Film Archive

Photograph: Solo Sunny, 1978/79 scene design by Alfred Hirschmeier (1931-1996), drawn on a plastic sheet over a photographic motif, Hirschmeier 292

Solo Sunny, 1978/79 scene design by Alfred Hirschmeier (1931-1996), drawn on a plastic sheet over a photographic motif, Photograph: AdK, Alfred-Hirschmeier-Archiv

“Archive,”, wrote Konrad Wolf laconically on those documents which he decided to give to posterity. The most important film director of the GDR and long-time Ppresident of the GDR Academy of Arts had decided as early as 1970 to entrust his personal archive, one of the most extensive and important collections on film and film policy in the GDR, to the Academy of Arts.

The extensive collections on film in the DGDR also include the archives of other DEFA directors, such as Gerhard Klein, Siegfried Kühn, Kurt Maetzig, Horst Seemann and Herrmann Zschoche, and actors such as Erwin Geschonneck, Rolf Herricht and Wolf Kaiser.

The archives of Academy members Heiner Carow and Ulrich Plenzdorf, the creators of the successful romancetic Legend of Paul and Paula (1973), bring us at the same time to the important focal collections in the Members’ Archive. These stretch back to the Ttwenties of the last century. Towering above them all is the huge archive of Helmut Käutner, a giant fund of knowledge, covering more than thirty years of German film history. Käutner began his artistic career in the theatre, as did Slatan Dudow and Erich Engel, who were responsible for the 1929 premiere of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera in Berlin in 1929. In this they are symbols of the multi-disciplinary nature of the Academy’s archive. Numerous artists are represented in the Film Archives, who worked both for stage and screen. These focal collections also include major actors such as  Hans-Christian Blech, Dieter Borsche, Otto Gebühr, O. E. Hasse, Johannes Heesters, Martin Held, Brigitte Horney, Hilde Krahl and Hanna Schygulla or Sabine Sinjen. Actors are the faces of film and enjoy the public limelight. It is all the more exciting to take a look behind the façcade in the archives. Doing so will discover uncover some exciting testimony, such as the extensive correspondence between Werner Hinz and his wife, the actress Ehmi Bessel. In his diary-like letters Hinz tells his wife almost daily about his experiences on the set, his thoughts and feelings. Here too can be found some very personal documents, such as a photo album made by Romy Schneider shortly after the birth of her son David, or seemingly banal documents, such as bills for renovating the villa of the UFAfa star Lilian Harvey. One of the few documents testifying to a stage performance in the Dachau Concentration Camp has also survived, a performance in which Erwin Geschonnek took part during his imprisonment. Hidden at risk of life death in the wall of a camp barracks, the original manuscript was only found again after the end of the war. 

In particular, the archives of the directors– − from Ludwig Berger and Paul Wegener, who were already working in the silent-film era, to Geza von Cziffra and Wolfgang Liebeneiner, who enjoyed their first successes at UFAfa and also made successful films in the post-war period, to Falk Harnack, who was on the set in the Ffifties and sSixties, and the authorial auteur film makers Bernhard Sinkel and Jeanine Meerapfel– − all enable us to gain a deep insight into these artists’ different handwritings and methods of work. Scripts, production documents and minutes of meetings carry numerous notes and ideas on scene design and camera angles, using through which it is possible to follow the genesis of the film.

The last focal collection, that of TV Film, was finally created at the start of the Nnineties, on the initiative of Academy members Eberhard Fechner, Rolf Hädrich and Egon Monk. Now this extensive complex includes the archives of TV pioneers such as Rainer Erler, Eberhard Itzenplitz, Peter Märthesheimer, Dieter Meichsner, Oliver Storz and Tom Toelle, who often dealt critically with social themes in their films. They also cover artists from GDR TV, including Klaus Poche, one of the most important script writers, and Ulrich Thein, one of the most original film makers. Thus among the sources for TV history which have come down to us can be found rarities such as the stills for the TV play Der Hexer (1953), which no longer exists as a film document, since TV plays at the start of the Ffifties– − when there was not yet any facility for recording– − could only be transmitted live.  

Films are created as joint and collaborative works. And thus the archives of cameramen, such as Jürgen Jürges or Wolfgang Treu, and of set designers such as Alfred Hirschmeier or Jan Schulbach, enable us to observe further ways in which film collaborators work with each other. Particularly impressive are the detailed storyboards and imaginative plans of the set designers, which enable us to achieve an intensive visual grasp of film design. These individual archives are supplemented by extensive collections of stills and portrait photographs, film programmes, press packs and advertising materials, and by film reviews.

(Stand 23.09.2011)