Sara Neidorf ’12 Receives Fulbright Research Grant to Study German Cinema at Humboldt University in Berlin

Posted April 5th, 2012 at 4:08 pm.

Sara Neidorf ’12, a Comparative Literature/German double major with a minor in Film Studies, has received a Fulbright Research Grant to study at Humboldt University in Berlin for the 2012-13 academic year.

Neidorf will study film theory, history, and exhibition history, and conduct independent research on the state of cinema-going in Berlin today.  She will also explore how cinema-going has changed over the past twenty years (since the fall of the Berlin Wall), with a particular emphasis on smaller, independent, art house theaters (Programmkinos).

The project will include archival research, and field work, including oral histories from patrons and employees of the theaters Neidorf studies.

“I have been a cinephile since I was a young teenager, an avid movie-goer, and a firm believer in the importance of the movie theater as a place of culture, community, and conversation,” says Neidorf. “When I studied abroad in Berlin during the spring of my junior year, I spent a lot of time visiting the rich array of movie theaters there, noting and appreciating their distinctive features, and watching in dismay as several closed down due to rising overhead prices. I am invested in the future of these theaters, and would like to explore the factors that affect their survival.”

The historical component of Neidorf’s  project will involve exploring the cinematic phenomena surrounding the Mauerbau (rise of the Wall) in 1961, which included the Kinokrise (cinema crisis) from the late 50s well into the 60s and the Oberhausen Manifesto of 1962, which gave birth to the formidable New German Cinema movement in the 70s.

“I would like to explore how the trends and changes in German cinema at these times mapped onto geographical layout of movie houses in Berlin, and explore how these changes continue to influence the city’s present cinema culture,” says Neidorf.

Neidorf will also examine the resurgence of German cinematic presence in the 21st century, when several  distinct movements in German cinematic production have emerged, including acclaimed films fixating on the horrors of Germany’s past (Downfall, Sophie Scholl, The Lives of Others), emerging cinemas of transnational origin (such as the Turkish-German productions of Fatih Akin), and cinemas presenting alternatively political but ostensibly apolitical images of present and future, such as the works of Tom Tykwer and also those of the “Berlin School” of filmmaking.

“As part of my research, I will investigate the dynamic between films being made in Germany today, and the way in which Berlin film-goers consume and regard these German products, as opposed to products of foreign, especially American, origin. Inherent in this examination is the unstable position of art in the cinema, and how this art stakes out public space in a city.” says Neidorf.

A central component of Neidorf’s field work will be audio-recorded interviews with Berlin residents involved in the film community-including employees and program directors of Berlin movie theaters and filmmakers working in Berlin-asking questions about their movie-going habits today and when the city was divided. Neidorf will ask about the locations of the cinemas they visit/ed, the genres and national origins of the films they view/ed in theaters, as well as questions about personal moviegoing memories. A central question Neidorf will extend to her interviewees is whether their conceptions of German cinema as a historical entity conflict with their conceptions of what it constitutes today.

“I would like to place these anecdotes, opinions, and personal accounts in conversation with the archival and text-based research I collect, in order to gain a more nuanced understanding of trends and turning points in German cinema,” says Neidorf.

After completing her Fulbright, Neidorf plans to apply to graduate programs in Film Studies. Schools she’s considering include The University of California Berkeley, Yale, New York University, University of Southern California, and University of Wisconsin Madison. She also plans to continue practicing, performing, and recording as a rock drummer, in Berlin as well as in the States.

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