East Germany Makes a Comeback at the Berlinale





Screening the best films from around the world. That was the lofty goal the Berlin International Film Festival set for itself from its very inception in 1951.

But even then, it was clear that the festival would fall short. Indeed, the Berlin blockade was still a fresh memory and the Cold War was just entering its most frigid years. Initially, in fact, the Berlinale, as the festival is known, wasn't even able to screen the best films from the city's surroundings. Just a few kilometers away, in the East German film studio in Babelsberg, the Deutsche Film AG produced dozens of films each year. And they would not find their way into the festival for more than two decades.

Now, DEFA's role in the Berlinale festival is being reexamined as part of celebrations marking the 60th edition of the festival, which also coincides with 20 years of German reunification. Several East German films are being screened and the festival is paying tribute to a legendary DEFA screenwriter.

"It's recognition of the fact that DEFA helped to write 15 years of Berlinale history," Rudolf Jürschik, who was the studio's head dramaturge from 1977 to 1991, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "I see it as a sign of the normality that we have struggled to achieve."

'Good Traditions'

The 2010 Berlinale is honoring the 78-year-old screenwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase, who wrote the scripts for such classic DEFA films as the 1957 drama "Berlin -- Ecke Schönhauser" ("Berlin -- Schoenhauser Corner"), in its Homage section, which pays tribute to outstanding filmmakers. Several of his films are being screened and Kohlhaase was also presented with an honorary Golden Bear on Wednesday in recognition of his contribution to the German film industry.

The relationship between the studio and the festival is also the focus of a new book: "Zwischen uns die Mauer: DEFA-Filme auf der Berlinale" ("Between Us The Wall: DEFA Films at the Berlinale"). In the foreword, Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick writes of "the good traditions from East German cinema which have influenced film in today's reunified German: a sensibility for social processes, a sense of friendliness with which we regard the people next to us and a calm, unforced investigation of reality."

Rainer Simon's 1985 World War I drama "Die Frau und Der Fremde" ("The Woman and the Stranger") -- the only East German film ever to win the festival's coveted Golden Bear -- is also part of the festival's Retrospective section, which this year is highlighting the most important films from the Berlinale's 60-year history under the curatorship of renowned film critic David Thomson.

"I was very happy that my film was chosen by an independent curator, especially as my greatest role models, like (Italian directors) Michelangelo Antonioni and Francesco Rosi, are also featured," says Simon, who took part in a panel discussion on the Berlinale's relationship with DEFA on Thursday evening...


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