DEFA films to be screened at Museum of Modern Art

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A retrospective of 21 East German films from the campus-based DEFA Film Library will be featured at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) next month before touring the United States and Germany.

Rebels with a Cause: The Cinema of East Germany, which opens Oct. 7 at MoMA, is the most comprehensive retrospective of East German films ever screened in the United States and includes several works that were banned by the Communist government. The series is a collaboration between MoMA’s department of film and media, the Goethe-Institut New York and the DEFA Film Library, housed within the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures since 1997.

Professor Barton Byg, director of the DEFA Film Library, says MoMA’s interest in developing the series began in 1999 when the archive supplied a restored copy of Frank Beyer’s 1974 film, “Jakob the Liar,” to the museum for a special screening.

“That piqued the interest of the curator, Jytte Jensen,” says Byg, “because MoMA had never shown many East German films before.”

Working with Hiltrud Schulz of the DEFA Film Library and Juliane Wankel of Goethe-Institut New York, Jensen organized the retrospective. DEFA, with support from UMass Amherst and a grant from the Max Kade Foundation, produced new 35mm prints of the selected films.

“The new prints have new or improved subtitles and will be part of the DEFA Library, for future tours and DVD release,” says Byg.

Following its run at MoMA from Oct. 7-23, Rebels with a Cause is scheduled to travel to Atlanta, Chicago, Ohio, Rochester, N.Y. and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The exhibit will also tour to eight cities in Germany.

According to Lee Edwards, dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, the museum series and subsequent tour will raise the profile of the DEFA Film Library, which is the only archive and study center outside Europe devoted to the study of a broad spectrum of filmmaking by East German filmmakers or related to East Germany from 1946 to the present.

“This MoMA retrospective recognizes the broad significance of the DEFA film archive as both a cultural phenomenon and an aesthetic artifact,” says Edwards. “I’m especially grateful to Barton Byg for the imagination, energy and initiative he displayed in acquiring the entire archive for our campus and securing its North American distribution rights.”