Facing the Past—German Documentaries

A Special Program on Germany   Dr. Uwe Schmelter

An Eye Toward the Past   Sato Takeo

Program A   Recollections and Records of War

Program B   Reconsidering the Postwar History of East and West Germany

Program C   Traces of East Germany

To Friends of Documentary Cinema   Thomas Frickel

With the Support of AG DOK, German Films, Goethe-Institut

In 1989—strangely, exactly the same year that marked the start of the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival—the Berlin Wall, which had become the symbol of the Cold War, collapsed. As the world dramatically changed in the aftermath of that event, with the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European bloc and the unification of East and West Germany, the film festival also moved ahead. And now, as we have entered into a new century, the world is becoming ever more confusing. At the same time, the remnants of World War II still cast a big shadow on contemporary society, even though more than sixty years have passed now since it ended.

After its defeat, Germany dealt with problems such as the investigation of Nazi criminals and postwar compensation. However, the emergence of neo-Nazis and discussions about the guilt and responsibility of ordinary citizens demonstrates that this “overcoming the past” hasn’t always proceeded smoothly. At the same time, forced as it had been to divide its territory into East and West, postwar Germany was also the front line of the political and economic opposition between communism and capitalism. This history as a divided nation for some forty years still leaves many scars even today, almost twenty years after the Cold War structure collapsed and reunification was accomplished.

How are German documentary makers trying to face this multi-layered past? How do they try to reconstruct the past through images? We have divided this year’s special program looking at attempts by German documentary makers to deal with the past into three parts: “Recollections and Records of War,” “Reconsidering the Postwar History of East and West Germany,” and “Traces of East Germany.” Needless to say, these three themes (or eras) are not separate things, but are on the contrary mutually intertwined in complex manners. The artists’ sincere look at the past becomes apparent, we may say, not only in the themes, but also in their various cinematic methods.

These German documentary films also provide important suggestions for us here in Japan, another nation defeated in the war, when we consider the insufficiently addressed issue of war responsibility, the anti-establishment struggles of the sixties and seventies, and issues of historical perception that have been the object of attention in the Asian region in recent years.

It is our great pleasure to hold this German documentaries program in Yamagata, together with AG DOK, German Films, and the Goethe-Institut. We sincerely thank them as well as the filmmakers and producers.

—Yano Kazuyuki, Hashiura Taichi