Beyer, Frank


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 (


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)
1971 Rottenknechte (TV)
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)

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