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.