Summer Film Institutes

Der Frühling braucht Zeit © DEFA-Stiftung, Kurt Schütt

Held in the beautiful Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, the DEFA Film Library’s biennial Summer Film Institutes (SFIs) provide an opportunity for scholars to spend a week together in a relaxed setting, watching movies and discussing (East) German and other cinemas from a variety of perspectives.

The SFIs in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2013 have in common that they explored how East German film interfaced with filmmaking and filmmakers outside the GDR and with the sociopolitical events of the Cold War period. The first SFI, held in 2001, focused on ways to incorporate the range of films made in East Germany into curricula and classroom activities. In 2005, the SFI was incorporated into a NEH Institute on German and European Studies that focused on treatments of history. The 2009 SFI—hosted by guest professors Sabine Hake (UT Austin) and Larson Powell (UMKC)—focused on issues in film historiography and methodology.

SFIs are designed to promote discussion and networking among researchers and educators interested in the artistry, history and role of (East) German film in a changing world. Participants range from doctoral students to filmmakers and seasoned faculty at colleges and universities across North America and Europe. Groups of participants have often gone on to work together to present panels and panel series on SFI topics at the annual conferences of the German Studies Association and the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Launched in 2015, the DEFA Film Library book series on Film and the Global Cold War (Berghahn Books, New York/Oxford) offers a publication outlet for volumes on Institute and other topics.

Save the Date: 12th Biennial Summer Film Institute

The 2025 Summer Film Institute will take place June 22-28, 2025 co-directed by Maria Stehle (Univ. of Tennessee) and Stephan Ehrig (Univ. of Glasgow). 

HIDDEN FIGURES: Blackness and Black Experiences in East Germany

The 2023 Summer Film Institute will take place June 11-17, co-directed by Priscilla Layne (UNC-Chapel Hill) and Evan Torner (Univ. of Cincinnati), with a keynote lecture by Katharina Warda (Dunkeldeutschland). 


Political Experiments, Rebel Youth and Civil Unrest 


This virtual Summer Film Institute took place June 13-20, 2021, and was accompanied by a virtual film series June 13-27.

Culture in the Cold War: East German Art, Music and Film

This NEH Institute for College and University Teachers took place at UMass Amherst from June 17 to July 14, 2018.

Sex, Gender & Videotape: Love, Eroticism & Romance in East Germany

Our 8th biennial Summer Film Institute explored the discourses surrounding gender and sexuality in GDR film and media and was accompanied by a public film series.

DEFA & Amerika: Culture Wars, Culture Contact

The 2013 Summer Film Institute capped off a long-term research project, exploring the impact on GDR filmmaking of social and political events of the Cold War era and its relationships with other parts of the world.

Cold War, Hot Media: DEFA and the Third World

The 2011 Institute addressed the cinematic connections between the GDR and Asia, the Middle East and Africa in relation to topics like colonialism, race and resistance; Cold War and the atomic threat; internationalism, technology and progress; culture and the arts; and travel and the exotic. 

Rewriting (East) German Cinema: Issues in Film Methodology and Historiography

The twentieth anniversary of the end of the Cold War provided an impulse for critical reassessment of previously neglected aspects of GDR filmmaking.

SOLIDARITY! DEFA and Latin America

The fourth biennal Institute dealt with filmic representations of international solidarity and changing Cold War relations between the East Bloc and Latin America.

German and European Studies in the U.S.: Changing World, Shifting Narratives

Our 2005 NEH Summer Institute examined the intellectual history of German studies in the U.S., assessed its transnational dynamics, and asked how differing contemporary experience and disciplinary narratives equip German and U.S. scholars for creative, informed and relevant study of Europe.

DEFA and Eastern European Cinemas

The 2003 Institute allowed for interdisciplinary and international approachs to the complicated relationship between the GDR cinema and the cinemas of USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania.

Interdisciplinary Approaches to the DEFA Film

The first Summer Film Institute, held in 2001, was designed to encourage innovative thinking about East German film, while pushing for a continued reevaluation of notions of East German history and culture. 

The Power of Images: Representing Germany Ten Years After Reunification

Our second international conference focused on interdisciplinary scholarship on German culture at the end of the 20th century.

The Cinema of East Germany: The View from North America

The first North American conference on GDR film paved the way for our future Summer Film Institutes.

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