The life of Sebastian Heiduschke was, in many ways, one of omissions growing up in West Germany. The wall split Berlin in two, with some of his family separated in the East, off limits and unseen.
In similar fashion, East German cinema also loomed as a mystery in the 1970s and ’80s to Heiduschke, now an assistant professor of German at Oregon State University. The movies made by his Eastern neighbors under Communist rule often were censored, and, naturally, the forbidden nature of those films only piqued his interest more fervently.
As fate would have it, the curious kid from the Western city of Bamberg is largely responsible for bringing a banned-turned-acclaimed East German film – one that, by all accounts, should no longer exist – to Corvallis for its United States premiere.
Darkside Cinema will host the release party for “The Dove on the Roof” – original German title: “Die Taube auf dem Dach” – with free, exclusive screenings at 6 and 8 p.m. Thursday, June 2.
Like nearly all of the rest of the world, Heiduschke never heard word one about director Iris Gusner’s film when East Germany’s government ordered it to be destroyed in 1973. That was actually a harsher punishment than what was usually doled out to banned films.
“The procedure was not to destroy the films but to shelve them and show them to young filmmakers as an example of how not to make films,” Heiduschke said. “This film actually survived by accident.”
Deemed as unsuitable for audiences by the Communist regime, all copies of “Dove on the Roof” were supposed to be wiped from existence, but a singular copy survived.
The movie’s working title, “Daniel,” was written on the box. The demolition crew thought it was a different film and left it alone. There it sat on a shelf, collecting dust until 1989 when it was rediscovered.
No one in Berlin cared.
It was screened once, then promptly fell back into obscurity for two decades. Another recovery team found the only copy in existence in 2009, and a year later it opened in Berlin to rave reviews from every major news publication and media outlet in Germany.
“You have this film that is not meant to be anymore,” said Heiduschke, who’s regarded as something of an expert on East German cinema and, in particular, on “Dove on the Roof.”
“It’s the discovery of a lost cinema, and this film provides a more complete picture of German cinema,” he said. “You had this half that was missing for so long, and now it’s there for the world to see.”
Heiduschke has been in constant contact with director Gusner, whom, the professor said, is “totally overwhelmed” that her film is being seen anywhere, let alone worldwide, nearly three decades later.
“Dove on the Roof,” according to Heiduschke, is a “blatant criticism of the role of women in the construct of East Germany,” making it a clear target for censorship by the Communist party.
“Supposedly, women were emancipated in East Germany, but the film shows that’s not the case,” he said. “The party painted life in rosy colors, but in reality that wasn’t the case, and the film gives us the evidence that emancipation had not been accomplished.”
Heiduschke will speak briefly before each screening to add context to the film, and he will conduct a Q-and-A session afterward.