Tracing German Post-war Newsreels in Archives

Sigrun Lehnert

5 September 2017

Many film archives are affected by closures or absorbed by other, larger archives – for example the newsreel archive of the Deutsche Wochenschau in Hamburg, which I mentioned in an a article in 2014, doesn‘t exist anymore. [i] During the liquidation phase of the archives, questions may arise again regarding usage rights for films, and materials might not accessible any more – for months or for years or even never again. The migration of all data to existing databases takes time. Furthermore, due to lack of storage, particularly context material could be at risk as it is often regarded not to be important. Context material comprises documents, which could provide information about the media usage or the film production. However, holistic research on media content and media design linked with production, distribution, and reception is essential.

The cinema newsreel is a media format which is no longer produced and shown today, but it was very important before television was established in West Germany at the end of the 1950s, in East Germany at the beginning of the 1960s. The ten-minute films containing different current reports were shown in the interludes. In those days, political and social interest groups attached great importance to the newsreel. Due to its cinematic elements and emotional effect by film montage with music and sound, newsreels were regarded as having a high impact on the peoples’ opinions. Moreover, the newsreel films have contributed to the cultural memory for generations of cinemagoers and are described as a “family album of the nation” (Minister for Culture and Media Michael Naumann at the 60th anniversary celebation of Deutsche Wochenschau).[ii]

The company Neue Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH was established in 1949 (renamed to Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH in 1955) and produced the newsreel Neue Deutsche Wochenschau (NDW). However, the collection contained also the first post-war newsreel in Germany, the British-American community production Welt im Film (first edition from 18 May 1945), which was used for re-educational matters. Initially the British and then in 1952, also the Americans withdrew from the newsreel production. After the Welt im Film was taken over from the Neue Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH, it was renamed Welt im Bild and in 1956 renamed Ufa-Wochenschau, which was produced until 1978. In 1963, the NDW was renamed Zeitlupe and was terminated in 1969.

So, the collection had a history which spanned 70 years – a complete inventory from the first newsreel edition to the last one. Producing newsreels (see fig.) not only meant piling reels every week, all the remains of the editing were also stored and furthermore, the archive grew through the worldwide exchange with other newsreels.

Figure 1: Newsreel Producing Team in 1950s (with kind permission of Film- und Fernsehmuseum Hamburg)

Not just the films, but a lot of other materials were preserved in the Hamburg newsreel archive: folders with cinematographers’ reports, with the film exploitation notes, all the commentary texts and film content descriptions, folders for lists of films from other newsreels abroad, the music lists and folders for commissioned documentaries. In addition to this, film tins and files with production records for every single edition were stored in cellars. Those records comprised, for example, newspaper excerpts as the information basis of the reports, also including correspondence, brochures and notes.

Since the NDW from 1950 to 1952 received financial support from the Federal German government (cf. BArch B145/147), it was considered that the film stock (estimated 3,000 editions) was owned by the state. In an official tendering, the Deutsche Wochenschau lost the exploitation rights to the Bundesarchiv and their partners. At the beginning of 2016, the film reels, video cassettes, and documents from the newsreel archive of Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH in Hamburg were transferred to the Bundesarchiv in Berlin (cf. Paschen, 2016).

Today, television channels use the newsreel films for documentary formats and pay for the usage rights. In 2010, the Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH had already started to digitize the films and make them available on the Internet. In addition, the written film contents were available online. The Bundesarchiv continued the project and started the platform Almost all editions of NDW, Welt im Film/Welt im Bild, Ufa-Wochenschau and Die Zeitlupe are now accessible.

The East German newsreel Der Augenzeuge however, was and still is distributed by the Progress-Filmverleih in Berlin. The institution started its own internet portal for Der Augenzeuge and DEFA-documentary films (DEFA – Deutsche Film AG, state controlled, founded 1946 with support of the Soviets in East Germany). Unfortunately, a lot of editions and documentaries are not available online so far. Missing films are for the most part accessible on 35mm reels, on DVD or Video tape at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, whereas written materials regarding Der Augenzeuge, e.g. correspondences, committee minutes, and music list, are accessible at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin-Lichterfelde. Regrettably, nothing is known about the whereabouts of all the files with context materials from the former Hamburg newsreel archive – they are not recorded in finding aids of the Bundesarchiv. Some documents about the newsreel institution and its connection to the Federal Republic Government can be found at the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz.

For getting access to the Bundesarchiv collections, it is recommended to get in contact with an archivist and asking for advice and support for selecting the folders or films, as the online-catalogues are incomplete. Written documents are not digitized – in exceptions, documents are delivered on microfich. So, still it is necessary to travel to German archives for doing time consuming research on the spot. Hopefully, in the process of general digitization, it will be more and more possible to work with reliable and linked search engines online. There are some stumbling blocks for digital archives, but also advantages, for example to cooperate with other archives and their databases and to build up new networks for interdisciplinary research.

[i] Joachim Paschen (2016): Eine Kulturschande für Hamburg. In: Hamburger Flimmern No. 23. Hamburg: Film- und Fernsehmuseum e.V., 26-31, here: 28, edition available:

[ii] Exemplarische Studie: Wochenschau und Tagesschau in den 1950er Jahren. In: Behmer, M., Bernard, B. & Hasselbring, B. (Hrsg.) (2014): Das Gedächtnis des Rundfunks. Die Archive der öffentlich-rechtlichen Sender und ihre Bedeutung für die Forschung. Wiesbaden: Springer, 261-268, book available:

Dr. Sigrun Lehnert majored in Media Management (Master of Arts) in Hannover, Germany. Since 2010 Sigrun Lehnert is scientific assistant in Hamburg. Her dissertation project at the University of Hamburg was on „Wochenschau und Tagesschau in den 1950er Jahren“ (German newsreel and early television news in the 1950s), supervised by Prof. Dr. Knut Hickethier. The following book has been published in 2013 by UVK, Konstanz. Her research fields are: film history, television history, documentary film, newsreels, archives and film heritage.


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What is Archiveology?

Catherine Russell, Concordia University

16 May 2017

In the year 2000 I was invited to contribute a word to a special issue of the journal Public for their “Lexicon for the 20th Century A.D.”  I chose the word “Archiveology,” but I had a hard time coming up with a definition at the time. I ended up with a poetic series of definitions for terms such as “Image Bank”, “Ruins” and “Recycling” that I had used in a chapter of Experimental Ethnography called “Archival Apocalypse”. It has taken me seventeen years to figure out what archiveology means, or at least to write a book-length definition of the term. A neologism seems like a good tool for thinking through a cultural phenomenon that is prevalent and prominent in digital media, and which is critical and constructive, and which is constantly assuming new guises—so that I is what I am hoping this word can do.

Archiveology, in its most succinct form, refers to the reuse, recycling, appropriation, and borrowing of archival material that filmmakers have been doing for decades. Archiveology traverses experimental, documentary, and essayistic filmmaking, moving beyond the categories of found footage, compilation and collage. It proliferates on the internet, just as it proliferates in the art gallery.  As this practice has expanded in digital media culture, it has arguably acquired the potential to construct critical cultural histories. Seventeen years ago, this was not so clear. I think it is more of a term for the 21st century than the 20th., and even more specifically, a term for a practice that helps to bring the 20th century into new perspectives.

() a.k.a. Parentheses (Morgan Fisher, 2003)

Anyone who has taken even a glance at some of the writing on this topic, such as the great catalogue produced by the Eye Film Museum in Amsterdam called Found Footage Exposed, will soon find a critic, scholar, or filmmaker quoting Walter Benjamin. His work seems in so many ways to anticipate archiveology, and of course his own method of aphoristic writing, collecting quotations from other writers, seems like a literary companion to the practice. He was a contemporary of the surrealists, and embraced the collage practices of contemporary artists such as John Heartfield. Walter Benjamin’s cultural theory is significantly oriented toward the avant-garde as the corollary to the implicit dangers of the society of the spectacle, and so I took it upon myself to focus on his diverse writings as a theoretical throughline for my book which will be published by Duke University Press in 2018.

The films and videos that I chose to write about, selected from the thousands of works out there in the world, tend to highlight the dualism and ambiguity of archiveology as a language of media culture. Divided into chapters on the city, collecting, the phantasmagoria, and awakening, the films and videos range from Rose Hobart (Joseph Cornell, 1935) to Recollection (Kamal Aljafari, 2015) with most of the work produced after 2000:

Rose Hobart (Joseph Cornell, 1936)

Recollection (Kamal Aljafari, 2015)

My unpublished book is already outdated as new, innovative, work continues to be produced. Film and media makers continue to explore possibilities of recombination, and feeding their practice is the increasing accessibility of the moving image archive in digital form. The concept of the archive continues to be rethought and revised as artists, scholars, and historians gain new access to the documents of the past. The arts of appropriation include a wide variety of ways of engaging directly and indirectly with and on sound and image recordings that are not only “found” but sought out with new search tools. (Filmmakers are also increasingly inclined to build their own archives from footage shot and images collected—although the focus of my book is more specifically on the historiographic potential of archiveology).

World Mirror Cinema (Gustav Deutsche, 2005)

Through the work of media artists, the film archive has been transformed so that it is no longer simply a place where moving images are preserved and stored, but has been expanded into an “image bank” from which collective memories can be retrieved. The archive as a mode of transmission offers a unique means of displaying and accessing historical memory, with significant implications for the ways that we imagine cultural history. It may be a cliché that film can take you closer to history, but I found that working with some of these texts, and looking at the way they use sound, montage, and the rhythm of a time-based medium, that old footage can indeed take on new life, and the archive can be dynamically “felt.”

Archiveology involves the use of the image archive as a language. Walter Benjamin’s conceptions of memory, document, excavation, and historiography tend to be articulated differently over the course of his career, and there are a host of interpretations and glosses on what he might have actually meant. His theory of language, for example, is introduced early in his career and is marked by a sense of magic and theological faith that I found to be pertinent to a discourse on documentary in the 21st century.

The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni (Raina Stephan, 2011)

Why trust any image at all in the digital era?  In practices of image recycling in which images are radically stripped of their context, they have no other meaning than the traces of a profilimic, historical moment in which a cameraperson was present with the technological ability to record that moment. Fiction becomes documentary only when the viewer sees it that way, and a filmmaker can provide the context for new revelations, moments of recognition, and other historical epiphanies.

Archiveology bridges documentary and experimental film practices, and in many cases, is essayistic, and many of the films that I have written about have been recognized as such:

Histoire(s) du cinéma (Jean-Luc Godard, 1998)

Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen, 2002)

Phoenix Tapes (Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller, 1999)

One way of rethinking the essay film is to recognize how filmmakers allow the images to speak in their own language. Archiveology produces a critical form of recognition, which I have found to be linked to cinephilia, not in a subjective way but in a critical way. Benjamin’s collector cuts through the auratic qualities of images, and safeguards them as souvenirs not only of their referents, but of the constellations of social relations from which they were produced. As “documents,” the images collected in archiveological films acquire meaning through their ability to awaken, stimulate, or attune the viewer’s belief in their indexicality. They are not to be taken for granted, but to be recognized as passages into the past.

Catherine Russell is Professor of Film Studies and Chair of the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. She is the author of four books, including Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video (1999) and two books on Japanese cinema. Her book Archiveology: Walter Benjamin and Archival Film Practices is forthcoming from Duke University Press.


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