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‘Seeing’ India through GDR Newsreels  : An exploration of DEFA productions at the Progress Archive, Berlin

In autumn 2018, while preparing a doctoral project proposal on relations between Germany and pre-independence India in the field of film production, a systematic online-research on potential archives and collections led me to the Progress Archive in Berlin. This is one of Germany’s most exhaustive film archives, which also incorporates DEFA (Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft) produced films from the German Democratic Republic in its collections. I was curious to find out if there were any entries related to India in the archive’s online database. To my fascination, enter-ing simple-search terms such like “Indien” or “indisch” lead, besides other information, to an un-expectedly large number of entries. Noteworthy among these were entries on Der Augenzeuge, newsreels that were produced in the GDR. Between 1946 and 1980, DEFA produced about 2000 newsreels, 154 of which contain reports on India. Screened before the main feature films in cinemas, Der Augenzeuge newsreels were part of the cinema programme and were meant to inform audiences about current affairs around the globe. This unique and hitherto largely unexplored material has eventually become the central focus of my ongoing PhD project.

This article zooms into the main features of the DEFA newsreel productions related to India. The first section introduces the different kinds of images of India in GDR’s newsreel films. It is based on certain recurring themes that may be instructive in categorizing and analyzing GDR newsreel films on India. The second section deals with the nature of the collections and the location of newsreels within the organizing structure of the Progress Film Archive as the official archive of DEFA productions. The last section discusses the significance of these sources for scholarship on the Cultural Cold War. In a digital world saturated with historical and contemporary material on past events, this understudied archive may provide insights into pasts, which are very much part of our present.



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