To begin, could you outline the historical context of this year’s Retrospective? What was the situation for filmmakers in the divided Germany in the mid-1960s?
First of all, two developments have to be viewed separately. During the 1960s, new artistic ground was being broken in both Eastern and Western Europe: in France by the filmmakers of the Nouvelle Vague, which had a huge influence on West German cinema; in Eastern Europe by directors like Andrzej Wajda and Roman Polanski in Poland or Miloš Forman in Czechoslovakia, all of whose early films can be classed as being part of a “New Wave”. Filmmakers in the East and the West reacted to this impetus to regenerate cinematic expression in their own particular ways. In West Germany there was a distancing from conventional narrative cinema, as was expressed in the Oberhausen Manifesto of 1962. In a survey by the East German academic film journal “Filmwissenschaftliche Mitteilungen” in 1965, many directors and writers from the DEFA film studio revealed their fascination with the Eastern European “New Wave”, and a film like Konrad Wolf’s Der Geteilte Himmel (The Divided Heaven) even drew upon it with great virtuosity.
The background was politically shaped by the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The illusion of now being able to tackle national problems in an unvarnished way was, however, quickly dispelled. With the 11th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany in December 1965, it became clear that a reformation of the system from within would be impossible and that there would be no chance for authentic contemporary filmmaking in the future.
But before the year 1966 was to become a turning point, there was a spirit of change amongst filmmakers from both the West and the East and they shared many artistic similarities...
This parallel departure into the “new” was something of which contemporaries were, of course, not fully aware. It can only be discovered in a retrospective overview of the cinematic year of 1966 now. Because on the one hand, due to the import politics in the East and the West, little was known about cinematic works from the other part of Germany. And on the other, the emergence into a new era of filmmaking in East Germany was invisible even to its own cinema audiences, because these films were banned and could not be seen until 1990.