Documentary Film "Leipzig im Herbst"
Documentary film – GDR, 1989, b/w, 53 min.
Directed by: Andreas Voigt, Gerd Kroske
Produced by: the DEFA Studio for Documentary
FilmsScreenplay: Andreas Voigt, Gerd Kroske
Cameraman: Sebastian Richter
VIDEO LINK (5:22 min) Trailer, Andreas-Voigt-Film.de
The events in Leipzig from 16 October to 7 November 1989 Demonstrations and discussions between 16 October and 7 November 1989 in Leipzig. Interviews with participants in the mass demonstrations, conversations with the refuse collectors who have to remove the banners and placards – and then admit that they sympathise with the demands written on them. Recordings of discussions between business colleagues which reflect the thoughts and emotions characterising the initial phase of the social upheaval. Representatives of the Neues Forum, theologians, policemen, their superiors and state officials provide their own assessment of the situation. Following their release from arrest, demonstrators reveal the stables where they were penned up together with umpteen others and had to stand waiting on bare concrete floors for twenty hours or more. A young conscript, deployed to assist the police, admits, “I was so terribly ashamed about allowing my presence to be used to support the flawed policies they are pursuing here … about defending these policies as a policeman although it went against my instincts.”
Fewer than a dozen DEFA documentary film-makers tucked their cameras under their arms and collected material on the decisive final days of the GDR. As a result, Voigt, Kroske and Richter have provided their compilation with the appropriate subtitle of “Ein Material”. This is the first and, to date, probably the most comprehensive documentary account of the events surrounding 9 October. The film crew remains close to the action – after all, their film might have helped bring about social change. But they were to be overtaken by events. The film was shown at the documentary film festival in Leipzig in 1989 as a first retrospective. The images have retained their immediacy to the present day, and their authenticity and reliability is such that they should be shown again and again, whenever the ‘people’s will’ is submerged under the rubble of recent decades.
Commendations / awards / festivals
1989 Leipzig International Festival of Documentary Film and Animation: Golden Dove (a symbolic prize awarded outside the competition); 1990 International Berlin Film Festival (Forum): Shelved Films Showcase; 2004 Recine International Archive Film Festival, Rio de Janeiro
The films of documentary-maker Andreas Voigt are characterised by their human quality. The director gathers together people’s stories, dreams and aspirations, finds pictorial metaphors for them, and makes sensitive enquiries into the fates of those involved. The director is a frequent visitor to Leipzig, where he made five documentaries between 1989 and 1997; these provide graphic depictions of the changes which the collapse of the GDR has brought about, both in terms of society and on an individual level.
Andreas Voigt was born in Eisleben on 25 August 1953. He spent his childhood and adolescence in Dessau. In 1972 he completed his schooling in Halle with the Abitur school-leaving examination, before enrolling as a physics student at the university in Krakow. He left the Polish university after a year, and attended seminars in economics and economic history at the School of Economics in Berlin, obtaining a degree and graduating in 1978.
Andreas Voigt worked at the DEFA Studio for Documentary Films from 1978 as a dramatic adviser and author. His first work as a director was for GDR children’s television, where he produced some live-action films for the ‘Sandman’ bedtime show. He also produced magazine contributions for the DEFA-Kinobox series, an entertainment and information cinema slot which succeeded ‘Wochenschau’.
In 1984, Andreas Voigt was selected to attend Potsdam-Babelsberg College of Film and Television, where he studied directing externally. His graduation film “Alfred” (1987), in which he interviews the 76-year-old communist Alfred Florstedt and gives an account of his life in a very subjective narrative style, won him the ‘Findling’ award for best documentary film, presented by the GDR Film Club.
After completing his studies, he worked as a director at the DEFA Studio for Documentary Films until its liquidation in 1991, when he turned freelance. In “Leipzig im Herbst” (1989), Andreas Voigt, together with co-director Gerd Kroske and cameraman Sebastian Richter, documents the final days of the GDR. Composed of interviews and images of the dramatic mass demonstrations in Leipzig, the film reproduces the atmosphere of the period and the sentiments of the people involved. Crucial moments in the collapse of the GDR are documented; people are swept along by the euphoria of events. The director returned to Leipzig several times, making the city the subject of five films in all. The Leipzig cycle continues with “Letztes Jahr – Titanic” (1990); this time, the picture is not quite so consistent – disenchantment is beginning to set in. The film crew selects real-life stories from people’s personal and everyday experiences; the events of recent history are welcomed with euphoria or accepted with resignation, people fall by the wayside or recognise ways in which they might benefit from rapid reunification. In “Glaube, Liebe, Hoffnung” (1994), Andreas Voigt spends a year in Leipzig from December 1992 to December 1993, shadowing a group of young people. He gives a voice to the violence and aggression, hopes and dreams, fears and agonies of the young East German generation, and contrasts the decay of the city with its shiny new image. The director is both empathetic and critical towards his protagonists. He does not claim to be making any sweeping statements about the radicalisation of society; instead, he merely observes and lets the documentary material speak for itself. The film resulted in a minor scandal: in it, the property tycoon Dr. Schneider was given an opportunity to explain the basic principles underlying his business ethics. He was then granted an injunction by Leipzig County Court, which prevented the film from being shown in its existing form. Failure to comply would result in the distributor being liable to pay a fine of DM 500,000. The film continued to be screened, however, with sections blacked out. The injunction was not lifted until after the fraudster had disappeared from the scene. The director returns to Leipzig in “Grosse Weite Welt” (1997) to catch up with his interviewees a few years down the line. What became of their earlier hopes and aspirations? The film takes stock, coalescing into a portrait of those who have felt let down to greater or lesser degrees, and who have settled into their new lives. They express a certain nostalgia, but the film crew doesn’t allow their work to descend into sentimentality.
The director also filmed in other regions during this period, but remained constant to the theme of very recent German history. In “Grenzland – Eine Reise” (1992), he glimpses into the lives of the German and Polish neighbours living on the Oder/Neisse border. In “Ostpreussenland” (1995), he explores another region where German, Polish and Russian history meet. Between 1997 and 2006, Andreas Voigt filmed several documentaries in the series “Fremde Kinder” for 3sat, including “David@New York” (2001) and “Der Musikant aus der Tatra” (2003). He has completed several commissions for television. In one of his most recent contributions, he travels along the vast Ob river through western Siberia.
In 2004, his long documentary entitled, “Invisible – Illegal In Europa” (2004) was shown at a large number of festivals and won the European DocuZone Award in Leipzig. The film tells of the hopes and dreams of five refugees living illegally in Europe. The film crew documents their quest for happiness, love and a homeland, as well as what befalls them along the way. Andreas Voigt dispenses with a commentary, allowing the images and interviews to speak for themselves. Deploying the resources of great narrative cinema, the director reduces the political problem of refugees to vital existential issues which connect us all.
His film work has taken Andreas Voigt to places including England and India; he has filmed in Nicaragua and South Africa, and travelled through Russia and the USA. From 1988 to 1990, he was a member of the board of the Association of Film and Television Workers of the GDR. From the mid-90s, he taught at Hamburg/Berlin Media Academy, as well as at Goethe Institutes in Germany, Syria and India.