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    Leipzig DOKfestival 50th Anniversary Books 2007

    By Ron Holloway | August 25, 2008

    The Leipzig International Festival of Documentary and Animation Films celebrated its 50th anniversary with two highly recommended books on both its topsy-turvy history and yet lasting reputation as surely the most important documentary event on the festival calendar. Herewith short reviews on these key anniversary books on DOKfestival Leipzig by Ralf Schenk and Heidi Martini.

    Often, during the thirty and more years when we attended the DOKfestival, this unique opportunity for a reunion with old and new friends marked the end of the festival season in a city that came to epitomize the sociopolitical differences between East and West Europe during the Cold War. But DOK Leipzig, even in its troubled years, always stood for creative discovery and the renewal of the documentary as a vibrant force for an elusive détente, for better relations among peoples, and for the idealistic dream of a lasting peace among nations. Indeed, if nothing else, that ever-present Picasso dove gracing the festival poster over five decades symbolized dialogue among friends.

    Ralf Schenk, Editor, Bilder einer gespaltenen Welt: 50 Jahre Dokumentar- und Animationsfilmfestival Leipzig (Images of a Divided World: 50 Years of the Leipzig Documentary and Animation Film Festival), Berlin: Bertz + Fischer Verlag, 2007, 268 pp, numerous photos. Introduction – Bilder eines Festivals – by current DOKfestival director Claas Danielsen. Essays by several critics and historians – Otto Adler, Fred Gehler, Grit Lemke, Heidi Martini, Monica Mauer, Christiane Mückenberger, Wilhelm Roth, Tamara Trampe, Margit Voss, Barbara Wurm, and others – who had accompanied the festival over the years. This official edition serves as a running chronicle, beginning in 1955 as an East/West German event, then the up-and-down years between 1960 and 1989, and finally the changes in the festival mandate after the Wende in 1990. Some legendary names appear in the chronicle: Dziga Vertov, Joris Ivens, Karl Gass, John Grierson, Robert Flaherty, Ricky Leacock, Emile de Antonio, Alberto Cavalcanti, Chris Marker, Herz Frank, Santiago Alvarez, Roman Karmen, Jerzy Bossak, Mikhail Romm, Patricio Guzman, Volker Koepp, Jürgen Böttcher, Barbara and Winfried Junge, and many others.

    Heidi Martini, Dokumentarfilm-Festival Leipzig: Filme und Politik im Blick und Gegenblick (Documentary Film Festival Leipzig: Films and Politics Viewed from Both Sides), Berlin: DEFA-Stiftung, 2007, 686 pp, footnotes, bibliography, appendices. This well documented history of the Leipzig DOKfestival underscores how important this festival was, and is, as an indispensable source for research scholars. Martini opens her study with a discussion on the nature of the documentary and its place in the cultural system and appreciation of the film medium in the German Democratic Republic. Some chapters offer insights into GDR political thinking – like how the 1956 Hungarian uprising, which occurred during the week of the DOKfestival, prompted a three-year caesura in its history. Another chapter that takes the pulse of the times is the story of the 30th jubilee festival in 1987 – shortly afterwards, Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika presaged the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989. Exciting reading, particularly for those, like ourselves, who lived those memorable earthquake years.

    – Ron and Dorothea Holloway

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