Session #2: Thinking Cinema on Television: Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), ca. 1975 (Screening 1)

Photo © ‘Filmemigration aus Nazi-Deutschland – Teil 1′ 1975, Günter Peter Straschek


Saturday 25 March 2017

1:00–5:00 | Birkbeck Cinema [Book here]


Contemporary discussions tend to advocate the idea that the “video essay” was born from the felicitous encounter of platforms like YouTube, social media, cinephilia 2.0, inexpensive DIY editing software, and the accessibility of films as data. If a historical (proto-digital) perspective is taken into account, it either conjures up established essayistic masters like Jean-Luc Godard or Chris Marker, or tries to ennoble the genre as the legitimate successor of the found footage tradition in experimental cinema.

However, there are other, less glamorous sites where an investigation of cinema by its own means was pursued with enthusiasm and inventiveness. One important center of activity was the film department of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) in Cologne. Starting around 1970, commissioning editors like Wilfried Reichart, Werner Dütsch, Angelika Wittlich, Helmut Merker, and Georg Alexander produced and commissioned a variety of different productions that devised ways of combining images and sounds to address the aesthetics and history of cinema. Using their production budget to run the film department like a cinémathèque, they organised retrospectives and accompanied them with analytic and contextual programs directed, among others, by Hartmut Bitomsky, Harun Farocki, Helmut Färber, Frieda Grafe, Martina Müller, Enno Patalas.

“Thinking Cinema on Television”, curated and presented by Volker Pantenburg, shows a small selection of three productions from 1975, broadcast in October, November and December of this year, combined with a program by commissioning editor Werner Dütsch and two short films by Peter Nestler. Looking at the WDR productions allows a glimpse at a network of individuals, alliances (like the close link between WDR and the journal FILMKRITIK) and intellectual labour.

In collaboration with the Goethe-Institut London, and with special thanks to Christhart Burgmann, Martin Brady, Werner Dütsch, Antje Ehmann, Ingemo Engström, Rainer Gansera, Joanna von Graefe, Anke Hahn, Maren Hobein, Annelen Kranefuss, Peter Nestler, Matthias Rajmann, Karin Rausch, Felicitas Rohrmoser,  Catrina Schwendener, Birol Teke, Klaus Volkmer, and Angelika Wittlich.

With thanks to Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen, Filmmuseum München, Harun Farocki GbR, and Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR)


Introduced by Volker Pantenburg, and featuring Werner Dütsch in conversation

Filmemigration aus Nazi-Deutschland – Teil 1 (Film Emigration from Nazi Germany – Part 1), Günter Peter Straschek, Germany 1975, 16mm (transferred to digital), 60 mins, German with English subtitles

Günter Peter Straschek (1942–2009) belonged to first group of students of the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (dffb). He started studying film in 1966 together with Hartmut Bitomsky, Harun Farocki, Holger Meins, Helke Sander, and others. His student film Ein Western für den SDS was confiscated by the director of the school, and the ensuing occupation of the director’s office led to the relegation of Straschek and other students in 1968.

This is the first episode of a five-part series consisting of comprehensive interviews with people who had worked in the German film industry before they were forced into exile during the Nazi period. Apart from some radio features and articles, this 290-minute TV programme remains the only published trace of Günter Peter Straschek’s lifelong work on the emigration of film personnel. He intended to publish a three-volume book, encompassing all available data about 3,000 emigrants originating from the centre and peripheries of film production. However, this book never materialised.

Fritz Lang, Werner Dütsch, Germany 1974/1990, 16mm (transferred to digital), 45 mins, German with English subtitles

Werner Dütsch was one of the most prolific commissioning editors at the WDR film department, producing work by Helmut Färber, Harun Farocki, Hartmut Bitomsky, and many others. His Fritz Lang is a reworked version of an earlier program on the German director (Die schweren Träume des Fritz Lang, 1974). Like other commissioning editors at the WDR, Dütsch not only organised TV-retrospectives, and initiated and co-produced work by others, but he also worked as an author and director. Fritz Lang is organised as a dialogue between two voices (Dütsch and Martina Müller), addressing the main themes and obsessions of the director. The film is full of concise observations: “There is a lot of killing in Lang’s films; with energy, skill, and arrogance. Images of bodies, falling heavy and helplessly, follow. As if the dead, with their specific weight, wanted block the way of the living.”

Born in 1939, Werner Dütsch was commissioning editor for fiction films, documentaries and programmes about cinema at the WDR (West German Broadcasting Station) in Cologne for over three decades, and for over two decades he taught at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne (KHM). He has also worked for the Documentary Film Week in Duisburg for many years. He is the author of Im Banne der roten Hexe – Childhood, Youth and the Magic of Cinema in Postwar Germany (2016) and co-author of Lola Montez – eine Filmgeschichte (2002).

Volker Pantenburg is professor for Film Studies at Freie Universität Berlin. He has published widely on essayistic film and video practices, experimental cinema, and contemporary moving image installations. Recent book publications include: Farocki/Godard. Film as Theory (Amsterdam: Amsterdam UP 2015); Cinematographic Objects. Things and Operations (Berlin: August 2015, Editor); and Screen Dynamics. Mapping the Borders of Cinema (Vienna: Austrian Film Museum 2012; Co-Editor). In 2015, he co-founded the “Harun Farocki Institut”, a non-profit organisation designed as a platform for researching Farocki’s visual and discursive practice and supporting new projects that engage with the past, present and the future of image cultures.

FURTHER EXPLORE THE WDR PROGRAMME