Photo © Hiltrud Schulz
Frank Beyer, one of the most important German directors of the postwar period, directed some of Germany’s most powerful and historically significant films. Born in Nobitz, Germany, on May 26, 1932, he first studied drama in Berlin, before transferring to the famed Prague Film School (FAMU), where he studied directing alongside Miloš Forman and other promising Czechoslovakian directors. After completing his FAMU thesis film, Zwei Mütter, he joined the DEFA Studios as a freelance assistant director in 1957.
Beyer made his debut as a professional director with short films for the satirical series Stacheltier in 1957. Through the early 1960s, he directed very successful DEFA feature films, including: Fünf Patronenhülsen, about an international group of soldiers in the Spanish Civil War; another antifascist film, this time set in the Buchenwald concentration camp, Nackt unter Wölfen; and the post-WWII comedy Karbid und Sauerampfer. In 1966, however, Beyer’s film about a rebellious construction brigade, Spur der Steine, was banned, and Beyer was expelled from the DEFA Studios.
In the years that followed, Beyer directed stage productions for the Staatstheater Dresden and Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin and began a prolific career directing movies for East German television. Only in 1974 was he allowed to return to the DEFA Studios, this time to direct Jakob der Lügner, which in 1976 became the only East German film ever nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
In 1978, Beyer’s TV movie Geschlossene Gesellschaft, which is about a marital crisis and features stars Jutta Hoffmann and Armin Mueller-Stahl, created a huge stir. Officials criticized its negative portrayal of relationships in socialist society and withdrew the film after its first broadcast. Once again banned from filming in the GDR, Beyer managed to get special permission to work in West Germany. There he directed two films for public television: Der König und sein Narr and Die zweite Haut, before he could return to the DEFA Studios to direct several films, including Der Aufenthalt, the story of a young German POW wrongly accused of murder and imprisoned in Poland.
Among East German directors, Frank Beyer—the older brother of actor Hermann Beyer—was unusually successful in remaining productive after German unification in 1990. One of his most important later films, Nikolaikirche, based on the novel by Erich Loest, tells the story of a family in the last years of the East German state. His 1998 film Abgehauen, an adaptation of the autobiography of the famous (East) German actor Manfred Krug, looks at the confrontation between East German artists and state authorities after the 1976 expulsion of singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann. Beyer’s last project was a television film based on the novel Jahrestage (Anniversaries), by Uwe Johnson; although he had developed the project and already completed pre-production, he was replaced by Margarethe von Trotta due to conflicts with the producers.
In fall 2001, Beyer published his memoir Wenn der Wind sich dreht (When the Wind Turns). After a long illness, he died in Berlin on October 1, 2006. The Film Museum Potsdam now houses the Frank Beyer collection, which provides an in-depth view of his life and work (filmmuseum-potsdam.de).
Festivals & Awards:
|1991||German Film Prize for Der Verdacht|
|1991||Gold Film Strip for many years of excellent contributions to German film, for Der Verdacht|
|1990||Berline Camera, Berlin International Film Festival for Der Verdacht|
|1984||Heinrich Greif Prize for Der Aufenthalt|
|1984||Best Director, GDR National Film Festival, Karl-Marx-Stadt for Der Aufenthalt|
|1983||"Large Clapper Board" Critic's Award for Best DEFA Film of the Year, Theory and Culture Section of the GDR Film and Television Professionals Association, for Der Aufenthalt|
|1976||Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film for Jakob der Lügner|
|1965||Certificate of Recognition, Cineparade Melbourne for Nackt unter Wölfen|
|1963||Silver Prize for Best Director (Frank Beyer), Moscow Film Festival for Nackt unter Wölfen|
|1962||Medal of Recognition, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, for Königskinder|
Bibliography & More:
Beyer, Frank. Wenn der Wind sich dreht: Meine Filme, mein Leben. Munich: Ullstein Publishing. 2001.
|1998||Abgehauen (Getting Out, TV)|
|1997||Der Hauptmann von Köpenick (The General from Köpenick, TV)|
|1995||Nikolaikirche (Nicholai Church, TV)|
|1994/95||Wenn alle Deutschen schlafen (While All Germans Sleep, TV)|
|1993||Das letzte U-Boot (The Last U-Boat, TV)|
|1992||Das große Fest (The Big Celebration, TV)|
|1991||Der Verdacht (The Suspicion)|
|1991||Sie und Er (Her and Him, TV)|
|1991||Ende der Unschuld (End of Innocence,TV)|
|1989||Der Bruch (The Break-In)|
|1983||Bockshorn (Taken for a Ride)|
|1982||Der Aufenthalt (Held for Questioning)|
|1981||Die zweite Haut (The Second Skin, TV)|
|1981||Der König und sein Narr (The King and his Jester, TV)|
|1978||Geschlossene Gesellschaft (Private Party, TV)|
|1977||Das Versteck (Hiding Place)|
|1974||Jakob der Lügner (Jacob the Liar)|
|1973||Die sieben Affären der Dona Juanita (The Seven Affairs of Dona Juanita, TV)|
|1972||Januskopf (Janus Face, actor)|
|1966||Spur der Steine (Trace of Stones)|
|1963||Karbid und Sauerampfer (Carbide and Sorrel)|
|1963||Nackt unter Wölfen (Naked Among Wolves)|
|1962||Königskinder (Star-Crossed Lovers)|
|1960||Fünf Patronenhülsen (Five Cartridges)|
|1959||Eine alte Liebe (An Old Love)|
|1957||Zwei Mütter (Two Mothers)|
|1957||Das Stacheltier – Das Gesellschaftsspiel – eine unglaubliche Geschichte oder? (The Porcupine: The Parlor Game)|