The Genre Cinema of DEFA
75 years ago, on May 17, 1946, DEFA (short for Deutsche Film Aktiengesellschaft / German Film Corporation), was founded in the Soviet occupation zone as the first major German post-war film company. By the time Herwig Kipping's farewell work Novalis – Die blaue Blume premiered in 1993, the studio had produced some 3,700 feature, animated and documentary films.
With a principle of vertical integration that coordinated not only film production and copying plants but also dubbing and the distribution of international movies, DEFA structurally resembled corporations like Ufa and the classic Hollywood system - with the crucial difference that the company remained the country's only official cinema business until the demise of the German Democratic Republic and as such was subject to strict state control.
Despite this centralization, the DEFA catalog is diverse and, similar to other national cinematographies, distinguished by phases, fashions, and cycles. To this day, film scholars dealing with DEFA productions have mainly focused on stylistically versatile auteur films and literary adaptations that critically examine German history and National Socialism in particular, as well as contemporary movies with an awareness towards social and political conflicts within the GDR.
However, the DEFA repertoire also includes numerous genre productions, i.e. works that draw on conventionalized, internationally proven forms and patterns of popular cinema and build on established audience expectations. These films were often met with skepticism by government officials and received mixed reviews from contemporary critics, but were nevertheless very successful at the box office.
Not surprisingly, genre filmmaking in the GDR was restricted: Everything that too obviously aimed at stimulating negatively charged, "immoral" affects was taboo, so there were no horror or erotic productions in the narrower sense.
Nevertheless, the genre segment of GDR cinema is not limited to those fairy tale and children's films that have remained rather well-known in Germany due to regular television broadcasts. There’s a wide range of unusual films to be discovered, including spherical Science-Fiction adventures, socio-critical Westerns and twisty Spy Cinema. Those movies combine convention and innovation in a genuine way; they connect to the Western pop culture of the time but also break with established rules of their genres. (Christian Lenz)
To mark this year's DEFA anniversary, Zeughauskino and the DEFA Foundation present a selection of seven particularly noteworthy GDR genre films and one bonus documentary as a free online retrospective.
Every Monday at 6:00 p.m., a new film is released online, which remains available to stream for three weeks.