Filming Unterm Birnbaum © DEFA-Stiftung, Dieter Lück
Ralf Kirsten was born in Leipzig on May 30, 1930. After an apprenticeship as an electrician, he studied German literature and theater, first at Humboldt University in Berlin and then at the Theater Institute in Weimar. In 1952, Kirsten went to study at the Film Academy (FAMU) in Prague, where he graduated in directing in 1956.
Although he produced his diploma film, Bärenburger Schnurre, and his first feature film, Skimeister von morgen, at the DEFA Studio, the studio did not hire him right away, and he worked for television. In 1960, Kirsten joined DEFA and he directed Steinzeitballade, a story about rubble women in postwar Berlin. Critics praised the experimental film, which was influenced by Brechtian theater. Kirsten—who also wrote most of his own scripts—filmed many comedies with the young actor and singer Manfred Krug in the leading role. Their first collaboration, Auf der Sonnenseite, which was a comedy about a steelworker who wants to become an actor, became a box-office hit in East Germany.
One of Kirsten’s most important films was the adaptation of Franz Fühmann’s novel Der verlorene Engel about German sculptor Ernst Barlach. In 1966, the film was banned by officials in the aftermath of the 11th Plenum of the Central Committee of the SED Party; it was first shown in 1970 and widely released in 1971. Almost 20 years later, Kirsten directed another artist biography, Käthe Kollwitz – Bilder eines Lebens, which he saw as a continuation of his Barlach film. Kirsten’s oeuvre includes many films on historical figures, including the communist leader Clara Zetkin (Wo andere schweigen), and films on current affairs.
After German reunification and the closing of the DEFA Studios, Kirsten taught at the Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen “Konrad Wolf” in Potsdam-Babelsberg (now Film University Potsdam).
Ralf Kirsten died in Berlin on January 23, 1998.
|1986||Käthe Kollwitz – Bilder eines Lebens (Käthe Kollwitz: Images of a Life)|
|1984||Wo andere schweigen (Where Others Keep Silent)|
|1979||Lachtauben weinen nicht (Doves Don’t Cry)|
|1977||Ich zwing dich zu leben (I’ll Force You to Live)|
|1975||Eine Pyramide für mich (A Pyramid for Me)|
|1973||Unterm Birnbaum (Under the Pear Tree)|
|1973||Junger Mann (Young Man, TV)|
|1972||Elexire des Teufels (The Devil’s Elixir)|
|1970||Zwei Briefe an Pospischiel (Two Letters for Pospischiel, TV mini-series)|
|1967||Frau Venus und ihr Teufel (Lady Venus and Her Devil)|
|1966/1971||Der verlorene Engel (The Lost Angel)|
|1964||Mir nach, Canaillen! (Follow me, Rascals!)|
|1962||Beschreibung eines Sommers (It Happened One Summer)|
|1961||Auf der Sonnenseite (On the Sunny Side)|
|1960||Steinzeitballade (Stone Age Ballad)|
|1957||Skimeister von morgen (Ski Champions of the Future)|
|1956||Bärenburger Schnurre (Bärenburger Farce)|