Carnegie Mellon University
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The Party and the Filmmakers: DEFA-­‐SED Interactions 1945 to 1971

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posted on 2020-04-20, 16:57 authored by Jonathan SteppJonathan Stepp
This dissertation covers the interrelationship between the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) and the filmmakers of the feature film studio at the German Film Corporation (DEFA) in the German Democratic Republic
(GDR). The interactions between the two from 1945 to 1971
reveal a great deal about the overarching cultural-­‐ ideological framework of the SED, and the ideological
development of the GDR. As the sole ruling party of the GDR, the SED maintained a strong hold over the country,
and developed an effective party-­‐state, in which the party
mirrored all state offices and maintained strong ties to every
aspect of the state. This dissertation is chronologically
split between 5 chapters, each covering a separate five year
period of time from 1945 to 1971. These years bookend
the first era for the GDR, and go from its founding until the
first head of the SED, and head of the GDR, Walter Ulbricht
was removed from power in 1971. This period highlights
the developmental era for the GDR, and its emergence as
a stable political state. For DEFA this period covers its
foundation through its most difficult moment in 1965, in
which the leadership of the SED banned all 12 films produced by DEFA that year, and its years of renewed
stability thereafter. The use of a specific political era to
define the chorological boundaries for this dissertation
allows for a deeper comparative view, in which each
chapter covers the developments of film policy by the SED,
then looks as how filmmakers at DEFA who were SED members interpreted the policy, and then covers an exemplar film from that specific period. When taken in
combination the dissertation tells three distinct, but directly
related stories, that of the development of film policy by
the SED, the struggles of filmmakers to interpret and implement policy at their studio, and the shifts in filmmaking
and ideology in film. For the time being this dissertation
will be embargoed, however it you would like to contact
me about my research, or the contents of this dissertation
you can do so at




Degree Type

  • Dissertation


  • History

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Donna Harsch Stephen Brockmann