May Term - HUM 270/IS 270


Film in Central Europe:
When the Wall Came Tumbling Down

Berlin and Prague — May Term 2012
Course flyer (pdf)

Led by Prof. Sonja Fritzsche with Assistant Prof. Edgar Lehr  

Course Description

Our perceptions and identities are determined to a great extent by the variety of visual sources that surround us. The study of film teaches critical engagement with the visual so that the viewer is aware of its constructed nature. The study of film from other countries provides access to new ways of thinking about cinema both culturally and technically. It grants the student of film a greater awareness of the self and the location of that self within multiple, interacting cinematic and cultural traditions.

German and Czech films comprise two of the world's most influential cinematic traditions with their roots at the beginning of the 20th century. This May term travel course introduces the students to the vibrant cultural histories of Germany and the Czech Republic through the medium of film before and after the fall of the Iron Curtain. During the initial few meetings on campus in the spring semester and the first few days of May term, students will become familiar basic film theory, select influential film styles and directors (i.e. Czech New Wave, New German Cinema, German-Turkish film), and several representative films and their cultural-historical contexts.


Students will then travel to Berlin and Prague. A primary itinerary focus will be film, including visits to locations in the films viewed, guest lectures on film history, tours of film studios, film schools, film archives, and film museums.  Locations include Prague's prestigious Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) and Barrandov Film Studios, the "Hollywood of the East" (Mission Impossible, Bourne Identity, Casino Royale, Prince Caspian) A secondary focus will be a face-to-face encounter with the cultural and historical contexts of these very beautiful, vibrant, and cosmopolitan cities. This includes not only museum visits to the East Germany Museum, Checkpoint Charlie Museum, Jewish Museum, Holocaust Memorials, and the royal residences at Potsdam, but also a tour of Turkish Berlin including a lunch, a discussion panel with Berlin residents of the former East and West. In addition to film sites, the Prague visit will include a city tour, a traditional Czech dinner, the Kafka Museum, familiarization with the city's rich Jewish tradition, and a day visit to a nearby concentration camp led by a survivor. All coursework is in English.

Assignments include pertinent readings and film viewings, a travel diary, a presentation, and a final paper.

Films include, but others may be added or the list may be revised by request:

Daisies (Sedmikrásky, Dir. Vera Chytilová, Czechoslovakia, 1966) – one of the most famous films of the Czech New Wave. Marie I and Marie II are two young girls who try to understand life and go very bad.

Divided Heaven (Der geteilte Himmel, Dir. Konrad Wolf, East Germany, 1964) – based on a novel by famous writer Christa Wolf, this is the story of a woman named Rita and her decision to stay in East Berlin.

Loves of a Blond or The Fireman's Ball  (Dir. Milos Forman, Czechoslovakia, 1965 and 1967)
Two of the best known films of the Czech New Wave

The Promise (Das Versprechen, Dir. von Trotta, Germany, 1995) – a drama about how the Berlin Wall and Prague Spring split two lovers from 1961 until 1989.

Theresienstadt: A Documentary Film of Jewish Resettlement (1944) – a black and white Nazi propaganda film shot in the concentration camp Theresienstadt to prove that the camps were not all that bad.  We will also visit this camp, which is north of Prague.

Wings of Desire (Dir. Wim Wenders, West Germany, 1987) – The sky over Berlin is full of angels who try to comfort the war-torn souls of the city.  Starring Bruno Ganz, Peter Falk and was remade by Hollywood as City of Angels with Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan.

A film set in the first few years after German reunification

A yet-to-be decided upon German-Turkish film.

We will watch some portions of these films, if there is not time to screen the entire film. Other films will be determined by time and also what is being shown in Germany in select theaters.