Kurt Barthel (c) DEFA-Stiftung
Kurt Barthel was born on January 30, 1931 in Berlin, where he experienced WWII as a child. From 1946 to 1949, he trained to become a mechanic and completed an apprenticeship, after which he worked in different jobs, including as a tractor driver and transportation worker. In the 1950s, he took evening classes and graduated with an advanced high school degree, which allowed him to study directing at the Deutsche Hochschule für Filmkunst in Potsdam-Babelsberg from 1956 to 1961.
After graduation, Barthel became an assistant director at the DEFA Studio for Feature Films and worked with director Konrad Wolf on the literary adaptation of Christa Wolf’s novel Der geteilte Himmel, a love story set during the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. He is also credited as the co-scriptwriter of the film. It was one more year until Barthel‘s debut as a director. However, his experimental and fairytale-like film Fräulein Schmetterling, based on a story written by Christa and Gerhard Wolf, was stopped during production and not widely released until its reconstruction in 2020. His next feature film, Die Nacht im Grenzwald, about two boys fighting against the Nazis in 1936, did not fulfill the studio’s expectations, so they had moved Barthel work on organizing mass events for the FDJ, East German‘s youth organization. When the studio offered him the opportunity to return as an assistant director, he rejected it.
From 1970 on, Barthel worked as a freelance author and director for short documentaries and commissioned educational films produced by the DEFA Studio for Popular Science Film. From 1976 to 1991, he was employed full-time at this studio. Critics highlight two of his short documentaries—Zug um Zug and Mensch halt dich fest—that stand out in East German documentary filmmaking. In both films, Barthel used satire and humor to discuss serious topics: the health effects of smoking and safety at work, respectively. At the end of the 1980s, Barthel also worked on two films—Ostsee – ein geschütztes Meer and Ruppiner Schweiz – Am Ende eines Sommers—creating awareness of environmental issues in the GDR. After the DEFA Studios closed in 1992, he continued working as a freelance documentary director.
Kurt Barthel died on January 3, 2014.
|1994||Görlitz – Geliebtes Görlitz (Görlitz, Beloved City, short, doc.)|
|1991||Märkische Herrenhäuser (Manor Houses in the Brandenburg March, 6-part series, short, doc.)|
|1991||Dierhagen (short, doc.)|
|1988||Ruppiner Schweiz – Am Ende eines Sommers (Ruppin Switzerland – The End of a Summer, short, doc.)|
|1988||Ostsee – ein geschütztes Meer (The Baltic Sea – A Protected Ocean, short, doc.)|
|1982||Zug um Zug (One Smoke after the Other, short, doc.)|
|1979||Mensch halt dich fest (Hold Tight, short, doc.)|
|1973||Die Kriminalpolizei informiert (The Criminal Police Informs, short, doc.)|
|1968||Die Nacht im Grenzwald (The Night in the Border Forest)|
|1965-66/2020||Fräulein Schmetterling (Miss Butterfly)|
|1964||Der geteilte Himmel (Divided Heaven, Assist. Director)|