The history of film studies at the University of Bremen

The history of film studies at the University of Bremen dates right back to its founding in 1971, when the university formed a partnership with the Bremen Chamber of Labor to establish the Film/Television Research and Development Institute. The institute, the predecessor to the Bremen Institute of Film and Television founded in 1988, opened a year later in 1972. It was an experiment without parallel in the history of West German universities, which was intended to create a direct link between academic research and emancipatory workers’ politics. The inaugural International Bremen Film Conference, now held annually at the CITY 46 cinema, took place in 1995 as part of a UNESCO project marking the centenary of cinema. The aim was to bring a dynamic combination of film studies and film culture to a wider audience. In 2005, the Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research (ZeMKI) was established. The center promotes interdisciplinary research that brings film studies into contact with other fields. It now hosts two interdisciplinary research labs on film and history, which form part of the university’s Minds, Media, Machines network. Since 2009, film:art, a historical program of film culture with a focus on experimental film established in 1992, has also been integrated into the center’s research activities.

Film/Television Research and Development Institute

Hans-Dieter Müller, personal assistant to the University of Bremen’s founding rector, set up a film institute to complement the university’s teaching and research activities. In 1973, he brought Günter Hörmann – Alexander Kluge’s cinematographer and since 1969 the head of his film school in Ulm – to the Bremen institute, where he worked until 1986. Other filmmakers working at the institute included Peter Schubert and, intermittently, Wolfgang Jung, Detlef Saurien and Thomas Mitscherlich. The institute’s primary focus was not on studying media, but rather on using film to carry out sociological research and critique late capitalist society. Most of the films produced in the 1970s/80s focused on depicting the increasing rationalization of the labor world in audiovisual form. Due to the historical situation the films were also able to document major labor disputes such as the mass strikes prompted by closures of long-established Bremen companies. Examples of such films included DIE VULKAN-WERFT IM METALLERSTREIK 1974 (The Vulkan Shipyard in the 1974 Metalworkers’ Strike; 1975), DER UNTERGANG DER AG WESER (The Collapse of AG Weser; 1984), and 1969 – DIE KLÖCKNER HÜTTE IM SEPTEMBER (1969 – Klöckner Hütte in September; 1988). The project of critical inquiry included educating workers about the politics of their unions, which often led to conflicts between filmmakers and trade union officials. Today, the films from this period, which were originally intended as sociological studies, have become documents of the early years of film studies in Bremen.

Bremen Institute of Film and Television

In 1988, the partnership between the university and the Chamber of Labor was dissolved. The Film/Television Research and Development Institute was succeeded by the Bremen Institute of Film and Television, headed by Thomas Mitscherlich and Helke Sander. Prior to its closure in 1998, following Mitscherlich’s death, the new institute produced documentaries such as DER BUNKER – ARBEITSSTÄTTE: EIN U-BOOT BUNKER, WOHNSTÄTTE: EIN TREIBSTOFFBUNKER (The Bunker – Place of Work: A Submarine Bunker, Place of Residence: A Fuel Bunker; dir. Thomas Mitscherlich, 1988), and BEFREIER UND BEFREITE: KRIEG – VERGEWALTIGUNGEN – KINDER (Liberators Take Liberties; dir. Helke Sander, 1992). These interview-based essay films explored marginal experiences that had been neglected in previous historical accounts.

The International Bremen Film Conference

The International Bremen Film Conference, begun in 1995 as part of a UNESCO project marking the centenary of cinema, is an annual event dedicated to film studies and film culture. It is aimed at both academic experts and the general public and is jointly organized by the University of Bremen and Kommunalkino Bremen e.V.. At a time when film studies lectures were typically illustrated by film clips on VHS tapes, the conference set a pioneering example by showing the films that were subject of the lectures in full length and with the best projection quality at a cinema auditorium. In an era when digital media has made film ubiquitous, this approach is more relevant than ever, and the conference has remained true to the basic principle of combining film studies lectures and discussions with top-quality screenings. An international early stage researchers’ colloquium was launched in 2007 to accompany the conference, and was integrated into the main program in 2014. The conference has earned itself a prestigious international reputation, thanks in part to the fact that since 1997 each event has been accompanied by a publication that makes the lectures accessible to a wide readership (originally published by Schüren Verlag and later by Bertz + Fischer; since 2008 also available in English).

ZeMKI research labs

The Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research (ZeMKI), established in 2005, runs two interdisciplinary research labs on film and history. The first lab, “Film, Media Art and Popular Culture”, is headed by Prof. Winfried Pauleit. It investigates the aesthetics, theory and history of film and how they are being transformed by globalization and the digital revolution, with a particular focus on the specific forms and apparatus of film, media art, and popular culture and the ways in which they are produced, distributed, transmitted, exhibited, mediated, appropriated, and archived. As well as studying media products and works themselves, attention is also paid to collective and individual aesthetic experiences of these products and works, and to the discourses and cultural interactions that surround them.

The second lab, “Audio-Visual Media and Historiography”, is headed by Prof. Delia González de Reufels. It investigates the role of audiovisual media – especially film and television – as historical sources and documents of the history of modernity, with a particular focus on historical memory and the construction of historical processes. In doing so, the lab takes seriously the growing importance of audiovisual media over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: the expansion of the film and television industry and the increasing availability of audiovisual media such as film and television have profoundly shaped collective memory and have had a lasting impact on understandings of historical processes. The lab seeks both to contribute to the methodological debate and to explore the importance of audiovisual media, such as the relevance of film and images to historical research.

The ZeMKI labs are part of the university’s Minds, Media, Machines network.

film:art – a program of monthly film history events

When the Weserburg, Germany’s first collectors’ museum, opened in 1992, the idea was born of running regular events on the history of experimental, avant-garde film as part of the canon of contemporary art. Christine Rüffert from the Kommunalkino Bremen e.V. launched film:art, an ongoing series of monthly film mediation events in which filmmakers, curators, film theorists, and festival directors present general themes and individual works from the history of experimental film. Originally held at the museum itself, since 2002 the events have taken place at the cinema. Since 2009, the series, which is still curated by Christine Rüffert, has been tied into the research of the university’s “Film, Media Art and Popular Culture” lab. film:art explores experimental film as a counterhistory of cinema, with themes and aesthetics that challenge mainstream norms.