The afterlife of DEFA in post-unification Germany: characteristics, traditions and cultural legacy

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Heiduschke, Sebastian

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This dissertation provides insight how the former East German company DEFA lives on in contemporary German society after unification. The Deutsche FilmAktiengesellschaft DEFA was the centralized, state-owned film company in East Germany and later the German Democratic Republic from 1946 through 1992. After the privatization procedures of all former state-owned property that accompanied German unification, the company was sold. Its films were handed over to a trust in charge of preserving the DEFA legacy. This institutional history of the DEFA looks at five examples to illustrate the extent of DEFA’s afterlife in German society. Testing Eric Hobsbawm’s thesis of an “invented tradition” the dissertations uses the method of cultural archeology to document the transition of the former DEFA studio at Babelsberg and how DEFA films became vehicles of East German cultural memory after the sale of the DEFA studio. This project describes the different preservation efforts of six institutions succeeding the DEFA, and explains the role of each institution. It proposes a reading of the current screening and broadcasting situation of DEFA films as regional cinema in the Federal Republic. Lastly the dissertation takes a new direction in DEFA scholarship with the interpretation of data and results taken from a 2004 reception study of DEFA film audiences in the Federal Republic. The study closes with a case study of DEFA fan culture as one specific instance of DEFA film reception in Germany. Unlike other studies of DEFA, this dissertation approaches DEFA film as cultural legacy of East Germany that has operated across cultural boundaries and decades. It presents an example for new strategies in the interpretation of DEFA film and East German culture in the Federal Republic of Germany.