Schenk, Ralf


Ralf Schenk was born in Arnstadt, East Germany, on March 27, 1956. He was already a film buff as a schoolboy, when he published his first film reviews in the daily newspaper Freies Wort.


Schenk studied journalism at the University of Leipzig from 1975 to 1979. During those years, he also wrote film reviews and led the Youth Film Club of Leipzig’s Capitol Cinema. After graduating, he worked for magazines and newspapers for over twenty years, including: Die Weltbühne, Film und Fernsehen, Filmspiegel, Filmdienst and the Berliner Zeitung. He also contributed to several public-broadcasting TV documentaries. Schenk was always particularly interested in filmmakers from Eastern Europe, especially from Poland and Hungary, as well as East Germany’s DEFA productions.


After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ralf Schenk worked as an editor at the Filmmuseum Potsdam and as a publicity person at PROGRESS Filmverleih. In the following years, he made a pioneering contribution to the study of DEFA by reworking the history of the DEFA Studios and productions. His three co-edited volumes on the subject have become standard references in the field: Das zweite Leben der Filmstadt Babelsberg [The Second Life of Film City Babelsberg], about DEFA feature films; Schwarzweiß und Farbe [In Black-and-White and in Color], about DEFA documentaries and Die Trick-Fabrik [The Animation Factory], about DEFA animation films. These books were collaborations with well-known researchers and DEFA specialists. Schenk also conducted numerous interviews with DEFA filmmakers, on behalf of the DEFA Foundation and the Filmmuseum Potsdam, which will provide future generations with an important source for researching and understanding the corpus of DEFA films.


From 1999 to 2015, Schenk was a freelance writer for the Berliner Zeitung, where he published the weekly cinema column Das fliegende Auge [The Flying Eye]. He regularly wrote for the website film-dienst, as well as for CineGraph - Lexikon zum deutschsprachigen Film [CineGraph – Encyclopedia of German-speaking Film]. He contributed numerous texts on DEFA history to the Internationales Lexikon des Kinder- und Jugensfilms [Intrnational Lexicon of Children’s and Youth Films]. For the magazine Theater der Zeit, he wrote the monthly film column from 2012 to 2015. 


Ralf Schenk’s expertise and knowledge seemed unfathomable. He was an advisor for filmmakers and researchers alike and a pundit for film-oriented media. He networked with many national and international film festivals, which turned to him for ideas or to serve as a moderator, curator, or member of the jury. He served on the selection committee for the Berlin International Film Festival’s feature film competition from 2004 to 2019.


From 2012 to 2020, Ralf Schenk served as the director of the DEFA Foundation. Early on, he recognized the importance of preserving DEFA films in high-quality digital formats, which are essential for their current and future distribution and presentation. During his tenure, he also co-edited two volumes that filled lacunae in the field and were published in the DEFA Foundation’s book series: Verbotene Utopie. Die SED, die DEFA und das 11. Plenum [Banned Utopia. The SED Party, DEFA and the 11th Plenum] and Sie. Regisseurinnen der DEFA und ihre Filme. [She. Female Filmmakers and Their Films].  He was particularly passionate about tracking down DEFA productions that had been banned or lost. He deserves most of the credit for the reconstruction of Die Schönste (The Most Beautiful), Hände hoch oder ich schieße (Hands Up or I’ll Shoot), Sommerwege (Summer Paths) and Fräulein Schmetterling (Miss Butterfly). For his efforts on behalf of the legacy of DEFA films, he was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande (Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon) in 2020.


From 2004 to 2019, Schenk served on the selection committee for the feature film competition of the Berlin International Film Festival. And from 2004 to 2006, he was a member of the selection committee for the Leipzig Documentary Film Festival.


Ralf Schenk followed his passion and was active as a film journalist until shortly before his death. His most recent co-edited book, Publikumspiraten. Das Genrekino der DEFA und seine Regisseure (1946-90) [Audiences’ Pirates – The DEFA’s Genre Films and the Directors], came out in May 2022. Ralf Schenk died on August 17, 2022.


1999 Kurt Maetzig, Regisseur (Director; Kurt Maetzig, TV, doc., script, director)
1997 Filmschicksale. DEFA-Filme: vernichtet, aber nicht vergessen (Film Destinies. DEFA Films: Destroyed But Not Forgotten, TV, doc. script, co-director) 
1997 Der kurze Traum der Freiheit. Kino in Osteuropa 1945–1949 (The Dream of Freedom. Cinema in Eastern Europe, TV, doc., script)
1997 Spur der Zeiten – Der Regisseur Frank Beyer (Traces of Time – The Director Frank Beyer, 1997, TV, doc., script, co-director)
1996 Es werden ein paar Filme bleiben (Some Films Will Remain, TV, doc., script)
1995 Martin Hellberg. Das Spiel – sein Leben (Martin Hellberg. The Game, His Life., TV, doc., script)
1994 Artur Pohl – Ein unbekannter Klassiker (An Unknown Classic: Artur Pohl, TV, doc., script)
1994 Falk Harnack. Vom aufrechten Gang (Falk Harnack. Waling Upright, TV, doc., script)
1994 Slatan Dudow. Der Mann, der die Frauen liebte (Slatan Dudow. The Man Who Loved Women, TV, doc., script)
1994 Die DEFA – Zwischen Utopie und Wirklichkeit, Teil 3: Störenfriede (DEFA: Between Utopia and Reality, Part 3: Troublemakers, TV, doc., script)
1994 Die DEFA – Zwischen Utopie und Wirklichkeit, Teil 2: Sonnensucher (DEFA: Between Utopia and Reality, Part 2: Sun Seekers, TV, doc., script)


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