Collecting, preserving, developing, presenting and mediating Germany’s audiovisual heritage have been the main tasks of the Deutsche Kinemathek ever since its founding by filmmaker Gerhard Lamprecht in 1963.
“The basis for the Kinemathek’s collection came from the films, documents and equipment that Lamprecht had himself collected over the years,” recalls Dr. Rainer Rother, artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek since 2006 after having previously curated film programs and exhibitions for the Zeughaus Kino of the German Historical Museum from 1991.
In addition to artifacts from film and television history such as Marlene Dietrich’s make-up case or costumes from Wolfgang Petersen’s THE BOAT, the Kinemathek has a film archive with copies of more than 26,500 films as well as a viewable inventory of over 25,000 films on video.
The emphasis of the film archive at the Deutsche Kinemathek is not only placed on the early days of film, but also on films from Berlin production companies, artistic documentary films, films from students at the German Film and Television Academy (DFFB), films from the halcyon days of the New German Cinema, and the ‘Berliner Schule’ of the 1990s.
Moreover, the institution’s holdings include around one million photographs, 25,000 posters and around 20,000 costumes and architectural sketches.
In 1977, the Kinemathek became a member of the Association of Film Archives (Deutscher Kinematheksverbund) along with the German Film Institute – DFF/Film Museum (Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum) in Frankfurt and the Federal Archive/Film Archive (Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv) in Coblenz and Berlin.
“There have been agreements reached between the archives on each one’s respective area of focus,” Rother explains. “The Federal Archive is primarily concerned with the preservation of the films, while the Film Museum in Frankfurt and the Kinemathek in Berlin focus on the presentation.”
“Traditionally, we have been the one who has taken particular care of independent filmmakers, whether they be from the Weimar Republic or from the Federal Republic,” he continues.
“We have focused our efforts on digitizing and restoring as many of their films as possible because the goal is to make them available for other institutions as well as for the general public. Cooperation with the broadcasters ZDF or ARTE has meant that many of the restored films could be shown on television before then appearing on DVD.”
For example, Lamprecht’s Zille films – DIE VERRUFENEN, UNTER DER LATERNE, DIE UNEHELICHEN and MENSCHEN UNTEREINANDER – were shown on television, at leading silent film festivals and then released on DVD, while the digitally restored version of Ewald André Dupont’s 1923 film THE ANCIENT LAW had its premiere in the Berlinale Classics sidebar in 2018 before airing on ARTE and then touring festivals such as San Francisco, Pordenone, Vilnius, Budapest and Vienna as well as having a DVD release.
Video on demand is now another way of making film heritage visible, according to Rother. “We have started a cooperation with the Alles Kino platform to show, among others, the documentary films by the Wendländische Filmkooperative about the movement protesting against the nuclear waste disposal site in Gorleben.” In addition, the Kinemathek has become a partner of the French initiative LaCinetek which has invited 62 international filmmakers to date – including Germany’s Maren Ade, Christian Petzold and Wim Wenders – to select 1,500 titles for presentation on the platform. “Some of our films are in the LaCinetek catalogue and we have made suggestions of filmmakers such as Jutta Brückner to join the list of curators,” Rother says.
But the Deutsche Kinemathek also holds true to the traditional, classical presentation on the big screen in the cinema. ”We are the biggest film distributor in Germany with a catalogue of 17,000 titles,” Rother notes. “We have the complete DEFA library – some 12,000 in total – plus another 5,000 film classics. What we don’t have, though, is our own cinema, but we collaborate with various cinemas in Berlin such as the Arsenal, Zeughaus Kino, the Yorck Kinos and the Bundesplatz Kino.”
Rother and his team also curate film programs from the Kinemathek’s catalogue for presentation at festivals and cinematheques around the globe. This year, for example, saw BFI Southbank in London hosting a two-month season in May and June looking at Weimar cinema from 1919 to 1933, including such films as THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, EMIL AND THE DETECTIVES, and PEOPLE ON SUNDAY, while the Korean Film Archive teamed up with the local Goethe-Institut in August to present 12 films in a season entitled “The Personal is Political: German Female Filmmakers” featuring eleven titles that had been shown as part of the “Self Determined – Perspectives of Women Filmmakers” retrospective at the 2019 Berlinale. And artistic director Rother personally travelled to Seoul along with filmmaker Sibylle Schoenemann (LOCKED UP TIME) to introduce the selected films to the Korean cineastes.
“The fact that the Deutsche Kinemathek is one of the shareholders of German Films has been very important for the international presentation of our films,” Rother explains. “It has meant, on the one hand, that the institutions involved in the export of German films are consequently made aware of the issues surrounding film heritage. But the collaboration with German Films has been a very productive one because they have regularly supported us by financing the subtitling for films for such seasons as the ones at the BFI and in Korea this year.”
And in October, the Kinemathek and German Films teamed up for the special spotlight on Germany at the seventh edition of the International Classic Film Market (MIFC) during the Lumiere Festival in Lyon, the birthplace of cinema.
Rother was lined up as one of the panelists for a roundtable about the opportunities and challenges for the accessibility of film heritage in the digital age, and the Kinemathek planned to screen two of its recent restorations: Dupont’s THE ANCIENT LAW and Ula Stöckl’s THE CAT HAS NINE LIVES which is regarded as West Germany’s first feminist film.
However, the range of the Deutsche Kinemathek’s activities doesn’t stop there: for example, it has been responsible since 1977 for organizing the Retrospective and Homage for the Berlinale each February and has initiated numerous publications on both the history and present state of the film and television industries as well as organizing major international symposia and other events.
Moreover, a new chapter in the Kinemathek’s history began with the relocation to the present site in the Filmhaus at Potsdamer Platz in 2000 and the opening of the Museum für Film und Fernsehen in autumn 2001. Since then, more than sixty special exhibitions have been staged by the Museum to complement the permanent exhibition on film and television history: there have been exhibitions dedicated to such actresses as Marlene Dietrich, Romy Schneider, and Hildegard Knef as well as to directors such as F.W. Murnau, Ingmar Bergman, Helmut Dietl and Werner Herzog, and the production designer Ken Adam as well as thematic ones devoted to the genre of science fiction cinema, the history of the UFA as a brand, and the fall of the Berlin Wall through moving images, among others. Many of these exhibitions have then travelled abroad to be presented at such institutions as the Cinémathèque française in Paris, the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, the EYE Film Museum in Amsterdam or the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, the Kinemathek is acutely aware of the current changes to the media landscape and the challenges they pose. “We are currently living in a period of upheaval: this isn’t only about the digitization of cinemas and production methods, but affects audiovisual media as a whole,” Rother observes. “We need to consider how we will deal as the Kinemathek with the major platforms like Netflix and Amazon since they are now increasingly involved in German productions and we will have to pay more attention in future to the series formats – something which we have already done by including BABYLON BERLIN in our new exhibition on the Weimar Republic called ‘Kino der Moderne’.”
According to Rother, the shift from analogue to digital also poses a major challenge for the preservation of our audiovisual heritage and the commitment by national and regional funding bodies to provide sufficient support for the digitization programs.
“In addition, there is a need to reflect on the changes to the aesthetics of the productions being made because we are not just dealing now with cinema and television as another new and significant market has appeared with the streaming platforms.”
Rainer Rother spoke with Martin Blaney