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Crossing the Wall

The Western Feature Film Import in East Germany


Rosemary Stott

More than twenty years after its collapse in 1989, the Berlin Wall remains a symbol of the vigour with which communist East Germany kept out the ‘corrupting influences’ of neighbouring West Germany. However, despite the restrictions, a surprising number of artistic works, including international films, did ‘cross the Wall’ and reach audiences in the wide network of cinemas in East Germany.
This book takes a fresh look at cinema as a social and cultural phenomenon in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and analyses the transnational film relations between East Germany and the rest of the world. Drawing on a range of new archival material, the author explores which films were imported from the West, what criteria were applied in their selection, how they were received by the national press and film audiences, and how these imports related to DEFA (East German) cinema. The author places DEFA films alongside the international films exhibited in the GDR and argues that film in East Germany was actually more transnational in character than previously thought.


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Chapter ThreeGenre Film in the Film Programmes of the GDR:The Western and the Science Fiction Film 145


Chapter Three Genre Film in the Film Programmes of the GDR: The Western and the Science Fiction Film In the Hollywood studio era, the notion of genre as contract between film- producer and audience became of central importance for the cinema and the concept has persisted to the present day.1 The categorisation of films into genres and the inclusion of a variety of genres were guiding principles in the development of the East German film programmes. DEFA and other socialist countries concentrated their ef forts upon the children’s film2 and the contemporary drama film (known as the Gegenwartsfilm or Alltagsfilm).3 DEFA itself was responsible for the development of the genre termed the anti-fascist film, films which dealt with the Nazi past. From its production 1 Genre is here used to refer to the set of production codes and conventions that bind a group of films together. Barry Keith Grant has defined genre films as the ‘com- mercial feature films which through repetition and variation tell familiar stories with familiar characters in familiar settings. They also encourage expectations and experiences similar to those of similar films we have already seen.’ Barry Keith Grant (ed.), Film Genre Reader (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988), xi. 2 Approximately one in four of all DEFA productions were for children. Hans-Rainer Otto, ‘Kinoalltag und Kinokultur in der DDR’, in Raimund Fritz (ed.), Der geteilte Himmel, Höhepunkte des DEFA-Kinos 1946–1992, Band 2: Essays und Filmografie (Vienna: Film Archiv Austria, 2001), 179. 3 Joshua...

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