East Germany, Chile and DEFA’s “Hidden Films” with Dr. Claudia Sandberg

In this episode of Radio GDR East Germany podcast, Steve Minegar speaks with Dr. Claudia Sandberg, a film scholar and filmmaker at the University of Melbourne in Australia and a colleague of Katrin Bahr, interviewed in our episode East Germany in Mozambique: Private Photographs of a Forgotten Time, with the Third Generation Ost network. Born in the GDR and raised watching DEFA films, Claudia’s research focuses on migration and mobility in European and Latin American film, Cold War memory and archives. Part of her interest concerns Chile and Chileans in East German feature films and documentaries during the 1970s and 1980s. Among other works, she made the documentary Hidden Films: A Journey between Exile and Memory (Vimeo password included with the hyperlink) in 2016 together with Argentine filmmaker Alejandro Areal Vélez. This project was co-funded by the Berlin-based DEFA foundation.

Claudia’s documentary explores Chilean films made by the East German state-owned production company DEFA in the 1970s and 1980s. Made for an East German audience, these films were unknown in Chile until recently. In the podcast, Claudia speaks about three of these films, Die Spur des Vermissten (Trace of the Disappeared, 1980), Isabel auf der Treppe (Isabel on the Stairs, 1984) and Blonder Tango (Blonde Tango, 1985). Following a military coup that overthrew leftist President Salvador Allende in 1973, a group of approximately 2,000 Chileans comprised of Allende government officials, actors, playwrights, writers and painters sought exile in the GDR (see more about intersections in East German and Chilean history in Steve’s blog here). The films, which featured a Chilean cast and crew, capture the optimism of the exiles’ arrival and how the GDR gave them a second home. Darker themes, however, like awaiting news of imprisoned family members back in Chile and racism faced in the GDR, also emerge in the films. The films, especially those produced in the later days of the GDR, notably show the cracks in the socialist system, which Claudia says was to suggest reform of the GDR. If one wants a genuine view of life in the GDR, Claudia asserts that DEFA films such as these, many of which are available via the DEFA Foundation, the DEFA Film Library at UMass Amherst and Kanopy’s DEFA Film Library, are the best way to get it.

During our interview, we speak about Antonio Skármeta, a Chilean author and filmmaker who had quite a few projects in East and West Germany. Involved with Trace of the Disappeared, Skármeta completed some of his best work in exile
In her documentary, Claudia visits “La Caldera del Diablo,” or The Devil’s Cauldron, a building where many Chilean refugees lived in former East Berlin
Claudia shows Chilean DEFA films to Chilean, German and Latin American audiences to discuss exile, memory and how the films tie to current political events

Claudia has generously provided links to several works she has authored on Chile and Chileans in East German film below, and she can be contacted at claudia.sandberg@unimelb.edu.au if you have any further questions:

  1. Sandberg, Claudia. An East German Chile in Bulgaria: Notions of Longing and Displacement,” Studies in Eastern European Cinema, 2020.
  2. Sandberg, Claudia. “‘Not Like the Stories I am Used to’: East German Film as Cinematic Memory in Contemporary Chile,” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 26, no. 4 (2017), 553-569.
  3. Sandberg, Claudia and Alejandro Areal Vélez. 2018. Hidden Treasures and Hidden Films,” Screenworks 8, no.1. (This one contains the link to the documentary, including password and all)
  4. Sandberg, Claudia. Die DEFA-Chile Filme haben in Chile ein zweites Leben erhalten,” Film Blog, Goethe-Institut Chile.

3 comments on “East Germany, Chile and DEFA’s “Hidden Films” with Dr. Claudia Sandberg

  1. Thank you, Steve, for this podcast! I would appreciate if you could cite Claudia´s fourth link correctly, since it is from my blog, included in the website of the Goethe-Institut Chile: http://www.goethe.de/chile/filmblog.
    Thanks in advance for correcting this source!
    May I include this podcast in my blog?
    Kind regards from Chile,
    Isabel Mardones

    1. Hello Isabel! I’m so glad you like it. Claudia gave such a great interview about a fascinating topic, and the blog is fantastic as well. Absolutely. Please let me know if I am citing it correctly as follows: Sandberg, Claudia. “Die DEFA-Chile Filme haben in Chile ein zweites Leben erhalten.” Film Blog, Goethe-Institut Chile. I hope to meet you at the Goethe Institute in Chile someday soon! I love Chile and Germany and am so excited that I got to work with Claudia on this exciting project. Thank you!

    2. Oh, and yes, you absolutely may put this in your blog! Thank you!

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