Censorship and Cinema: Cinematic Kahlschlag and the GDR’s 11th Plenum

38th Annual Conference of the German Studies Association (GSA), October 1-4, 2015, Washington, D.C.

250-word paper proposal deadline: January 26, 2015

After the Wall was built in 1961, East German artists embarked on critical discussions about how to improve socialism. Films increasingly expressed the perspectives of young people who shared socialist ideals, but struggled with their practical implementation and the limits on individual freedom they engendered. Filmmakers both sought to engage with international aesthetic trends of the period and address the contradictions of East German society—and shared the conviction that it was the role of socialist art to do so.

In 1965, however, the 11th Plenum of the GDR’s Socialist Unity Party shocked the artistic community by rolling back reforms and making a prominent example of DEFA Studio film productions. The feature films banned in this period—twelve in all, almost an entire year’s worth—make up over 25% of all films banned during the GDR’s 40-year history. Collectively, they came to be called the “Rabbit Films,” after Kurt Maetzig’s The Rabbit is Me. Some were rehabilitated over the following decades, but many were not screened until after the fall of the Wall in 1989.

As we near the 50-year anniversary of the Eleventh Plenum, the DEFA Foundation in Berlin has announced plans to restore the banned films, and the DEFA Film Library at UMass Amherst will subtitle and release three more of them for English-language audiences. On this occasion, we invite proposals for papers from a broad range of approaches to consider such questions as:

  *   How do these films contribute to our understanding of the diversity of aesthetic programs within the DEFA studios? To a more differentiated understanding of cultural politics in the years leading up to and immediately after the erection of the Berlin Wall?
  *   What can a careful analysis of these films and their context tell us about artistic exchanges between Eastern and Western European cinema in the 1960s? How might we best approach questions of formal, thematic, and stylistic influences across the East-West divide?
  *   How might critical attention to these films contribute to on-going theoretical debates about socialism and modernity?
  *   How does the post-11th Plenum Kahlschlag inform our understanding of censorship and filmmaking in the GDR? How does this episode compare to other cases of film censorship? How has it been historicized? How does it relate to other negotiations of art and power throughout the existence of the DEFA Studio?
  *   What long-term effect did the Kahlschlag exert? How did people respond to the Eleventh Plenum? How did their responses shape the direction of East German filmmaking in the decades to come? How did the events surrounding the Eleventh Plenum impact the careers and future works of DEFA directors?
  *   How can we best integrate these films into existing German and film studies curricula?

Please send your proposals to Jamie H. Trnka ([log in to unmask]) by Jan 26, 2015.  All participants must be registered members of the GSA by February 15, 2015.

Jamie H. Trnka, Ph.D.

Assoc. Prof. of World Languages and Cultures

Chair of The Department of Latin American and Women's Studies (LA/W/S)

The University of Scranton

Scranton, PA

The German Studies Call for Papers List
Editor: Stefani Engelstein
Assistant Editor:  Olaf Schmidt
Sponsored by the University of Missouri
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