© Filmmuseum Potsdam/Günter Linke
Kurt Tetzlaff was born in Tempelburg, Germany (now Czaplinek, Poland), in 1933. In the last days of WWII, his hometown was occupied by the Soviet Army; his family had to the leave and settled in Querfurt, in Saxony-Anhalt. Tetzlaff graduated from high school in 1952. He joined the DEFA Studio for Popular Science Film as an assistant dramaturg and scriptwriter, where he continued working while he studied directing from 1955 to 1960, at the Deutsche Hochschule für Filmkunst in Potsdam-Babelsberg (now Filmuniversität Babelsberg Konrad Wolf).
Tetzlaff’s debut as a director at the DEFA Studio for Documentary Film was Die erste Seite einer Chronik, which he made in 1961. This short documentary, about the challenges faced by coal miners in 1945, was his diploma film and was co-produced by the film academy. Over the course of the following three decades, until the DEFA Studios were closed in 1990, Tetzlaff directed over 50 DEFA documentaries. Many of his films were insightful portraits of East German workers and young people, caught up in the challenges of daily life as well as contemporary political and social events.
Throughout his career, Tetzlaff was a critical observer of the East German realities that he explores in his portraits. He faced censorship early on in his career. In 1964, his portrait of a petroleum-production youth brigade—Es genügt nicht 18 zu sein—was banned because it allegedly “disparaged the working class.” After he re-edited the film, a shorter version entitled Guten Tag, das sind wir was released in 1966.
Tetzlaff taught at the Deutsche Hochschule für Filmkunst from 1964 to 1969 and was a member of the Committee of the Leipzig International Festival for Documentary Film from 1973 to 1989. In the mid-1970s, his interest in workers and young people took him to the Soviet Union. He visited the Drushba (Friendship) gas pipeline in the Ukraine, an official project of the GDR and its youth organization, the FDJ. He produced two documentary reports on the harsh working conditions and personal struggles of the East German workers there: Begegnung an der Trasse and Alltag eines Abenteurers.
Tetzlaff also created insightful filmic portraits of German artists, which make up a significant part of the his remarkable oeuvre. These include films on graphic artist and sculptor Käthe Kollwitz (Seed Corn Should Not Be Ground) and playwright Bertolt Brecht (Die Pflaumenbäume sind wohl abgehauen, …und sie bewegt sich doch). His powerful film on the American actor, singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson, I’m a Negro, I’m an American, is the only existing full-length documentary on the artist; co-produced with West Germany, the film sparked great interest when it premiered at the Leipzig International Festival for Documentary Film in 1989.
Three of Tetzlaff’s major full-length documentaries discussing contemporary events in the GDR stand out as distinctive contributions to East German documentary history. In preparation for his 1983 production Erinnerung an eine Landschaft - für Manuela, he spent three years observing the destruction of villages and landscapes in the path of mining projects; the film explores politically sensitive environmental issues pertaining to the loss of home and the ravaging of nature in the name of progress and prosperity. The last two films he produced at the DEFA Studios—Im Durchgang - Protokoll für das Gedächtnis and Im Übergang - Protokoll einer Hoffnung—offer a unique chronicle of the tumultuous changes that took place in East Germany in 1989 and ‘90. Over a year, Tetzlaff followed a young high-school graduate, the son of a pastor and other young people who were part of the alternative political scene. His extended observation and shooting give insight into the feelings of young people during the last days of the GDR and the radical changes that followed; before the camera, young people share their hopes and dreams of revolution… which ultimately end in resignation.
Tetzlaff ventured into other areas of filmmaking as well. Always interested in puppet animation, in 1964 he wrote and directed a children’s puppet film about a boy who does not want to learn, Das Märchen vom Jens und dem Kasper; based on a film story by Heiner Carow (Icarus, The Legend of Paul and Paula), this film was shown at the Cannes International Youth Festival. He also collaborated—writing the scenario and co-authoring the script—with Kurt Weiler, one of Germany’s master of animation, on two films: a puppet animation trilogy on the history of the influence and power of money, Nörgel & Söhne (Nörgel & Sons, 1967-69); and Das Geschenk – eine beinliche Geschichte (The Present, 1974), about the manipulation of young people. In 1974, Tetzlaff directed his only fiction feature film, Looping, the story of a carefree 30-year-old worker whose life changes when one of his co-workers is killed in a carbide furnace explosion and he is blamed for the accident.
Kurt Teztlaff was one of the few East German directors who was able to continue working after the fall of the Wall in 1989. Among other films, he directed a TV documentary about the 1956 Hungarian uprising, Am Rande eines Krieges – der ungarische Aufstand 1956.
|2016||Die Verantwortung; Es genügt nicht 18 zu sein; Guten Tag – das sind wir. Screened in series Deutschland 1966: Filmische Perspektiven in Ost und West, Berlin International Film Festival|
|1994||Die Garnisonkirche - Protokoll einer Zerstörung. Prize of Journalists, National Committee for the Protection of Monuments|
|1990||Im Durchgang - Protokoll für das Gedächtnis. Youth Jury Prize and Swiss Television Prize, Visions du Réel, Nyon, Switzerland|
|1971||Wer, wenn nicht wir. Golden Dove, Leipzig International Festival for Documentary and Short Film|
|1967||Saatfrüchte sollen nicht vermahlen werden. Special Award of the International Women’s Federation, Leipzig International Festival for Documentary and Short Film|
|1966||Das Märchen vom Jens und dem Kasper. Cannes International Youth Festival|
|1961||Die erste Seite einer Chronik. Bronze Medal, Helsinki Student Film Festival, Finland|
|1999||Leben in Haidemühl – Schulgeschichten (School Stories: Life in Haidemühl)|
|1996||Am Rande eines Krieges – der ungarische Aufstand 1956 (On the Brink of War: The Hungarian Uprising, 1956, TV)|
|1995||Bis die Russen kamen – Kiegsende in Mitteldeutschland (Until the Russians Came – End of War in Central Germany)|
|1994||Anmerkungen zur DDR-Kunst (Remarks on GDR Art)|
|1994||Der lange Abschied von Chemnitz (The Long Farewell from Chemnitz)|
|1993||Leben im besetzten Haus (Life in the Occupied House)|
|1992||Entdeckungen im Havelland (Discoveries in Havelland)|
|1992||Die Garnisionskirche – Protokoll einer Zerstörung (The Garrison Church: Report on a Demolition)|
|1991||Im Übergang – Protokoll einer Hoffnung (In Transition: Report on a Hope)|
|1990||Im Durchgang – Protokoll für das Gedächtnis (In Transit: Report for Posterity)|
|1986||I’m a Negro, I’m an American|
|1986||Im Jahr 1932 – der rote Kandidat (In 1932: The Red Candidate)|
|1983||Erinnerung an eine Landschaft - für Manuela (Memories of a Landscape – For Manuela)|
|1980||Die Kinder Palästinas (The Children of Palestine)|
|1980||Die drei anderen Jahrzehnte (The Three Other Centuries)|
|1978||Die Pflaumenbäume sind wohl abgehauen (The Plum Trees Have Surely Been Cut Down)|
|1978||…und sie bewegt sich doch (And Yet It Moves)|
|1976||Begegnung an der Trasse (Encounter on the Pipeline)|
|1976||Alltag eines Abenteurers (The Daily Life of an Adventurer)|
|1975||Theaterarbeit (Theater Work: The Berliner Ensemble at 25)|
|1974||Looping (feature film)|
|1973||Auf bald in Berlin (See You Soon in Berlin)|
|1971||Wer, wenn nicht wir (Who, If Not Us)|
|1969||Paule – Porträt eines Jungen (Paule – Portrait of a Boy)|
|1968||Die Störche bleiben in Buchara (The Storks Will Stay in Buchara)|
|1968||DDR Magazin 1968/40: Brecht Dialog 1968 (Brecht Dialog 1968)|
|1967||Saatfrüchte sollen nicht vermahlen werden (Seed Corn Should Not Be Ground)|
|1966||Die Verantwortung (The Responsibility)|
|1964||Das Märchen vom Jens und dem Kasper (The Tale of Jens and Punch, puppet animation)|
|1964||Guten Tag – das sind wir (Hello, This Is Us)|
|1964||Es genügt nicht 18 zu sein (Being 18 Is Not Enough)|
|1963||Im Januar 1963 (In January 1963)|
|1961||Die erste Seite einer Chronik (The First Page of a Chronicle)|