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9.9.2011

Events in the "Celluloid Curtain" Series: Spy Films from the Cold War Era

From 1st to 22nd June 2011 the Federal Agency for Civic Education, the Armoury Cinema, Berlin and the Goethe-Institut London jointly presented the international film series "The Celluloid Curtain" in Berlin.

Glimpses through the curtain: title image of the film series "The Celluloid Curtain". (Still from video on film series) (© Poster zur Filmreihe)


The programme was compiled by film experts Oliver Baumgarten and Nikolaj Nikitin: it includes popular classics alongside several lesser-known examples of the genre, produced on both sides of the Iron Curtain between 1960 and 1974. Amongst the classics is the film adaptation of John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with Richard Burton, but there are also hard-to-find rarities such as the Russian Starling and Lyre, made in 1974: until 2011, it had never been seen outside Russia and was only shown once on Soviet television.

Intelligence gathering is the day-to-day work of the spy: still from the classic British spy film "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold". © The Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Archive

At the height of the Cold War, films about the world of secret agents were hugely popular and provided an entertaining and thrilling catharsis for people's fears about the world. On both sides of the Iron Curtain, these films were politically and ideologically loaded and, seen from today, provide a valuable addition to our knowledge of the social history of the period. There are stereotypes of 'us and them', but also ironic reflections of these same stereotypes, which allow us to draw conclusions on the social conditions of the time and examine them from both an artistic and critical angle.

The films in the "Celluloid Curtain" series were made in Bulgaria, the Soviet Union, West Germany (FRG), East Germany (GDR), the UK, France, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Spain and Poland. Their main theme is the world divided into east and west: there are action films and psychological thrillers, ideological tracts and subversive parodies. Individual showings were introduced by noted film and cultural academics; in addition, there was a panel discussion, featuring well-known experts in the field, plus a programme of cinematic study material for school students.

"The Celluloid Curtain" originated as an initiative from the Goethe-Institut London; it was presented by the Armoury Cinema (Zeughauskino) and the Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung), in co-operation with EUNIC (European Union National Institutes for Culture) in Berlin. The film series commemorates the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall and was screened in the Armoury Cinema.
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