DEFA Film Library

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DEFA Film Library
Company typeNonprofit organization
FoundedAmherst, Massachusetts, U.S. (September 23, 1993 (1993-09-23))
FounderBarton Byg
Area served

The DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is the only research center and archive outside of Germany devoted to a broad spectrum of filmmaking from and related to the former German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany). Researchers are welcome to the archive by pre-arranging their visit.

The DEFA Film Library’s mission is twofold: to make East German films available and better known outside of Germany, and to broaden the understanding of filmmaking in the GDR and Eastern and Central Europe through critical interdisciplinary and transnational scholarship. In order to achieve this mission, the nonprofit organization mounts a multi-tiered effort. Through preservation, research initiatives, production, and cultural programming, the DEFA Film Library:

  • houses an extensive archive and collection of 35- and 16-mm prints, DCPs, DVDs, film files, books, periodicals, documents and images;
  • creates high-quality English-subtitled East German films in various formats, often with educational bonus features that are distributed on DVD or via streaming in North America and in English-speaking countries, as well as worldwide through the international network of Goethe-Institutes;
  • offers key programs for teachers and for public and scholarly outreach including touring film series, biennial summer film institutes and the visiting artist program.
  • awards an annual Graduate Student Essay Prize (since 2021) and the DEFA Film Library Programming Award (since 2023).

Students from UMass Amherst and the Five Colleges are involved in all aspects of the DEFA Film Library. Through working on productions, public programming, sales and distribution, and teaching and outreach activities, they gain valuable non-academic experiences in translation, subtitling and research, as well as library, conference and arts management.

In February 2019, the DEFA Film Library Endowment was established to support and enhance the mission and activities of the DEFA Film Library at UMass Amherst.

About the DEFA Film Library[edit]


The DEFA Film Library at UMass Amherst was established in the late 1980s by Barton Byg, professor of Film and German Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The signing of an UMass Memorandum of Understanding on September 23, 1993, marks the DEFA Film Library's official founding. Byg's idea was to make films from the East German DEFA Studios more available and widely known in North America and to broaden popular and scholarly understanding of filmmaking in the former GDR by critically exploring its aesthetic, political and ideological bases.

As the post-unification fate of East Germany's film heritage was being decided in Germany, the DEFA Film Library's collection grew bit by bit. In 1997, an agreement with two German partners—Progress Film-Verleih and the DEFA-Stiftung—brought a collection of East German film journals and the largest collection of 16mm and 35mm prints of DEFA films outside of Germany to the UMass Amherst campus. Also housed in the DEFA Film Library archive are 16mm prints that were donated by the US-GDR Friendship Committee and the former East German Embassy. This part of the collection includes films that were made specifically to report on and represent the GDR overseas.

In 1998, ICESTORM International Inc., which owned the international video rights for DEFA films, brought East German titles on VHS to North America. ICESTORM and the DEFA Film Library collaborated on the selection of 61 titles for the first U.S. release of subtitled DEFA films on video in 1999. On October 1, 2001, the DEFA Film Library took over the distribution of these titles for ICESTORM International. Since 2003, the DEFA Film Library has produced DVDs for the North American market, expanding in 2014 to educational video on demand. Since 2005, the DEFA Film Library has produced high-quality English subtitles for these films.

Circulating Print Archive[edit]

The DEFA Film Library's collection of theatrical film prints has now grown to almost 500 prints that have been screened at venues throughout North America, including: The Museum of Modern Art, Anthology Film Archives and the New York Jewish Film Festival in New York; the Harvard Film Archive and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the American Film Institute and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles; the Toronto International Film Festival; the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio; Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut; and Darkside Cinema in Corvallis, Oregon.

Most visible have been large-scale touring film series that are co-curated by the DEFA Film Library and various partners and which premiere at prestigious cultural institutions. In 2005, The Museum of Modern Art and the Goethe-Institut New York presented the most comprehensive retrospective of East German films ever screened in North America, Rebels with a Cause: The Cinema of East Germany. In 2009, a series commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, WENDE FLICKS: Last Films from East Germany, premiered at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Hammer Museum, the Wende Museum, UCLA and the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles.

For a list of selected curated film series, please visit the website of the DEFA Film Library.

Research at the DEFA Film Library[edit]

The on-site research collection includes over 1,000 35 and 16mm prints, DVDs, .mp4 files and over 400 books and periodicals (Filmspiegel, Kino DDR, Film und Fernsehen, epd Film, Deutsche Filmkunst).

In addition, Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) at UMass Amherst's W.E.B. Du Bois Library owns the collection "Social Change and Movements for Social Change," which includes a Cold War Culture Collection with an emphasis on East Germany.

Other Collections:

The Graphic Art of Anke Feuchtenberger (a comprehensive collection of early works—including film and theater posters and smaller-scale pieces—made by (East) German artist Anke Feuchtenberger; donated by film director Jörg Foth).

The Carlos Foth Collection (documents the work of the East German Prosecutor General Carlos Foth, a key player in the legal effort to investigate and punish Nazi war criminals. The collection includes correspondence, case files and legal documents including press articles, speeches, reports, photographs and other research materials and relevant publications. Topics include NS trials, i.e. Robert Mulka, Hans Globke, Adolf Eichmann and Alois Brunner; nuclear weapons /IALANA; East German legal advisory in Cambodia; Weinhold Case and border control in the GDR).

The Jörg Foth Collection (film scripts, festival catalogs, correspondence, miscellaneous film production and project documents)

The Volkmar Andrä Collection (Tapes, Vinyl LPs, catalogs, and miscellaneous materials of VEB Deutsche Schallplatten)

Programming for scholars[edit]

The DEFA Film Library supports an international network of scholars with a range of regular programming that has helped shape national and international research agendas on (East) German cinema.

  • In 1997 and 1999, the DEFA Film Library organized two international conferences on East German cinema in the Five College area, in collaboration with PROGRESS Film-Verleih and the DEFA Foundation in Berlin. The DEFA Film Library collaborated on a third international conference with the Academy for Film and Television in Potsdam-Babelsberg in November 2011.
  • Since 2001, the DEFA Film Library has hosted a biennial Summer Film Institute. Combining workshop discussions with screenings of a range of films—including little-known and rare titles—the Institutes are known for their stimulation of new research topics. (For a list of Summer Film Institute topics, see the DEFA Film Library’s website)
  • The DEFA Film Library organizes or participates in panels and panel series at national conferences, including German Studies Association (GSA) and Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES).

Visiting Artists and Scholars[edit]

The DEFA Film Library Visiting Filmmakers program brings German film directors to colleges, universities and cultural institutions throughout North America. Featured directors have included Frank Beyer, Jürgen Böttcher, Lutz Dammbeck, Andreas Dresen, Jörg Foth, Iris Gusner, Peter Kahane, Helke Misselwitz, Siegfried Kühn, Herrmann Zschoche and Rainer Simon.

Other visiting artists and scholars have included:

Film historians and scholars: Monika Albrecht, Seán Allan, Christine Becker, Lothar Bisky, Benita Blessing, Oksana Bulgakova, Burghard Ciesla, Alexander Donev, Stephan Ehrig, April Eismann, Thomas Elsaesser, Thomas Fox, Sabine Hake, Dina Iordanova, Konrad Jarausch, Lars Karl, Heinz Kersten, Mario Kessler, Sylvia Klötzer, Thomas Lindenberger, Claus Löser, Hanno Löwy, Tom Maulucci, Larson Powell, Eric Rentschler, Ralf Schenk, Elke Schieber, Ursula Schröter, Lu Seegers, David Shneer, Frank Stern, Evan Torner, Katie Trumpener, Annette Weinke, Johanna Frances Yunker and others.

Summer Film Institutes[edit]

11th DEFA Summer Film Institute, UMass Amherst, June 11-17, 2023

HIDDEN FIGURES: Blackness and Black Experiences in East Germany

For more information and a complete overview of past Institutes, please visit DFL website.

Curated film series[edit]

HIDDEN FIGURES: Blackness and Black Experiences in East Germany [2023, premiere at UMass Amherst and Amherst Cinema]

Free film festival that took place in tandem with the 11th biennial Summer Film Institute. It included 15 full-length and short films.

WAGENSTEIN100 [2022, premiere at Amherst Cinema]

This retrospective took place on the occasion of Wagensteins 100th birthday and included four feature films by scriptwriter Angel Wagenstein and a documentary about him.

EVERYDAY POETRY: The Early Films of Helke Misselwitz [2021, premiere at Anthology Film Archives, NYC & Mar del Plata Film festival, Argentina]

The most comprehensive retrospective to date that included the nine films the filmmaker produced at the East German DEFA Studios.

Authority & Alterity in East German Movies [2021, Virtual Festival]

A free virtual Summer Film Festival including 20 full-length and short films that included 3 live Zoom events with the film directors and 7 video introductions by experts.

Black Lives in Germany: Resilience – Art – Hope [Oct. 2021 – April 2022, Virtual Festival]

A festival showcasing films by and discussions with Black German filmmakers, actors, scholars and activists! Recordings of all five events are available in the DEFA Film Library’s FILMBOX, a Digital Teaching Archive.

ART & POWER: LUTZ DAMMBECK [2019, premiere at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.]

This eight-city tour included the complete cinematic oeuvre of German filmmaker and media artist Lutz Dammbeck.

For more curated film programs and detailed information, please visit the DFL website.

Faculty Research Fellows[edit]

Recognition and awards[edit]

  • 2013, Letter of recognition from Bernd Neumann, Minister of Culture and Media of the Federal Republic of Germany
  • 2011, cinefest Hamburg: Reinhold-Schünzel-Preis to Barton Byg, Founder of the DEFA Film Library
  • 2005, Recipient of the Programming Award of the DEFA Foundation, Berlin.

Current DEFA team[edit]

  • Barton Byg (Professor Emeritus), Founding Director
  • Mariana Ivanova, Academic Director
  • Victoria Rizo Lenshyn, Associate Director
  • Hiltrud Schulz, Production | Outreach | Contracts
  • Evgeniia Trufanova, Program Assistant
  • Ester Gonzalez Martin, Book & Film Collection
  • Sarah Amzil, Sales & Billing
  • Franchesca Viaud, Web & Tech Assistant

External links[edit]