Interview Helmut Morsbach
Chairman, Board of Directors
The DEFA Stiftung is now ten years old. Why and by whom was it originally founded? Where is the DEFA Stiftung headquartered?
The DEFA-Stiftung was founded on 15 December 1998 by the Federal Republic of Germany. The purpose of the foundation is the promotion of film art and culture – that is, the utilization, preservation, and cultivation of the transferred DEFA film stock as a part of the national cultural heritage and the promotion of German film culture and film art including the allocation of the means for the fulfilment of this purpose. It is a private foundation and has its seat in Berlin.
Who are the authorized partners of the DEFA Stiftung?
The DEFA Foundation maintains cooperative agreements with a number of different partners. PROGRESS Film-Verleih carries out the worldwide commercial and noncommercial distribution of DEFA film stocks and of licenses for DEFA film screenings in theaters and on television. ICESTORM Entertainment holds exclusive rights to exploit the DEFA stocks on DVD, video, and other media. The Federal Archive - Film Archive preserves the original film negatives and is committed to the enduring preservation of East German film stocks. Furthermore, in 2006, our subsidiary company defa-spektrum GmbH was founded. Its purpose is the business application of the film material owned by the foundation. Besides, defa-spektrum manages the commercial distribution of publications and photos belonging to the archives of the DEFA-Stiftung. A particularly close cooperation exists with the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, which oversees the preservation and use of further films belonging to the German cultural heritage.
What are your aims to promote the historical value of DEFA productions?
The mission of the DEFA Foundation is to preserve the films of DEFA, the former East German film studios, and oversee their use for the public good as part of Germany’s national cultural heritage. The Foundation has also gathered oral history documents of contemporary witnesses and the Thomas Grimm Archive of Contemporary Witnesses.
How many DEFA productions are now part of your foundation collection?
DEFA film stocks include the entire cinematic production of the East German DEFA film studios over almost five decades. This production consisted in:
- 950 feature films and short feature films,
- 820 animated films,
- 5,800 documentary films and newsreels,
- 4,000 German-dubbed foreign films,
- non-published and outtake materials from DEFA productions.
Writing material resulting from the production and distribution process, publicity material, photos, posters, music notes, scripts screenplay drafts, advertising material, scores and documents related to the official permission process etc. are part of the DEFA film stock. With 12,000 films and further materials in its keeping, the DEFA Foundation is committed to expanding and imparting cultural knowledge. Its films contribute to the discussion of socially important issues and values. All films are listed with filmographic information in a database accessible through the Foundation's homepage.
Does the DEFA Stiftung restore prints in its collection?
Another task is the production of broadcast-ready film material as well as the production of film duplications for the distribution. One of our recent successes is the publication of our first film on blu-ray in 2008: Konrad Wolf’s Goya (1971).
Has the mandate of the DEFA Stiftung expanded over the years to accommodate more representative samples related to the DEFA cultural heritage?
In May 2004, the DEFA Foundation acquired the private collection of videotaped interviews with historical eyewitnesses developed by Thomas Grimm. Driven by the motto “Memory as Responsibility,” Thomas Grimm taped 2,500 hours of conversation with eyewitnesses of the events of the twentieth century. On 3,500 tapes in broadcasting quality, about 1,400 people provide living historical insight into modern German history. Represented in the collection are personalities in politics, science, and culture, but also simple witnesses of everyday life.
In July 2005, the foundation acquired another archive: the Cintec-Archive. Founded in West Berlin in 1973, the Cintec Film- und Fernsehproduktionsgesellschaft GmbH produced documentaries, news and magazine reports on political and cultural events and stories of everyday life for public state broadcasting institutions. 5.000 hours of raw material describe the political events around 1989 as well as the daily life of the two accreting countries. The Cintec-Archive documents the last years of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the downfall of the wall, and the process of reunification of the two German countries. The stock embraces the period from 1984 to 2005.
The foundation also owns Films of the GDR Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The GDR Ministry for Foreign Affairs commissioned over 500 films from the DEFA Documentary Film Studio. These propaganda films were produced to represent the GDR abroad and were never shown publicly in the GDR.
Moreover, since 1999, on the HYPERLINK "http://www.defa-stiftung.de/cms/biographien" DEFA Foundation has interviewed DEFA artists and personalities related to the DEFA studios. These documentations helps to keep alive the memory of the DEFA film production.
Which kind of projects does the foundation support and how do you select the projects you are supporting? In which manner are they promoted?
In keeping with its mission, the DEFA Foundation sponsors projects proposed by private persons, public corporations, and non-profit institutions. A selection committee is formed by members of the Foundation’s Advisory Council to select from among applications for support. The Foundation supports and sponsors scholarly and journalistic work on DEFA films, as well as exhibitions, symposia, and other events involving film culture. The Foundation directly and exclusively pursues nonprofit purposes and does not support commercial projects.
The Foundation further supports cinema and museum projects, and allocates stipends that serve in the development of German film culture and the preparation of new film projects. Since its founding in 1998, the DEFA Foundation has allocated about 6 million euros for the support and funding of film art and culture, with 750,000 euros thereof allocated in 2007 alone.
Each year the DEFA Foundation offers awards to support German film art and culture. The awards are categorized as follows:
- Award of merit for German film (15,000 Euros),
- Award to support German film art (15,000 Euros),
- Award to support artistic talent (7,500 Euros),
- Three cinema program awards (5,000 Euros each).
A jury constituted by members of the Foundation’s Advisory Council decides upon the allocation of awards. Aside from the above-mentioned awards, the DEFA Foundation also allocates scholarships in the amount of 4,000 Euros each. These awards are allocated at national and international film festivals in Germany.
Currently the DEFA Foundation awards stipends totaling 500,000 euros twice a year. The application deadlines are March 31 and September 30 and the Foundation accepts informal applications.
A detailed list of all supported projects as well as a list of the winners of our prizes and scholarships can be found on our homepage.
How far, apart from the preservation of film material and the sponsoring of projects, does the DEFA Foundation contribute to the promotion of the historical value of East German film production?
The Foundation publishes several scientific series which inform about the history and the reception of East German cinema. Further publications are realised in cooperation with different publishing companies.
How does one get more information about DEFA productions and the DEFA Stiftung, its history and its work?
The printed publications are complemented by the DEFA Foundation homepage, which also provides insight into the work of the Foundation. Visitors to our homepage will find information on current events, history, support and funding, film stocks and publications. In addition to a database of all films registered as part of the Federal holdings of the DEFA Foundation, the homepage offers further databases, such as a chronicle and bibliography about the DEFA studios. An electronic newsletter reports on the work and sponsorship of the DEFA Foundation and provides both transparency and publicity.
Thank you for the interview and continued success at the DEFA Stiftung. –ed
Interview by Ronald Holloway
in KINO-German film, October 2008