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  • Fantasie und Arbeit: Biografische Zwiesprache
  • Ingeborg Majer O'Sickey
Iris Gusner and Helke Sander. Fantasie und Arbeit: Biografische Zwiesprache. Marburg: Schüren, 2009. 291 pp. € 19.90. ISBN 978-3-89472-692-8.

This story by two feminist filmmakers is an unusual - even, radical - experiment. It is to my knowledge the first "dialogic biography" of its kind in memoir-writing history. In its pages, the former DEFA director Iris Gusner and the West German filmmaker Helke Sander, now both in their mature years, look back upon the beginnings of their professional journeys with clear-eyed honesty. The dialogic narrative embeds Gusner's and Sander's personal and professional struggles within the sociopolitical upheavals of the turbulent 1960s and 70s and charts their diverging reception of the unification of Germany. In this sense, the book takes the social revolutions in the 1960 and 1970s and the Wende as "turning points" and uses them as platforms from which to compare life stories from a feminist perspective. Contrary to many post-Wende memoirs, the book eschews sentimental Wendeschmerz and manages to avoid simplistic us/them, here/ there, winner/loser, good/bad binaries.

The idea for the project came from Gusner. She explains her motive for working through this history by pointing to the younger generation's ignorance about the former GDR ("als ich bemerkte, wie wenig meine heranswachsenden Enkelkinder über die Zeit vor der Wende wissen und dass die so plötzlich verschwundende DDR ihnen so fern ist wie die Napoleonischen Kriege und ungefähr genauso interessant"; 9). In Sander she found a colleague from the West who was willing to coreflect upon how FRG and GDR history was mirrored in their professional and personal history. The dialogic memoir represents both authors' intentions to critically illuminate the period that shaped them and that they, in turn, helped shape. From this perspective, the project can be seen as an attempt to close the distance between East and West German filmmakers, to break through the existing Berührungstabu in the film industry between East and West (to borrow the 1991 diagnostic term Margarete Mitscherlich and Brigitte Burmeister used to designate fear of East-West contact).

Gusner was born in 1941 in Trautenau (today Trutnov, in the Czech Republic) and grew up in Leipzig. While a student of film direction at the film school in Moscow (1960-1967) she had two daughters, whom she raised as a single parent. Once she returned to the GDR, she worked as an assistant to director Konrad Wolf and began a unique career as a film director in DEFA, a position she held as the lone woman until the late 1970s. Her film 1972 Die Taube auf dem Dach - lost for decades but then found and shown in a restored version in 2010 at the Arsenal in Berlin - was forbidden because, as DEFA bosses alleged, it distorted GDR workers' lives and portrayed its citizens unrealistically as perpetually living in crisis (159). Despite this censure, Gusner forged a successful film career in the GDR, with her 1980 docudrama, Alle meine Mädchen; her 1981 Wäre die Erde nicht rund; the 1984 Kaskade rückwärts, and the 1988 Ich liebe Dich - April! April! Throughout her career, she felt official resistance against her portrayals of GDR reality. Nevertheless, as she herself emphasizes, her position as a filmmaker was not nearly as compromised as that of some of her colleagues. While Wäre die Erde nicht rund had a limited distribution in GDR's Kunstfilmtheater, Alle meine Mädchen opened the first Nationale Spielfilmfestival in the GDR, in Karl-Marx-Stadt (1980). And even though Ich liebe Dich - April! April! passed the censors, its original February premiere was postponed until the summer, when fewer people went to the cinema - the authors recall that the film minister complained that GDR mentality was different from that portrayed by film's star, Jan Novicki" (264). In August 1989, the Film Ministry gave Gusner [End Page 689] permission to visit West Germany. After her initial residence in Cologne she moved to Berlin, where she lives today.

Sander was born 1937 in Berlin. While attending acting school, she married the Finnish writer Markku Lahtela, gave...


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