Anthology Film Archives


November 12 – November 16

Anthology joins forces with the German Film Office and the DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to present a survey of the work of East German filmmaker Helke Misselwitz, the first-ever retrospective to take place in the United States.

Misselwitz made her mark early on as a documentary filmmaker, chronicling with great sensitivity and artfulness the citizens and society of East Germany in the years leading up to and following the fall of the Berlin Wall. She began her career making short documentaries, including numerous films for the DEFA Studio for Documentary Films, before making her first documentary feature (also for DEFA), WINTER ADÉ (1988), a pioneering and profoundly illuminating group portrait of East Germany as seen through the eyes of women – in particular the wide variety of women Misselwitz encountered as she traveled through the GDR by train. WINTER ADÉ immediately established Misselwitz as one of the most gifted non-fiction filmmakers of her generation, a status confirmed by the films that followed, including WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BOGEYMAN (1989) and BULKY TRASH (1990), both of which extended her interest in the lives and perspectives of those at the margins of East German society. With 1992’s HERZSPRUNG, Misselwitz made a bold leap into fiction filmmaking. Calling to mind Fassbinder’s ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL, HERZSPRUNG retains Misselwitz’s deep social and political engagement, while demonstrating an unexpected stylistic flair and an unmistakable talent for storytelling.

This retrospective encompasses all the feature films mentioned above, as well as a selection of short films (which have been newly restored by the DEFA Foundation, with several subtitled for the first time), her 1996 fictional feature LITTLE ANGEL (1996), and one of her most recent works, the short documentary HELGA PARIS, PHOTOGRAPHER (2019).

“Helke Misselwitz makes extremely personal films, yet this subjective view is not directed at herself, but at the world. In the GDR, persisting with this personal approach signified an unspectacular, gentle, but firm resistance to the demand for so-called objective, ‘generally valid truths’ about life and society constantly made by the state representatives. Helke Misselwitz always chose subjects aside from the usual, and discovered fundamental aspects in these. […] Although documentary aspects are also a basis for her feature film work, Misselwitz does not make documentary features, but creates poetic metaphors, symbols and allegories. On the other hand, her documentary films – despite their exact observation – do not represent a pure reproduction of reality, but reveal differentiated human relationships, tracking down the vague, the uncertain and the coincidental in human stories.” –Erika Richter, EXPORT-UNION OF GERMAN CINEMA

“Helke Misselwitz’s tour of the U.S. with her film WINTER ADÉ – from October to November 1989 – anticipated the creation of the DEFA Film Library. Like many others, I have been in her debt ever since for countless insights into the nuances of life and art in her part of the world. Her cinema is also endlessly rich, both in form and expression – from the subtlest poetry to the wildest excess. WINTER ADÉ’s introspective interview with ‘Hillu’, for instance, captures one of the most moving uses of off-screen space I’ve ever seen. Hillu interrupts herself to point out the foggy train window and exclaim: ‘Look! A deer!’ The train moves on; the camera remains fixed; the interview resumes.” –Barton Byg, Founding Director of the DEFA Film Library

“Everyday Poetry: The Films of Helke Misselwitz” is co-presented by the German Film Office, the DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the DEFA Foundation in Berlin. Special thanks to Helke Misselwitz; Sara Stevenson (German Film Office); Hiltrud Schulz (DEFA Film Library); Stefanie Eckert, Melanie Hauth, Anne Möller, and Gudrun Scherp (DEFA Foundation); Sascha Busse (Eclair Berlin); and Anke Hahn (Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen).

Click here to watch a conversation between Helke Misselwitz and Reinhild Steingröver (Professor of German at the Eastman School of Music and affiliate Professor of Film Studies in the Program of Film and Media Studies at the University of Rochester), specially recorded on the occasion of our retrospective!


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