Reyazul Haque


Movements and Concepts: Production of Images of India in GDR Newsreels


This project looks into news­reels (Der Augen­zeu­gen) focus­ing on India which were pro­duced by Deutsche Film-Aktienge­sellschaft (DeFA) in the Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic between 1946 and 1980. In post-war East Ger­many, and lat­er in the Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic (GDR), India occu­pied a cru­cial and inter­est­ing place in these cin­e­mat­ic pro­duc­tions that pro­duced spe­cif­ic types of images of India. These news­reels were screened in cin­e­ma hous­es before and dur­ing inter­ludes of main fea­ture films.

This project seeks to study and ana­lyze the aes­thet­ics, con­tent, and cul­tur­al-polit­i­cal argu­ments of the news­reels, along­side its pro­duc­tion process­es. By study­ing these aspects, the project seeks to out­line the his­to­ry of Indo-GDR entan­gle­ments in this spe­cif­ic area, as well as to dis­cuss the nature and under­stand­ing of “entan­gle­ment” in the con­text of news­reel pro­duc­tions.

Along with the prob­lem­at­ics of entan­gle­ments, this work seeks to dis­cuss and bring forth the issue of ‘move­ments’ and ‘con­cepts’: it will see how ‘move­ment’ played a role in cin­e­mat­ic aes­thet­ics dur­ing cold war times, when mov­ing objects, the move­ment of peo­ple from one coun­try to anoth­er, modes of trans­porta­tions, mobi­liza­tion, etc., were con­strued as sym­bols of mod­ernism and devel­op­ment. This work will ask how the move­ment of cin­e­mat­ic mate­ri­als (shots/footages/productions) con­tributed and chal­lenged nation­al bor­ders in a seg­ment­ed world. Fol­low­ing Sigrun Lehnert’s idea of the news­reel as an agent of his­to­ry, the project will also explore the cir­cu­la­tion or exchange of cer­tain ideas. Con­cepts such as “impe­ri­al­ism”, “devel­op­ment”, and “third world” were cru­cial in these pro­duc­tions that cre­at­ed and dis­sem­i­nat­ed a par­tic­u­lar nar­ra­tive of his­to­ry. They were deployed to craft a cer­tain sense of the his­to­ry that was being formed. While look­ing into this mate­r­i­al, I will inves­ti­gate: what were the con­tem­po­rary dynam­ics and prob­lem­at­ics behind the use of such con­cepts? How were the images (still or mov­ing) being used and what kind of evi­dence did they cre­ate?

Empir­i­cal­ly, this project con­tributes to the study of cul­tur­al pol­i­tics of the GDR with regard to India.  Con­struct­ed images of India that were medi­at­ed through con­tem­po­rary geo-polit­i­cal dynam­ics served var­i­ous pur­pos­es, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to transna­tion­al state rela­tions. There­fore the news­reels form part of a larg­er process of entan­gle­ment between states. How­ev­er, the pro­duc­tion process of news­reels also relates entan­gle­ments that go beyond states and nation­al and/or polit­i­cal bound­aries.  News­reels were pro­duced through film mate­r­i­al acquired through var­i­ous nation­al or inter­na­tion­al sources, and craft­ed in a way to por­tray the spe­cif­ic his­tor­i­cal moment and per­spec­tive of the coun­try (GDR) dur­ing the cold war. There­fore this study explores how news­reels com­pli­cate the ques­tion of entan­gle­ment, as there were many transna­tion­al and local actors play­ing cru­cial roles, and these actors had very lim­it­ed con­trol over the final prod­uct. The study of news­reels pro­vides an oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­en­tan­gle and ques­tion the con­cept of entan­gle­ment, inso­far as its under­stand­ing could go beyond nation­al and/or bi-lat­er­al rela­tions.

The research is based on Ger­man film archives and col­lec­tions and includes, but is not lim­it­ed to, the Progress Films Archive and the Bun­de­sarchiv in Berlin, where the news­reels and oth­er pro­duc­tion mate­ri­als are housed. I will lim­it myself to those GDR news­reels (more than 100 in num­ber) that direct­ly deal with India as a top­ic, but I will also look into oth­er news­reels from the GDR as well as from West Ger­many for gen­er­al con­text and com­par­i­son. The research draws on dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines and uses approach­es from cin­e­ma stud­ies, his­to­ry, art his­to­ry and media stud­ies.