© Photo: Hiltrud Schulz
Rainer Simon was born in Hainchen, Germany, on January 11, 1941. From 1961 to 1964, he studied directing at the Deutsche Hochschule für Filmkunst (now Filmuniversität Babelsberg Konrad Wolf) in Potsdam-Babelsberg.
Simon’s debut film was a short children’s production Peterle und die Weihnachtsgans Auguste, based on a short story by Friedrich Wolf. In the following years, he worked as an assistant director to Ralf Kirsten (Der verlorene Engel) and Konrad Wolf (Ich war neunzehn). He was then allowed to work on his first full-length film, Wie heiratet man einen König, an adaption of a Brothers’ Grimm fairy tale, and to film a semi-documentary film about an international youth camp in the Brandenburg region, Freunde am Werbellinsee.
His 1981 film Jadup und Boel, which was censored and then banned in the GDR, not to be released until 1988, was one of Simon’s most important films. Once it was finally available, the story—about a mayor who suppressed his post-WWII memories for three decades—played to great acclaim at international festivals, including the 1989 Moscow International Film Festival.
Simon’s career took off thanks to his major historical feature films: Till Eulenspiegel, based on a film script by Christa and Gerhard Wolf; Das Luftschiff, the first full-length East German experimental film, set at the turn of the 20th century; and the post-WWI love story, Die Frau und der Fremde, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. His biopic about Alexander von Humboldt, Die Besteigung des Chimborazo, is an East-West German co-production that he shot in the late 1980s.
After the Wall came down in 1989, Simon directed Der Fall Ö, based on Franz Fühmann’s adaptation of the ancient Oedipus legend and filmed in Greece. Ever since Michel Tournier’s novel Le roi des aulnes (1970) was published in East Germany in 1983, Simon had worked on its film adaptation. After 1989, he again turned to the adaptation, but his proposal was rejected—apparently because East German directors were considered unbankable in unified Germany.
During his work on the Humboldt film in Ecuador, Simon became fascinated with the region. Since then, he divides his time between Germany and Ecuador. His films have focused on the life and culture of the indigenous people of Ecuador. He has taught workshops for young filmmakers and made three short documentaries set in Latin America.
Rainer Simon was a guest professor at the Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen in Potsdam-Babelsberg in the 1990s. He also became known as a photographer and presented his Latin American photographs in three touring exhibitions: Life with Mother Earth (Amherst, Berlin, Dresden, Potsdam, Quito and Sofia); Fiesta in Sarayacu (Dessau, Dresden and Potsdam) and Hinter die Bilder schauen (Hainichen, Potsdam).
Simon has written several books, including a 2005 autobiography Fernes Land. Die DDR, die DEFA und der Ruf des Chimborazo (Distant Country: The GDR, DEFA and the Call of Chimborazo) and an autobiographical novel Regenbogenboa (The Rainbow Boa), about a German who spends his last three decades in the Amazonian jungle. In 2011, he published Hinter die Bilder schauen - Texte und Fotos aus Amerika (Looking beyond the Images: Texts and Photos from America). Simon’s latest novel Fiktive Mails (Fictional Emails, 2014) tells the story of a man who sends emails about existential questions to nonexistent addresses… until one day, he receives an answer.
Rainer Simon, who was the featured guest of the 2008 Filmmaker’s Tour organized by the DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, lives in Potsdam, Germany.
Bibliography & More:
Simon, Rainer. Fiktive Emails (Fictional Emails). 2014.
Simon, Rainer. Hinter die Bilder schauen — Texte und Fotos aus Amerika (Looking beyond the Images: Texts and Photos from America). Potsdam: Filmmuseum Potsdam, 2011.
Simon, Rainer. Bedrohungen (Threats). Ontario: Strauss, 1997.
Simon, Rainer. Fernes Land. Die DDR, die DEFA und der Ruf des Chimborazo (Distant Country: The GDR, DEFA and the Call of the Chimborazo). Berlin: Aufbau Taschenbuch Verlag, 2005.
Simon, Rainer. Regenbogenboa (The Rainbow Boa). Berlin: Schwartzkopff Buchwerke, 2005.
|2002||Der Ruf des Fayu Ujmu (The Call of Fayu Ujmu, short, doc.)|
|1998/99||Mit Fischen und Vögeln reden (Talking with Fish and Birds, short, doc.)|
|1994||Die Farben von Tigua (The Colors of Tigua TV, short, doc.)|
|1993-94||Fernes Land Pa-isch (Far Away Country Pa-ish)|
|1992||Brüderchen und Schwesterchen (Little Brother, Little Sister, short)|
|1990||Der Fall Ö (The Case of Oe)|
|1989||Die Besteigung des Chimborazo (The Ascent of Chimborazo)|
|1986||Wengler & Söhne – Eine Legende (Wengler & Sons: A Legend)|
|1984||Die Frau und der Fremde (The Woman and the Stranger)|
|1982||Das Luftschiff (The Airship)|
|1981||Jadup und Boel (Jadup and Boel)|
|1978||Zünd an, es kommt die Feuerwehr (Set the Fire, the Fire Brigade is Coming)|
|1972||Sechse kommen durch die Welt (Six Go around the World)|
|1971||Männer ohne Bart (Men without Beards)|
|1969||Aus unserer Zeit: Gewöhnliche Leute (In Our Times: Ordinary People)|
|1968||Wie heiratet man einen König (How to Marry a King)|
|1967||Ich war neunzehn (I Was Nineteen, Asst. Director)|
|1966||Freunde am Werbellinsee (Friends at Werbellin Lake)|
|1966/71||Der verlorene Engel (The Lost Angel, Asst. director)|
|1964||Peterle und die Weihnachtsgans Auguste (Little Peter and Auguste the Christmas Goose, short)|