Feminist Cinema in West Germany

by Sophia Kownatzki

On Tuesday, March 19, IES welcomed back visiting scholar Christina Gerhardt, a former UC Berkeley lecturer who is currently teaching at University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Gerhardt presented a lecture titled “Helke Sander’s dffb Cinema, 1968 and West Germany’s Feminist Movement” – the subject of her upcoming publication. During the talk, Gerhardt traced the history of the German Film and Television Academy Berlin (DFFB), the alma mater of filmmaker Helke Sander who was part of the first graduating class of students from 1966 to 1969.

Recounting Sander’s history of political activism and films of the era, Gerhardt aimed to develop three points: to examine narratives of feminism as 1968 revolutionary narratives (instead of reading feminism as a phenomenon of the 1970s); to acknowledge feminist filmmakers in late 1960s cinema; and to show how Sander’s early DFFB films examine themes visible in her later, better-known films of the 1970s. Examining Sander’s earlier works of the late 1960s, like Subjektitüde and Kinder sind Keine Rinder (Kids are not meat), Gerhardt pointed out a number of themes, from women’s “double burden” – describing the situation of women who perform paid work outside of home and unpaid work in the domestic sphere – to heterosexual child rearing practices, the rights of children, and the subjective experiences of women. In analyzing these earlier films, Gerhardt emphasized that Sander’s early works were closely tied with her political activism and later films. Additionally, Gerhardt underscored that second wave feminism in West Germany began in the late 1960s, with Helke Sander as a force that sparked the movement through her films and political activism.

The twenty audience members raised a number of questions during the Q&A, asking Gerhardt about her personal encounter with Helke Sander at a conference, clarifications on the role of women workers and transnational dialogue with feminist filmmakers, Sander’s personal innovations in filmmaking, and the role of women of color in second wave feminism in West Germany.