By S. Heiduschke
East Germany's movie monopoly, Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft, produced a motion pictures ranging past uncomplicated propaganda to westerns, musicals, and kid's movies, between others. This publication equips students with the historic history to appreciate East German cinema and courses the readers during the DEFA archive through examinations of twelve films.
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Extra resources for East German Cinema: DEFA and Film History
By releasing “new” films, DEFA cinema entered yet another stage of its afterlife. Even though the movies were technically not new productions but reconstructions of previously unfinished or unreleased films, their allure was based on the fascination of audiences with a cinema of a past culture they could relate to that continued to reveal its treasures over time. Furthermore, contemporary audiences validated the work of the DEFA-Stiftung by coming to screenings of the films. 18 Overall, DEFA-Stiftung, Progress, and Icestorm facilitated access to DEFA films to fuel the demand for visual documents of the past.
12 Importing films directly from DEFA would not have been allowed, but getting the films from a Swedish producer, on the other hand, was fine in West Germany. While DEFA was able to regulate and therefore limit the number of Western film imports to its movie theaters, it was more difficult, if not impossible, to find ways to compete against a new medium—television. Initially, television did not pose a threat to DEFA cinema. When East Germany launched its own initiative to develop television in reaction to West German television test broadcasts in 1950 and constructed a television center in the Berlin locality Adlershof, there was not yet any official programming taking place.
Another form of state subsidy was the organized trip of entire schools and units of factory workers to (occasionally free) screenings of films depicting the struggle of the proletariat, showing the victory of communism over fascism, or promoting other socialist ideals. Later on, movie theaters bundled the screenings of imported films from the West with a DEFA film opening the double feature, requiring spectators to be in their seats for the first film and not allowing late seating. One statistic from 1963, for example, contrasts the attendance figures of these Western imports with those of DEFA and other socialist countries.