Century-old movie forewarning of anti-Semitism to screen at German silent film festival | Culture | Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 16.08.2018

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Century-old movie forewarning of anti-Semitism to screen at German silent film festival

The Silent Film Festival in the German city of Bonn offers a fresh chance to see long-lost movies. One recently restored film from 1924, A City Without Jews, is likely to trigger some uncomfortable memories though.

From classic Hollywood and Weimar cinema, to visual pearls from Japan, India, the Soviet Union and Europe — the 34th edition of the International Silent Film Festival Bonn, in the former capital of West Germany, is once again set to reignite memories from the movie industry's often humble beginnings.

Opening on Thursday, the festival has for years been considered one of the most important of its kind, as several long-lost films have been digitally restored and shown here first.

Digitizing old films now easier

New screenings of these often expensive restorations are often made possible with the cooperation of film museums and archives all over the world that specialize in digitizing silent films.

Germany, for example, has the Munich Film Museum, where the late film scholar Enno Patalas pioneered film restoration in the 1980s by having famous silent film works such as Metropolis and Die Nibelungen (The Nibelungs) by Austrian director Fritz Lang restored.

Read more: Celebrating the films of Fritz Lang

Among the cinematic highlights in Bonn this year is the 1924 Austrian film The City Without Jews — now considered prophetic on the subject of anti-Semitism.

Director Hans Karl Breslauer turned the popular novel by Hugo Bettlauer into a movie that tells of how a political and economic crisis in a fictitious city, based on Vienna, leads to the expulsion of Jews.

Film widely viewed, criticized

Controversial for a variety of reasons, the film drew early protests from far-right activists who set off stink bombs outside cinemas where it was playing. Left-wing and liberal voices also tore the film apart, criticizing how it played up anti-Semitic prejudices.

Shortly after the film's release, Bettlauer was murdered by an ex-Nazi Party member who went on to gain notoriety among the Austrian masses, many of whom held strong anti-Semitic views.

Read more:  How anti-Semitism impacted film before and after the Nazis

Widely shown at the time, the film even played to sold-out cinemas in New York before apparently disappearing without a trace. One of the last screenings was in Amsterdam in 1933 — as a protest against the rise of Nazi Germany.

That was probably the copy that was rediscovered some 60 years later by Dutch movie archivers, but it had numerous defects, and several scenes were apparently missing.

Surprise find

Another copy — this time the full version — was discovered at a flea market in Paris in 2015, and a crowd-funding campaign raised €86,000 ($98,000) for it to be digitally restored very close to its original condition.

The Bonn showing of The City Without Jews takes place on August 26. The film is also touring several other cities in Germany and Austria.

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