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February 10 - 21, 2006

Rebels With A Cause: The Cinema of East Germany

The Harvard Film Archive, the Goethe-Institut Boston, and the DEFA Film Library at University of Massachusetts, Amherst are proud to present a rare and comprehensive retrospective of East German cinema. DEFA (1946-92), a state-owned studio, produced over 750 films (many of them at the famous Studio Babelsberg), and in recent international critics' surveys more than a dozen have been voted among the 100 best German films ever. Still, these and other original documentaries or fictional works from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) are largely unknown to audiences both in and outside of Germany. This series presents a selection of significant works crafted by inventive filmmakers who tested the limits of censorship, and whose political engagement and depth add to the creative merit of film history.

For more information about East German films or to buy films, please visit

This progam was organized by Jytte Jensen, Museum of Modern Art and Hiltrud Schultz, DEFA Film Library at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Program notes adapted from The Museum of Modern Art.

February 10 (Friday) 7 pm
February 13 (Monday) 9 pm

Her Third (Der Dritte)

Directed by Egon Guenther
East Germany, 1972, 111 min.
With Jutta Hoffmann, Barbara Dittus, Armin Mueller-Stah
German with English subtitles

Told in a series of flashbacks, Her Third recounts eighteen years of a woman's life. After two failed relationships, each of which produces a child, a newly liberated Margit discovers herself. This engaging story which stars Jutta Hoffmann and Armin Mueller-Stahl is a a testament to the evolving self-confidence and independence of East German women.

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February 10 (Friday) 9 pm

The Bicycle (Das Fahrrad)

Directed by Evelyn Schmidt
East Germany, 1982, 89 min.
With Heidemarie Schneider, Roman Kaminski, Anke Friedrich
German with English subtitles

Susanne is a single mother who lives a somewhat carefree lifestyle. After quitting her job, she finds herself in deep financial trouble and attempts a minor fraud to make ends meet. GDR authorities were critical of this truthful portrayal and turned down all international venues for this film, now appreciated as a rare glimpse of everyday Socialism from a woman's perspective.

Wittstock Girls (Maedchen in Wittstock)

Directed by Volker Koepp
East Germany, 1974, 20 min.

The first of seven masterful "Wittstock Chronicle" films made over a twenty-three year period depicts the lives of three funny and sensitive young women in a small town who work at a knitting factory.

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February 11 (Saturday) 7 pm
February 14 (Tuesday) 9 pm

The Legend of Paul and Paula (Die Legende von Paul und Paula)

Directed by Heiner Carow
East Germany, 1973, 106 min.
With Angelica Domröse, Winfried Glatzeder, Heidemarie Wenze
German with English subtitles

Author Ulrich Plenzdorf and director Heiner Carow winningly portray everyday life in East Berlin in a story of undefeatable love between a passionate single mother and a married bureaucrat. Featuring the music of the East German cult rock band, The Pudhys, the film proved immensely popular despite official media blackouts.

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February 11 (Saturday) 9 pm

Yell Once a Week

Directed by Günter Jordan
East Germany, 1982/1989, 15 min.
German with English subtitles

A sensitive report about teenagers in Berlin's wild East, the film was banned before the first screening in 1982 and discovered after reunification. The film's title is taken from a song jointly written by Günter Jordan and the East German rock group Pankow.

Berlin-Schönhauser Corner (Berlin - Ecke Schönhauser)

Directed by Gerhard Klein
East Germany, 1957, 82 min.
German with English subtitles

This classic 1950s teen cult film is a perceptive social portrait of a city in which political and economic division affects an entire population. Greeted with suspicion by cultural authorities, the film was instantly embraced by the East German public for its truthful portrayal of everyday life. This collaboration between director Gerhard Klein and writer Wolfgang Kohlhaase stars Bertolt Brecht's son-in-law, Ekkehard Schall.

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February 12 (Sunday) 7 pm

The Gleiwitz Case

Directed by Gerhard Klein
East Germany, 1961, 69 min.
German with English subtitles

Considered one of the most modern and experimental films in DEFA's the eccentric Gleiwitz Case is a detailed reconstruction of the 1939 surprise attack by a Nazi unit on the radio station at Gleiwitz, a German town on the Polish border. Theattack, blamed on Polish forces, served as Hitler's justification for marching into Poland-thus starting WWII.

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February 12 (Sunday) 8:30 pm

Mother (Die Mutter)

Directed by Manfred Wekwerth
East Germany, 1958, 147 min.
With Helene Weigel, Fred Düren, Erich Franz
German with English subtitle

Bertoldt Brecht's grand epic of political theater, written in 1931, is an adaptation of Maxim Gorky's novel and tells the rousing story of an oppressed Russian woman who is transformed into a militant revolutionary. Filmed by DEFA, this production retains much of Brecht's original cast, and includes a landmark performance Weigel.

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February 17 (Friday) 7 pm

The Monument (Das Monument)

Directed by Klaus Georgi and Lutz Stützner
East Germany, 1989, 4 min.

In this animated piece, a statue with outstretched arms is unveiled to thunderous applause. Then one day it turns around to point the other way.

The Architects (Die Architekten)

Directed by Peter Kahane
East Germany, 1990, 105 min.
With Kurt Naumann, Rita Feldmeier, Uta Eisold
German with English subtitles

Filmed as the GDR crumbled, this somber, finely-drawn portrait of life in East Berlin depicts a young architect whose life and goals are strangled by communist dogma, represented in part by the older generation. This was one of the first fiction films to deal with both the GDR and reunification periods.

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February 17 (Friday) 9 pm

The Rabbit is Me (Das Kaninchen bin ich)

Directed by Kurt Maetzig
East Germany, 1965/1989, 109 min.
With Angelika Waller, Alfred Müller, Ilse Voig
German with English subtitles

A young student has an affair with a hypocritical judge who once sentenced her brother for political activities. Made in 1965 to encourage discussion of democratization of East German society, the film was eventually banned by government officials and later became recognized as one of the most important and courageous works produced by DEFA.

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February 18 (Saturday) 7 pm
February 21 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Born in '45 (Jahrgang 45)

Directed by Jürgen Böttcher
East Germany, 1965, 94 min.
With Monika Hildebrand, Rolf Römer, Paul Eichbaum
German with English subtitles

Inspired by Italian Neorealism and Jean-Luc Godard, Jürgen Böttcher, a painter from the Dresden School, developed a sensitive style characterized by social observation and poetic verse in his only narrative feature film. After newlyweds Alfred and Lisa decide to divorce, the soon-to-be ex-husband takes a few days off to clear his head, wandering through Berlin and meeting strangers.

Shunters (Rangierer)

Directed by Jürgen Böttcher
East Germany, 1965, 21 min.

This GDR version of cinema verité allows viewers a glimpse into the physically demanding and dangerous work of experienced shunters, workers who spend their days hooking up, unhooking, and bringing to a halt enormous freight cars.

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February 18 (Saturday) 9:15 pm

Your Unknown Brother (Dein unbekannter Bruder)

Directed by Ulrich Weiss
East Germany, 1982, 108 min.
German with English subtitles

Returning from a Nazi camp for political prisoners in 1935, Arnold Clasen is ambivalent about reestablishing contact with his resistance group, afraid of being watched. This milestone film both sustains and breaks with the antifascist traditions of East German cinema.

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February 19 (Sunday) 6:30 pm

Full Circle (Der Kreis)

Directed by Klaus Georgi
East Germany, 1989, color, 4 min.
German with English subtitles

An explosion in a huge industrial plant producing gas masks leads to utter chaos.

Who's Afraid of the Bogeyman

Directed by Helke Misselwitz
East Germany, 1989, color, 50 min.
German with English subtitles

A close-up portrait of Berlin colas carriers from Prenzlauer Berg, Who's Afraid of the Bogeyman features deeply felt, unromanticized sketches of these rough men and their resolute female boss. The film was one of the first to be produced by a female filmmaker as the Berlin Wall fell.

Carbide and Sorrel (Karbid und Sauerampfer)

Directed by Frank Beyer
East Germany, 1963, b&w, 80 min.
With Erwin Geschonneck, Kurt Rackelmann, Rudolf Asmus
German with English subtitles

Toward the end of WWII, workers in Dresden send a colleague hundreds of mile north to pick up welding supplies for their factory. His attempts to move the supplies north through the Soviet occupation zone lead to an uproarious odyssey full of hijinks and misadventure in this rare classic of German film comedy.

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February 19 (Sunday) 9 pm

The Second Track (Das Zweite Gleis)

Directed by Joachim Kunert
East Germany, 1962, 80 min.
With Albert Hetterle, Annekathrin Bürger, Horst Jonischkan
German with English subtitles

Station Inspector Brock is witness to a robbery but, guilt-ridden by his failure to stand up to the Nazi regime years ago, he fails to report one of the culprits. The Second Track is the only East German film to deal with the sensitive subject of former Nazis leading normal lives in the GDR.

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