© Sandra Buschow (www.sanstories.com)
Helke Misselwitz’s fascinating work serves as a chronicle of the final years, the collapse, and the aftermath of the German Democratic Republic. She documented the social and political changes of a country that doesn’t exist anymore. Her documentary and fiction films display a rare warmth and care for whoever appears in front of the camera, they are humanist essays about life and love while, at the same time, they speak about urgent issues such as the presence of borders, racism, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the inequality of women under the socialist regime, the search for a national identity or the difficulties of the working class. She touchingly captures the smallness of humans confronting life as well as history and thus reveals their greatness.
Helke Misselwitz is one of Germany’s most important documentary filmmakers. She was born on July 18, 1947, in Zwickau, a former city of the German Democratic Republic.
After finishing high school, she first trained as a carpenter and physiotherapist, and then worked on East German television for almost a decade, first as an assistant director and then as a director.
Between 1978 and 1982, she studied directing at the Film and Television Academy in Potsdam-Babelsberg. Misselwitz's request to be admitted to the DEFA feature film studio was rejected, so she spent some time filming short essay documentaries for the DEFA documentary film studio. In them, she mostly explored the boundaries between dreams and the reality of life in the then German Democratic Republic (GDR).
In 1985, director Heiner Carow accepted her for a master's degree at the East German Academy of Arts. During this time, Misselwitz completed the documentary film "Winter adé" (Goodbye, winter, 1988), about the various life destinies of women in the GDR, from ninety-year-old women to teenage punk rebels. With this film, Misselwitz began a long-term collaboration with cinematographer Thomas Plenert. Despite the fact that the "official" criticism of the aforementioned film was dismissive due to its relentlessness towards the socio-political system of the time, it was a great success with both critics and viewers and received the Silver Pigeon award at the Leipzig Documentary and Animated Film Festival. This documentary marked the continuation of her interest in portraying women, which she committed to at the beginning of her creative journey.
Between 1988 and 1999, Misselwitz was employed as a director at the DEFA studio, where she realized various projects and shot a series of intimate and insightful portraits of the inhabitants of the then already collapsing country. Her best-known works from this period are "Who's Afraid of the Bogeyman", which tells the story of a company in Berlin led by a woman who trades in coal, and "Bulky Trash" about punk musicians, which use waste and old scrap material for instruments.
After the reunification of the two Germanys, Misselwitz became unemployed when the DEFA studio was closed and together with producer Thomas Wilkening founded a film production company, which was also one of the first private film production companies in the GDR. In 1992, she directed her first feature film, "Herzsprung", and in 1996, "Little Angel". She continued to shoot documentaries, including the film "My love, your love" about aging artists who take the stage for the last time, and portrayed various places, persecution from history. Helke Misselwitz was professor of directing at the Filmuniversität Babelsberg between 1997 and 2014 and is a member of the Academy of Film Arts. In 2016, she received an honorary award from the German film critics. She lives in Berlin and near Rheinsberg.
© Thomas Plenert
2021: Die Frau des Dichters (The Poet's Wife)
2004: Quartier der Illusionen (District of Illusions)
2000/2001: Fremde Oder
1995/1996: Engelchen (Little Angel)
1995/1996: Meine Liebe, Deine Liebe (My Love, Your Love)
1995: Leben - Ein Traum (Life: A Dream)
1995: Träume (Dreams)
1989-1991: Sperrmüll (Bulky Trash)
1987/1988: Winter adé (After Winter Comes Spring)
1983/1988: Marx-Familie (The Marx Family)
1985: Tango-Traum (Tango Dream)
1984/1985: 35 Fotos (35 Photos)
1984: Stilleben - Eine Reise zu den Dingen (Still Life - A Journey to Things)
1982: Die fidele Bäckerin