DEFA and East European cinemas : co-productions, transnational exchange and artistic collaborations




Ivanova, Mariana Zaharieva

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This dissertation focuses on film co-productions of the East German film studio DEFA (Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft) with East and West European partners. It revisits patterns of institutional and transnational collaboration during the Cold War in order to challenge the predominant cliché of the isolation of East European film industries. The project seeks to re-position East German cinema within evolving debates on European film, deriving its argument from archival research on production histories and contemporaneous press releases, as well as from correspondence and personal testimonials such as interviews with former East German and East European filmmakers. The discussion is structured around three categories that focus attention on the interplay between the East German studio’s co-production agenda and state-imposed film policy: cultural prestige, popular entertainment, and international solidarity. I devote a chapter to each category in my study, and show how co-productions, as collective enterprises at the intersection of national cinemas, allowed DEFA to compete for internationally renowned film stars and to re-appropriate Hollywood genres by forming multinational film collectives and sharing sets, talent, and production costs, while simultaneously negotiating complex economic, political, and market conditions in each host country. This project moves beyond previous approaches to East German film as European cinema’s ‘other.’ DEFA co-productions provide a privileged route into the examination of socialist film production as a state-controlled and ideologically compliant cultural domain, and, at the same time, as a venue for artistic collaborations that challenged the limitations of state censorship and sponsorship. Undoubtedly, East German and East European films were influenced by international developments and responded to them. Focusing on DEFA as a case study, I shed light on the negotiation of cultural policies not only within a discrete film studio, but also among the various institutions involved in filmmaking in Eastern Europe.



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