Everyday Poetry: The Films of Helke Misselwitz
Anthology Film Archives32 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10003
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The German Film Office joins forces with Anthology Film Archives and the DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to present a survey of the work of East German filmmaker Helke Misselwitz, the first-ever retrospective to take place in the United States.
Misselwitz made her mark early on as a documentary filmmaker, chronicling with great sensitivity and artfulness the citizens and society of East Germany in the years leading up to and following the fall of the Berlin Wall. She began her career making short documentaries, including numerous films for the DEFA Studio for Documentary Films, before making her first documentary feature (also for DEFA), Winter Adé (1988), a pioneering and profoundly illuminating group portrait of East Germany as seen through the eyes of women – in particular the wide variety of women Misselwitz encountered as she traveled through the GDR by train. Winter Adé immediately established Misselwitz as one of the most gifted non-fiction filmmakers of her generation, a status confirmed by the films that followed, including Who’s Afraid of the Bogeyman (1989) and Bulky Trash (1990), both of which extended her interest in the lives and perspectives of those at the margins of East German society. With 1992’s Herzsprung, Misselwitz made a bold leap into fiction filmmaking. Calling to mind Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Herzsprung retains Misselwitz’s deep social and political engagement, while demonstrating an unexpected stylistic flair and an unmistakable talent for storytelling.
This retrospective encompasses all the feature films mentioned above, as well as a selection of short films (which have been newly restored by the DEFA Foundation, with several subtitled for the first time), her 1996 fictional feature Little Angel (1996), and one of her most recent works, the short documentary Helga Paris, Photographer (2019).
“Helke Misselwitz makes extremely personal films, yet this subjective view is not directed at herself, but at the world. In the GDR, persisting with this personal approach signified an unspectacular, gentle, but firm resistance to the demand for so-called objective, ‘generally valid truths’ about life and society constantly made by the state representatives. Helke Misselwitz always chose subjects aside from the usual, and discovered fundamental aspects in these. […] Although documentary aspects are also a basis for her feature film work, Misselwitz does not make documentary features, but creates poetic metaphors, symbols and allegories. On the other hand, her documentary films – despite their exact observation – do not represent a pure reproduction of reality, but reveal differentiated human relationships, tracking down the vague, the uncertain and the coincidental in human stories.” –Erika Richter, Export-Union of German Cinema
“Helke Misselwitz’s tour of the U.S. with her film Winter Adé – from October to November 1989 – anticipated the creation of the DEFA Film Library. Like many others, I have been in her debt ever since for countless insights into the nuances of life and art in her part of the world. Her cinema is also endlessly rich, both in form and expression – from the subtlest poetry to the wildest excess. Winter Adé’s introspective interview with ‘Hillu’, for instance, captures one of the most moving uses of off-screen space I’ve ever seen. Hillu interrupts herself to point out the foggy train window and exclaim: ‘Look! A deer!’ The train moves on; the camera remains fixed; the interview resumes.” –Barton Byg, Founding Director of the DEFA Film Library
Everyday Poetry: The Films of Helke Misselwitz is co-presented with Anthology Film Archives, the DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the DEFA Foundation in Berlin.
Winter Adé (1988, 116 min.)
Who’s Afraid of the Bogeyman (1989, 52 min.)
Helke Misselwitz: Short Film Program (80 min.)
Bulky Trash (1990, 78 min.)
Herzsprung (1992, 87 min.)
Little Angel (1996, 91 min.)