First exhibition at the Film Museum of the GDR, 1983 to 1992

German film history until 1945 and DEFA history
February 1983 - October 1992

Research for the first permanent exhibition began when employees of the Film Museum of the GDR and of the State Film Archive (SFA) started to search the entire GDR for historical filming equipment and other film-related historical material in 1978. The thus extended SFA collections were finally divided into two: the collected filming equipment was preserved by the museum, the SFA continued to archive films and film-related material - if required, these items had to be lended to the museum.

The permanent exhibition on the history of film technology that contained numerous originals and some reproductions was completed at the time of the museum’s opening. Besides pre-cinema technology, the exhibition showed a reproduction of the Lumiére camera and a wide variety of cameras (up to the DEFA’s 70-mm camera), projectors and other devices that had been used in Germany until 1945 and in the GDR. Thematically, the exhibition had been divided into prehistory, filming equipment, projecting equipment and sound equipment and constituted a novelty in entire Germany due to its completeness.

A team of film historians and designers - among them Christiane Mückenberger from the "Konrad Wolf" Film and Television College and Wolfgang Klaue, director of the SFA - worked on the concept of the film art exhibition. Due to financial and conceptual difficulties, the work proceeded slower than initially expected and the exhibition was not opened before February 1983. The political meaning attributed to the exhibition by the SED became evident, e.g., by the fact that Günther Jahn, First Secretary of the District Administration of the SED Potsdam (former head of the GDR youth association FDJ and, for a short time, party and state leader as successor of Erich Honecker in 1989), led the "Film Museum Working Group" himself and managed to get an additional budget of more than 1 million Marks for the project after 1981.

Two large rooms on the ground floor that were connected by a narrow, low alleyway formed three exhibition areas:
German film until 1933
Film during the Nazi era

The selection of films was based on their educational and aesthetic relevance and, with regard to the period until 1945, basically followed the film selection canonised by international film historiography (Kracauer, Toeplitz, Gregor/Patalas). Large, diagonally positioned object carriers with central displays for slide shows replaced the Western video technology that the GDR could not afford.
For the first two periods, a collage divided into thematic fields (among others: "proletarian film", "film during emigration") emerged out of photographs, script pages, documents and posters (most of which were integrated into the design as photographs), costumes, reproduced models and texts.

The DEFA period had been sorted thematically ("literary adaptations", "anti-fascist films", etc.). Naturally, not a trace of artists who emigrated or fell in disgrace, such as the directors Falk Harnack and Egon Günther or actor Manfred Krug, was visible in the "Film Museum of the GDR".

As it was supposed to serve film education, the exhibiton’s concept did not contain any populistic elements. However, due to its relatively modern design, it attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors during the next ten years.