Where Dreams Were Put on the Silver Screen – a Brief History of East German Cinema

Founded in East Berlin in 1946, the Deutsche Film-AG – popularly known by its acronym DEFA – produced more than 700 feature films, 750 animated films and 2,250 documentaries before its demise in 1992. Some, though by no means all, of these productions even made it across the Wall and went on to become huge successes in West Germany and abroad. Let’s take a moment to remember some of the blockbusters and crowd-pleasers, hidden gems and forbidden fruit of East German cinema.


Time for Cinema – Film-Highlights from the GDR
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History takes center stage: The DDR on Film

The DDR and film – whenever people talk about East Germany and cinema or TV, there are normally only two possibilities: they’re either discussing post-DDR films that look back and illuminate the nation’s history, or films created under the East German regime. Filmmakers began producing films again just after the Second World War. One of the first feature filmsof the new era was “Murderers among us” ( “Die Mörder sind unter uns”) with Hildegard Knief, which was released in 1946. The film’s main characters are a military surgeon and a concentration camp survivor and the film is now seen as the first of a new cinematic movement, Trümmerfilme (films from the rubble), that undertook a critical assessment of recent events. In the same year, the Deutsche Film AG DEFA was set up as a state-owned film studio in the DDR. DEFA produced more than 700 feature films, 750 animated films and 2,250 documentaries in the years between 1946 and 1990. These movies bear the stamp of East German socialism and are a product of its ideology, particularly as each and every film had to be approved by the state film commission before it could be released.

PNetzer-photocase
image courtesy of PNetzer / photocase.de

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