Festival of Long-Unseen East German Films Begins Feb. 26 at UMass Amherst

AMHERST, Mass. - For decades, life behind the Berlin Wall was left largely up to the imaginations of those in the West. Now, however, the University of Massachusetts is opening a window to that time by hosting a film series which focuses on the beginning and the end of the former German Democratic Republic.

The first offering of the series is "Black Box," a documentary produced in 1992. This film explores the surveillance and intimidation tactics employed by the East German communists by concentrating on the story of Dr. Jochen Girke, a trainer in operative psychology of Stasi (secret police) interrogators, jail psychologists, and supervisory officers of informers. The film will be shown Wed. Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m. in room 227 of Herter Hall and is free and open to the public.

Other films included in the series are critically acclaimed works such as "Sun Seekers" (1972), a look at Soviet/German relations among uranium miners in East Germany’s Wismut region, and "Divided Heaven" (1964), an exploration of female identity written by internationally renowned novelist Christa Wolf.

Most of the films in the series have been made available to the University as part of an agreement with Progress Film-Verleih GmbH, an independent German film company which now owns the majority of films produced in East Germany between 1945 and 1988. These films were originally produced and owned by the state-run film company Deutsche Film Aktien-Gesellschaft (DEFA) and many have not been available for general viewing in decades.

The inaccessibility of these films has been due to a number of factors, including market conditions, the Cold War, and the economic isolation of the former East Germany, according to UMass German professor and film festival director Barton Byg. Byg says in addition to their cinematic value, these films offer a fascinating view of a long-suppressed period of modern history.

"While the directors of the former East Germany were not allowed to address certain subjects, they still reflected much of the truth of their culture, overtly or in more subtle coded ways," Byg says. "Today, as modern Germany attempts to grapple with the wrenching difficulties of integrating a long-separated element of its society, these films give us an understanding of some of the divisions still taking place. A subject such as Nazism, for instance, was always much more consistently addressed in East than in West German film."

The festival is the first in a series of events planned for the upcoming establishment of the DEFA Film Project at UMass. When final negotiations are finalized later this year, the DEFA Film Project will be designated as the only archive for East German film outside of Germany