The fall of the Berlin Wall triggered a collapse not only of political institutions, but of many elements of German cultural identity as well, particularly in the former East. Berlin, its physical borders demolished, became the epicenter of attempts to integrate and progress politically, economically, and culturally. In the mid-1990s a new group of Berlin-based auteur filmmakers emerged, building from what we can see now, 20 years on, was the intellectual rubble of the collapsed Wall. The three founding figures of what came to be known as the Berlin School—Thomas Arslan, Angela Schanelec, and Christian Petzold—all studied at the dffb (Deutsche Film-und Fernsehakademie Berlin), but their allegiance was to each other as filmmakers, not as members of a collective or organized movement. Indeed, the Berlin School has always been a critical and aesthetic designation, not an artistic declaration; the “movement” is not aggressively political and the films are not thematically dogmatic. However, many of the filmmakers strive to provide a cinematic expression of the search for new identities in a reunited country. The films often focus on observant characters struggling to adapt in a time of societal change. All of the directors are from the former West, while many of the narratives focus on the Easterners who were more directly confronted by the collapse of their society. The films’ portrayals of determined and desperate attempts to inhabit the present reject the notion that the most compelling German stories come from its totalitarian past. And while there are glimmers of optimism in an uncharted future, the films also expose a lingering reluctance to change. Filmmakers will be in attendance at select screenings.
Organized by Rajendra Roy, The Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film, The Museum of Modern Art; Anke Leweke, independent film critic; with Sophie Cavoulacos, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.