Film Screenings Jürgen Böttcher: Martha & Helke Misselwitz: Who is Afraid of the Bogey Man?

Martha © DEFA-Stiftung Wolfgang Dietzel

Sat, 09.11.2019

2:00 PM

In this programmme we juxtapose two documentary portraits of strong women - Jürgen Böttcher's Martha (1978) und Helke Misselwitz's Who is Afraid of the Bogey Man? (1989). What distinguishes these two women and their circumstances? What do they have in common? How do both directors approach and stage their subjects in these films that were made just a little more than ten years apart.

We are pleased to present this event in partnership with Open City Documentary Festival.

The screening will be introduced by Martin Brady.


A long tracking shot past new apartment blocks in an otherwise empty terrain, a bulldozer struggling up a hill of earth, wood and rubble. The constant noise of machines. And then we see her – wrapped in what looks like a soldier’s winter’s coat, woolly hat and gloves, she sticks out behind the conveyer belt on which rubble moves past her and from which she picks what’s still valuable. Martha Bieder, 68-years-old, has been a rubble woman since the end of the war. Böttcher shows her dwarfed by the machines, but a giant in spirit and character. He also follows her into the warmth of the work barracks, where she eats with her colleagues, all of them men, all of them younger. We can hear Böttcher ask questions, which reveal his affectionate relation with Martha and that the situation is obviously staged. Though modest, Martha seems to enjoy talking about her life and work and comments over the footage Böttcher has shot of the rubble site or over historic images of the destroyed Berlin. We are also there to see Martha when her life-long work comes to an end. To celebrate her retirement she brings cake for her colleagues. Once more they sit around the table. Böttcher asks her to move a vase with bright flowers into the frame…

Martha, GDR 1978, b/w, DCP (35mm), 56 mins. With English subtitles.
Directed by Jürgen Böttcher, Camera: Wolfgang Dietzel. With Martha Bieder.

Who is Afraid of the Bogey Man? © DEFA-Stiftung Thomas Plenert Who is Afraid of the Bogey Man?

Portrait of a private coal company in East Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district in 1988/89. The feisty woman boss runs the business with humour and understanding. Her seven male employees respect her. To the outside world, they are all tough guys, but as they describe their jobs and personal situations, above and beyond the hard manual labour, their vulnerability starts to come to light. Under gentle questioning, the subjects of this social survey by Helke Misselwitz willingly allow the audience a “look into their hearts”: “Can hands this rough be tender?” That approach makes it seem, at times, as if this were a utopia of solidarity at the margins of the Socialist workers’ state. Looking at these figures “from below”, the film touches on many taboos. The discussion subjects range from the building of the Berlin Wall and possible escape, to child abuse and suicide, as well as prison and alcoholism. Fiercely intent on authenticity, which is why it was shot in “outmoded” black-and-white, the film documents a trade that would soon itself become obsolete – turning it into a survey of social contradictions in East Germany, made just a few months before the country’s political collapse. (Berlinale)

Who is Afraid of the Bogey Man? (Wer fürchtet sich vorm Schwarzen Mann)
GDR 1989, b/w, DCP (35mm), 52 mins. With English subtitels.
Directed by Helke Misselwitz, Screenplay: Helke Misselwitz, Thomas Plenert, Director of Photography: Thomas Plenert, Editing: Gudrun Plenert (= Steinbrück), Music: Brigitte Unterdörfer, Sound: Ronald Gohlke

Total Running Time of Films: 108 minutes

Martin Brady is Emeritus Reader in German and Film Studies at King’s College London. He has published on European film, music, literature, disability, architecture, and the visual arts. He translated Victor Klemperer’s LTI (The Language of the Third Reich) and works as a freelance interpreter and visual artist.
When booking a ticket for this screening you will receive a code which entitles you to a 50% discount on tickets for the event Helke Misselwitz: Winter Adé & Nude Portraits – Gundula Schulze taking place at 4.45pm.

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