Summer Film Institute

DEFA and Eastern European Cinemas

The addition of new members to the European Union and increasing emphasis on Europe as a joint unit have caused its center of gravity to move East. Indeed, the East is what is new in the new Europe, and what is new in the united Germany.

To what degree do the master narratives and formal techniques developed by East German and Eastern European filmmakers during the decades of socialism continue to inform their vision of cinema, even now? Are the various nationalist cinemas of the former socialist bloc still linked to each other and to their socialist pasts? What are the institutional continuities and discontinuities within these cinemas? What cultural dialogues took place -- and still take place -- between nationalities and between present and past? Such questions formed the background of the DEFA Film Library’s second biannual East German Summer Film Institute, DEFA and Eastern European Cinemas.

The workshop simultaneously attempted an interdisciplinary approach to national culture and history while also fostering modes of analysis which transcend national boundaries. In particular we investigated the complicated relationship between the GDR cinema and the cinemas of USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. Although they have distinct histories, throughout the Cold War the cultures of Eastern Europe and East Germany were also intertwined. Each crisis in one country had profound, yet varied, repercussions in all the others. We therefore looked not only at co-productions, shared personnel, and overlapping professional networks but also at questions of aesthetic influence, institutional parallels and political divergences.

The week-long program of film screenings and workshop discussions allowed us to touch on a wide range of film styles, and on an equally wide range of historical issues, from the building of socialism, Stalinization and de-Stalinization, to the Eastern European New Waves and the effects of Glasnost and Perestroika on Eastern filmmaking. Our hope is that this institute allowed participants to better understand the relationships between these cinematic traditions, thus also facilitating the development of new curricula integrating the study of DEFA and Eastern European cinemas.

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