This fall, SUNY Cortland will host as a guest speaker renowned author Julia Scheeres, and will screen five thought-provoking, Eastern European films, as part of the College’s yearlong series on the theme of “Re-Education.”
Organized by the College’s Cultural and Intellectual Climate Committee (CICC) and supported by the Project on Eastern and Central Europe, the lecture and films that begin on Sept. 23 are free and open to the public. All movies will be shown at 7 p.m. on Thursdays in Sperry Center, Room 305. Before each film, Assistant Professor of History Scott Moranda will introduce the historical context of that night’s film.
“The films offer an intriguing window, 20 years later, into the everyday life of the German Democratic Republic between 1945 and 1990,” observes Moranda, who chairs the CICC.
“This series will explore this year’s intellectual theme of ‘Re-education’ by bringing attention to how East German filmmakers sought, in some cases, to re-educate the public in a Marxist worldview,” he noted. “At the same time, socialist dictatorships were not static. They often altered their vision of ‘re-education,’ and many of these films attempted to re-imagine socialism with a ‘more human face’ even if they usually suffered censorship for their efforts.”
The film series starts on Sept. 23 with “The Sun Seekers,” about the labor conditions and political intrigue at Europe’s most significant postwar uranium mines. Produced in 1958 and again in 1972, Konrad Wolf’s documentary chronicles events encouraged by the "thaw" promised by the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. The film presents a highly dramatic and differentiated view of the Nazi past, Stalinist political practices and the energetic chaos of the early postwar period. “Sun Seekers” was banned in 1958 at the urging of the USSR.
“The Silent Star,” the first science fiction film made in East Germany, will be screened on Oct. 21. Based on Stanislaw Lem’s 1951 science fiction novel, The Astronauts, this 1960 drama tells the story of an international expedition sent to Venus in 1970 to uncover the mystery of a reel of unknown material found in the Gobi desert in 1908. The film team understood its production as a warning against atomic war as well as a parable about international communication.
Author Julia Scheeres will share her unconventional thoughts on a shattering moment in history during a talk titled, “Jonestown: the Untold Story,” at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 26, in Old Main Brown Auditorium.
A frequent reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, Sheeres is currently working on a book about the Jonestown mass murder-suicides. Her discussion will focus on her research of this event.
Sheeres is the author of the New York Times bestseller Jesus Land, a memoir about her relationship with her adopted black brother, David. The book explores their childhood in a small Indiana town and their stint, as teens, at a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic. It also examines the themes of race, fundamentalist religion and the sustaining bond of sibling love.
Sheeres lives in Berkeley, Calif., with her husband and two daughters. She works at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.
The film series continues on Nov. 4 with the 1965 drama, “Carla.” In it, a young teacher goes against the routine opportunism of her hypocritical and small-minded surroundings. She tries to encourage open discussions about taboo topics, attempting to break down suspicion and cynicism. Along with a dozen other East German films, “Carla” fell prey to a ban in 1965-66.
The 1973 film, “Apaches,” will be shown on Nov. 18. Based on original documents and set at the beginning of the Mexican-American War (1846-48), "Apaches" is one of 14 highly popular “Indianerfilme” produced in East Germany between 1966 and 1985. In portraying the relationship between American corporations, the growth of capitalism, and the encroachment on Native American territory, this film presents a critique of what East German authorities labeled “Western Imperialism.”
The "Legend of Paul and Paula,” still the most popular East German film, will be screened on Dec. 2. This 1972 classic struck a chord with its portrayal of everyday life in East Berlin in this love story between a passionate single mother and a complacent, married bureaucrat. Featuring the music of the East German cult rock band, the Puhdys, The Legend of Paul and Paula remains a cult favorite today.
Additional support for the “Re-education” series is provided by the Clark Center for International Education, the Campus Artist and Lecture Series, the Auxiliary Services Corporation and the Cultural and Intellectual Climate Committee.
For more information about the film series, contact Scott Moranda at (607) 753-2052 or Distinguished Service Professor Henry Steck at (607) 753-4807. For more information about Sheeres’ lecture, contact NeoVox Project Director Lorraine Berry at (607) 200-4122.