1993 Schönes Fräulein, darf ich’s wagen (Beautiful Lady, May I Dare, TV)
1992 Herzsprung
1990 Räume (Rooms, co-director with Petra Tschörtner, short)
1990 Sperrmüll (Bulky Trash, doc.)
1989 Wer fürchtet sich vorm schwarzen Mann (Who’s Afraid of the Bogeyman, doc.)
1988 Winter Adé (doc.)
1985 TangoTraum (TangoDream, doc.)
1985 Tango (short, doc.)
1984-85 35 Fotos - Familienalbum einer jungen Frau (35 Photos: A Young Woman’s Family Album, short, doc.)
1984 Stilleben – Eine Reise zu den Dingen (Still Life - A Journey into Things, TV, short)
1983 Aktfotografie - z.B. Gundula Schulze (Nude Photography–e.g., Gundula Schulze, doc.)
1983-88 Marx-Familie (The Marx Family, short, doc.)


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