Founding of DEFA
On 25 September 1944, German emigrants met in Moscow regarding the creation of a new, antifascist culture in the liberated Germany and the founding of a working group for ideological and cultural affairs within the KPD (Communist Party Germany) in January 1945.
After this meeting, the Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD) – the highest authority in the Soviet zone (SBZ) as of 9 June 1945 – sought to establish new film production, in consultation with the German Central Administration.
Two events marked this effort: the meeting of filmmakers, writers and cultural officers at the Hotel Adlon, in Berlin on 22 November 1945, under the leadership of the Department for Literature and Art of the Central Administration for Education, and the celebration of the founding of DEFA, which included the granting of the license for film production by SMAD at the great hall of the Althoff atelier in Potsdam-Babelsberg on 17 May 1946.
Adolf Fischer suggested the idea for DEFA logo, which was then designed by the actor Hans Klering. The logo showed two stylized film frames, a white one on the left with the letters ‘DE’ in black and a black frame with the letters ‘FA’ in white on the right. Each frame had three perforation holes in the upper and lower part instead of the regular four one. This logo branded East German filmmaking nationally and internationally, until the privatization of the studios.
Management Structures of the DEFA
As of 17 May 1946, a team – called a Filmaktiv – advised by representatives of the SMAD administered DEFA film production. On 21 July 1947 LINSA – a Soviet joint-stock company that hold all film assets in the Soviet zone and Austria – was established in Potsdam-Babelsberg, and, on 11 November 1947, DEFA was turned into a German-Soviet joint-stock company with its headquarter in Potsdam-Babelsberg. With the founding of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) on 7 October 1949 began a series of handovers, including the return of the studios in Potsdam-Babelsberg and Berlin-Johannestal in July 1950.
In response to a proposal by the Politburo of the SED (Socialist Unity Party), a State Committee for Film Affairs (Staatliches Komitee für Filmwesen) was founded on 7 August 1952 and was put in charge of planning, permissions and organization of film production.
On 31 December 1952, the German Film Concern with limited liability, which owned the entirety of DEFA film production, was dissolved. The first independent publicly-owned companies were established on January 1, 1953. All film studios were assigned to these companies, which were controlled by the Public Committee for Film Affairs. On 7 January 1954, the operation of the Committee was taken over by the General Administration for Film, a department of the new Ministry of Culture.
Because of a restructuring of the Ministry of Culture on 1 July 1958, the General Administration for Film was dissolved and replaced by the VVB Film (Union of Publicly-Owned Companies for Film), which was to pay closer attention to the ideological-artistic and economic management of the film industry.
In 1959-60, an increased focus on "democratic centralism" led to the creation of artistic work groups (Künstlerische Arbeitsgruppen - KAG), which increased the independence and responsibility of the studios. As of 1 August 1962, the General Administration for Film at the Ministry of Culture again took over supervision of film production, until it was liquidated on 15 March 1990.
DEFA Production Centers
The following productions centers were incorporated into the publicly-owned DEFA Studios as of January 1, 1953:
- VEB (publicly-owned company) DEFA Studio for Feature Films (including the VEB DEFA Studio for Children's Film)
- VEB DEFA Studio for Newsreels and Documentary Films (the Studio for Popular Science Films and the DEFA Studio for Short Films were incorporated as of 1969)
- VEB DEFA Studio for Popular Science Films
- VEB DEFA Studio for Animation Film (as of 1955)
- DEFA Group Sixty Seven (as of 1967)
- Studio H & S (as of 1968)
The last two production groups emerged from the DEFA Studio for Newsreels and Documentary Film, into which they were reintegrated in 1983.
The DEFA Studios also included:
- VEB DEFA Dubbing Studio
- VEB DEFA Film Laboratories, Berlin-Johannisthal and Berlin-Köpenick
- VEB DEFA Film Technical Services
Legal Position of DEFA Films
The VEB DEFA Studios hold the rights – including the rights of all legal predecessors and assigned production groups – to their film productions and all non-published and outtake materials. The national exploitation rights were granted to a national distributor, while the international exploitation rights were granted to the VEB DEFA International Film Trading Company.
National Distribution of DEFA Films
Nikolai Bersarin, the Soviet Commander of the Soviet-occupied zone of Berlin, authorized the opening of theaters and cinemas on 28 April 1945, but the Sojusintorgkino took over film distribution the next month. At first, subtitled versions of Soviet films were shown, but since the release of the documentary BERLIN on 20 July 1945, more and more dubbed films were screened.
DEFA Film Distribution was in charge of all DEFA premieres as of 1 November 1948. Parallel to this, Sovexport Film Ltd. programmed foreign and old German films.
Progress Film Distribution Ltd., with Sovexport Film as it’s a shareholder, took over the distribution of national and international film productions within Germany as of 1 August 1950. On 30 June 1955, Sovexport stepped back as a shareholder and the publicly-owned company VEB Progress Film Distribution was founded on 1 July 1955. On 1 January 1974, it became a state-owned cultural institution and changed its name to Progress Film Distribution.
The State Offices for Film, initially affiliated with the central VEB Progress Film Distribution, were turned into publicly-owned Cinema Companies under the supervision of the State Councils for Culture on January 1, 1963. This arrangement lasted until German unification.
International Distribution of DEFA Films
In 1945, the Soviet distributor Sojusintorgkino was primarily responsible for the sale of old German films to Western countries. Sovexport Film Ltd. took over additional tasks in January 1, 1946. A new international distribution company, the DEFA Film Acquisition and International Trading Company was founded on 1 October 1950; on 1 January 1953, its name changed to VEB DEFA International Film Trading Company, Berlin.
Progress Film Distribution Ltd. was given the international film exploitation rights in 1990, when VEB DEFA International Film Trading Company began to be liquidated.
Preservation of DEFA Film Stocks
On 1 October 1955, the State Film Archive (Staatliche Filmarchiv) of the GDR was founded. This archive was responsible for preserving film stock which the USSR had turned over the East German government in 1954, as well as the collection, preservation and cultivation of national film productions for future use. Black and white films were stored in special bunkers as of 1966 and color films acquired storage bunkers in 1981. The Film Archive laboratory took care of necessary restoration of film materials. In April 1979, the Ministry of Culture set up a system to regulate the evaluation and archiving of prints from the film distribution and production branches by the State Film Archive.
Günter Schulz, Berlin 2002