Moscow’s cine-internationalism in BerliN

For our 39th screening, Doreen Mende brings us Iris Gusner’s Die Taube auf dem Dach and “disco films.” Screening followed by a conversation with Iris Gusner, filmmaker and writer.

In 1973 Iris Gusner realized her debut film, Die Taube auf dem Dach (The Dove on the Roof), after finishing her studies at the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography in Moscow (VGIK), which she had entered as one of the few East-German students of her generation. During the 1960s in particular, the VGIK provided an environment for a cine-internationalism due to a moment of ideological “thaw” that voiced itself through upheavals, re-evaluation, reforms, and experimentation under the Krushchev regime with its possibility of de-Stalinization.

Die Taube auf dem Dach portrays Linda Hinrichs, a young architect, who engineers the construction of a new prefabricated housing block in East Germany. Iris Gusner shows the reality of a world of labor in socialist Germany through the eyes of people who are not as standardized as the buildings they erect. Instead of a socialist worker-heroism, the film therefore conveys a fragment of the cultural history of everyday struggle, which is narrated through social relations on the construction site and a complicated love triangle between Linda and two men. The film furthermore includes a commentary on state pretensions to solidarity when the worker Karim speaks about his Beirut home while mounting Palestinian posters on the walls of the room he shares with the student Daniel. Here Gusner proposes a narration of friendship among workers instead of solidarity (which she once described as a “bureaucratic act” of the GDR). Die Taube auf dem Dach remained un-premiered, prohibited, and seemingly lost in the GDR. The film’s working copy was found in 1990, although everything else had been destroyed. A black-and-white version was drawn from this color copy (35 mm), then everything disappeared again. In 2009, the 1990 version was found by chance and digitized for DVD release.

This evening will also include the screening of two so-called “disco films,” a genre crossing documentary, feature, and music-video, that perhaps only existed in the GDR. Disco films were produced by the DEFA, the centralized and state-owned film studios of the GDR, and projected–as the name suggests–in discos, for example, at the Kosmos 73 Film-Beat-Treff vor Mitternacht on Karl-Marx-Allee in Berlin.

Iris Gusner studied film-directing at the VGIK in Moscow during the 1960s. After returning to Berlin, she worked as an assistant director to Konrad Wolf for his film drama Goya or the Hard Way to Enlightenment (1971) before joining the DEFA as a director. Aside from various feature films, Gusner directed the famous fairytale film Das Blaue Licht (1976), a crime movie, dramas, and romances. In the summer of 1989 she emigrated to West Germany, and returned from Cologne to Berlin in 2003. Together with the filmmaker Helke Sander she co-authored the book Fantasie und Arbeit. Biografische Zwiegespräche (2009), about the similarities and differences between being a filmmaker, a mother, and a woman in East and West Germany. Gusner’s book Start in Moskau will be published In 2018. It tells of her studies and teachers at the VGIK, as well as her co-students’ subsequent developments up to the present, based on ongoing conversations with international filmmaker friends who studied together at the Institute.

Doreen Mende is a curator, theorist, researcher and writer, and currently directs the CCC Research Master and PhD-Forum of the Visual Arts Department at HEAD in Geneva. She has been a founding member of the Harun Farocki Institut in Berlin since 2015. Her research interests include spatial politics in image regimes, as well as exhibition-making, curatorial politics, archival metabolisms, navigational aesthetics, display processes, and concept work. She holds a PhD in Curatorial/Knowledge from Goldsmiths, University of London. Recent publications include KP Brehmer: Real Capital Production, for Raven Row, London, and the ongoing publications series HaFI (with Tom Holert and Volker Pantenburg). For an introduction to Die Taube auf dem Dach see her “Letter to Iris Gusner,” manifesta journal, December 2013.

Thanks to the DEFA-Stiftung Berlin and the DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst/U.S.