Scranton Film Festival Exposes Human Perspectives of Germany’s Wars

March 16, 2015

 A film festival in April at The University of Scranton will provide insight into how Germans tried to understand the series of wars that shaped the evolution of their society. Four remarkable films, made in East Germany between 1949 and 1968, focus on the wartime experiences of individual men and women and provide a different viewpoint from more widely publicized historical retrospectives.

Titled “World War I: A Cold War Perspective,” the eighth annual East German Film Festival will take place on April 13, 15, 16 and 17 in the University’s Pearn Auditorium of Brennan Hall from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. The screenings, which are free and open to the public, are presented in collaboration with the University’s World Languages and Cultures Department and are part of the Schemel Forum’s spring semester offerings.

The festival is presented in collaboration with the DEFA (Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft) Film Library at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The library is the only archive and research center outside of Germany devoted to films from and related to the former German Democratic Republic. Jamie Trnka, Ph.D., associate professor of world languages at The University of Scranton, will introduce the films and lead a discussion following each screening.

This year’s films provide insight into how Germans tried to understand the links between the series of wars involving Germany from 1871 to 1945 and unravel the complex path from WWI to WWII. They address questions such as why some people supported the war while others opposed it, how to relate WWI to the concurrent revolution in Russia and how to understand the costs of war to civilian populations.

“The annual film East German Film Festival at the University plays an important role in offering international cultural programming open to the public,” said Dr. Trnka. “In fact, each year approximately half of our attendees are community members who engage in lively discussions with our students and faculty in attendance. Too often, the cultural production of East Germany is represented as monolithic and uncritical. As the films we screen in the festival reveal, nothing could be further from the truth. East German directors engaged with international cinematic movements, participated in myriad international co-productions, and used film as a medium to promote critical discussion of the social and political situation in East Germany.”

The following films from DEFA’s “World War I: A Cold War Perspective” collection will be screened at this year’s festival; all four will be shown in black and white and in German with English subtitles:

Monday, April 13: “Farewell” (1968, 107 minutes). Directed by Egon Günther, the movie is based on a novel by Johannes R. Becher. In August 1914, many young German men euphorically volunteered to join the army. Hans Gastl, the son of a militaristic state prosecutor, decided that he won’t become a soldier or fight in the war. The film tells the story of Hans’s upbringing in flashbacks: his tender love for the housemaid, which is brutally repressed by his father; his time at a boarding school for difficult youth; and his friendship with a Jew and a worker’s son. East German officials criticized this film’s cinematic style and withdrew it from wider release after its premiere. (7:30 p.m., Pearn Auditorium, Brennan Hall, free)

Wednesday, April 15: “Girls in Gingham” (1949, 101 minutes). Kurt Maetzig directed this moving saga, which focuses on the women in a family that spans three generations and almost 70 years of German history. Born to an unmarried maid in 1884, Guste also becomes a maid to lords and ladies. She and her husband Paul, a worker, get married and live happily together with their two children. But when WWI breaks out, her husband is conscripted and she must support her whole family with her job making hand grenades. Realizing that her work is contributing to the senseless war, Guste quits her job. Paul returns from war, but the world economic crisis, emerging fascism and finally World War II continue to make the family’s life very difficult. Decades later, when Guste’s granddaughter Christel has the opportunity to study in East Germany, Guste recognizes the event’s importance for not only Christel, but also the family legacy. (7:30 p.m., Pearn Auditorium, Brennan Hall, free)

Thursday, April 16: “The Kaiser’s Lackey” (1951, 105 minutes) Directed by Wolfgang Staudte, this historical satire, based on Heinrich Mann’s world-famous novel, “Der Untertan,” is ranked by film critics among the 100 Most Significant German Films of all time. In Mann’s biting critique of conservative Wilhelmine (1871 to 1918) Germany, written during WWI, Diederich Hessling learns an important lesson for an ambitious man: one must first serve power to gain power for oneself. From then on, his modus operandi is to bow to superiors and kick underlings. (7:30 p.m., Pearn Auditorium, Brennan Hall, free)

Friday, April 17: “The Sailors’ Song” (1965, 91 minutes, black-and-white) Directed by Kurt Maetzig and Günter Reisch, this heroic epic work details the German Revolution that occurred at the end of WWI. News of the Russian Revolution has swept the world, fuelling rebellions on land and sea. With the end of the war approaching in fall 1918, the German Imperial Navy Command decides to send all its ships on a last-ditch suicide mission in the English Channel. This decision gives rise to a mutiny in the port city of Kiel, which quickly spreads and becomes a revolution. The sailors – who belong to different socialist parties: the Social Democrats, the Independent Socialists and the Spartacists – become convinced of the need to revolt. Workers, soldiers and sailors rebel against the officers, but their political differences cause the uprising to fail. By early 1919, however, many of the rebel sailors can attend the founding congress of the new Communist Party of Germany. (7:30 p.m., Pearn Auditorium, Brennan Hall, free)

For more information about the film screenings, please contact Jamie Trnka, Ph.D., associate professor of world languages and cultures, at 570-941-7430 or


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