DEFA Film Library Founder and Director Barton Byg to Step Down, Successor Sought in 25th Anniversary Year

Barton Byg
Barton Byg

AMHERST, Mass. – Barton Byg, the founding director of the DEFA Film Library and professor of German and film studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has announced his retirement effective fall 2018. Founded in 1993, the DEFA Film Library is the only archive and study center outside Europe dedicated to the cinema of East Germany and related topics in German history and culture.

Byg chose the 25th anniversary year to retire because “it is a good time for the DEFA Film Library to look toward the future.” In 2019, a faculty successor will join its long-standing leadership team, made up of executive director Skyler Arndt-Briggs and production and outreach manager Hiltrud Schulz. The team’s work was formally recognized last spring, when the German Consul General for New England presented Byg with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

In addition to supporting academic research and teaching, the DEFA Film Library organizes films series, hosts Filmmaker’s Tours, subtitles films, and distributes almost 300 titles on DVD and via streaming on Kanopy (in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia). Landmarks of its 25-year history include the development of a robust international network of scholars and artists; a number of prestigious film series, including at MoMA in 2005 and at various Los Angeles museums in 2009; productions on DVD, DCP and streaming, shepherded by Schulz; a book series on Film and the Global Cold War, under the editorship of Arndt-Briggs; and a collaborative agreement between UMass Amherst and the Konrad Wolf Film University in Babelsberg, Germany.

Among his final duties in his current position, in summer 2018 Byg will co-direct an NEH Summer Film Institute with Arndt-Briggs on the topic of “Culture in the Cold War: East German Art, Music and Film” ( With an international interdisciplinary faculty, it will be the ninth biennial summer program hosted by the DEFA Film Library, this year funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Starting next year, Byg will take up a position as research professor, focusing on projects in film and the humanities. He will maintain an association with the DEFA Film Library on an advisory basis with a focus on development of the DEFA Film Library’s archival holdings and endowment. A search for Byg’s successor will take place in the coming academic year.

Byg joined the UMass Amherst faculty in 1985 as an assistant professor and director of undergraduate studies in German. In addition to his publications on East German culture and film, he is recognized as an authority on the cinema of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet and was a founding faculty member of the university’s interdepartmental program in film studies. Before coming to UMass, he taught at Boston University, St. Louis University and as a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis. In a postdoctoral post at the latter he served as editor of the GDR Bulletin. The DEFA Film Library grew out of Byg’s experience as one of the last American Fulbright scholars in the German Democratic Republic before its collapse in 1989. The DEFA Film Library’s establishment was made possible in part through a transitional agreement between UMass Amherst and the German federal agency charged with privatizing the East German economy after unification; its ensuing growth has been made possible by collaborations and agreements with the DEFA Foundation in Berlin, Progress Filmverleih GmbH and other private German companies that oversee film rights, and Germany’s international network of Goethe-Institut cultural organizations.