The 1960s were a time for experimentation in the arts — on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
Yet when Walter Ulbricht, the East German leader at the time, and his protégé Erich Honecker saw the string of avant-garde, socially critical films that the state-funded studios began producing in 1965 – just four years after they had built the Berlin Wall – they were deeply concerned about their impact and felt a need to react. And so in 1966 they banned or censored many of them.
Fifty years later, the Berlin International Film Festival has brought several of these famed “verbotene Filme,” or banned films, to the big screen in digitally restored versions, including censored versions never seen before by the general public.
State censors eventually shelved a total of 12 productions from the state-run DEFA film studio in 1966. Ten of them are showing at the Berlinale, which runs through Sunday, and are now also available in German with English subtitles as a set of DVDs called “DEFA-Verboten.” The retrospective includes a series of short and mid-length films typical of the era.
The mid-1960s were a period of growing tension in Germany. On both sides of the Wall, societal conflicts were brewing.
A post-war generation of Germans were re-examining how their lives should look. Many young people had different ideas and were searching for new ways to define them. Especially in the communist-controlled eastern part of the divided country, many were beginning to question life under socialism.