Fifty years ago, German cinema was at a turning point. Filmmakers in both the East and West were making more critical stances on policies and social mores of the time, and film was reflecting these changes. As a result, in the West New German Cinema was developed and soon had international critical acclaim. The East was also making films that reflected the realities of the people, but after the 11th plenum of the central committee of East Germany’s Socialist Unity Party, there was a wave of censorship. The result was that half of all films set to be released in 1966 were banned. These films would be released some years later, some to great acclaim, but the plenum had the result of ending or stunting the careers of many filmmakers and stifled creative change in the Eastern film industry.
The 2016 Retrospective focus on 1966 was an interesting opportunity to showcase both East and West German films at a time when both were at the fore of innovation, shortly before Eastern censorship. Twenty theatrical and television features from both sides of Germany that were produced, premiered, or censored in 1966 were shown. In addition, thirty short and mid-length films were also showcased in the section, grouped together into programmes or as opening films.
Some of the more interesting opportunities were the screenings of both censored and uncensored versions of a few of the GDR films. This allowed for a comparison, to see what specifically set the censors off (usually it was a too realistic portrayal of life in the East or light criticisms of the party line). A benefit of highlighting German films was that several of the directors and crew members of the films were able to attend the festival, allowing for an interesting dialogue and information on the background of the films to be available to the public.
It is always fascinating to have the opportunity to see films not so commonly available, and the Retrospective section is always a highpoint at the festival for this very reason. While New German Cinema is something generally respected and studied, being able to compare it to the contemporaneous developments in the East is something relatively unique and fascinating. As always, here’s looking forward to what interesting part of film history will be featured next year!