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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 12:33AM   |  29 comments

Blog written by Jan-Christopher Horak, director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive

21 June, 10 AM, which happens to be 1 AM (California time), according to my body clock, and I’m standing in front of a group of eager film students. We are doing a one week academic seminar in and around PEOPLE ON SUNDAY to prepare five German film students (from the IFS) and five American film students from UCLA to spend the next five weeks making a film, which will be a portrait of Cologne, the way PEOPLE was a portrait of Berlin in 1929.

We start with an initial discussion of the film, made by Billy Wilder, Edgar Ulmer, Robert and Curt Siodmak, Eugene Schuefftan, Fred Zinnemann, and Seymour Nebenzahl, all of whom were exiled from Germany in 1933 and had high profile (or less substantial) Hollywood careers. Along with Prof. Dr. Gundolf Freyermuth (IFS) and Dr. Lisa Gotto (IFS), we discuss the incredible modernity of MENSCHEN AM SONNTAG, given its non-plot and hand-held camera, its amateur actors and documentary views of a vibrant city.

Next, I lecture on German speaking Jewish exiles in Hollywood, in order to provide a context for the week’s work to follow. As I told the students, over 1500 writers, directors, producers and other film workers were forced to leave Berlin, due to Hitler’s anti-Semitic blacklist. Interestingly, neither the German nor American students had any idea that some of Hollywood’s most famous directors were German born.

Screening Robert Siodmak’s CRY OF THE CITY (1948), starring Victor Mature, we see a film noir, but also a city film about New York. As we discover, Siodmak actually remade a shot from PEOPLE ON SUNDAY in CRY OF THE CITY. A productive discussion follows about the film’s moral ambiguity, so unlike American classical Hollywood narrative and so much like German films from the 1920s.

Our second day starts with my seminar on the history of the Weimar film industry, in order to place the production of PEOPLE ON SUNDAY into the proper historical context for the students. I’m surprised that most of the German film students know as little about Weimar cinema and history as the American students. Prof. Freyermuth lectures on documentary film, fiction film and what he termed “faction” film, the hybrid form that we are seeing with ever increasing frequency in the digital age.  Lisa Gotto screens Edgar G. Ulmer’s DETOUR (1945), a classic film noir which fits into our thread on the makers of PEOPLE ON SUNDAY. 

Wednesday’s lectures start with my presentation on American film noir and the role of German émigré directors, like Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, and Edgar G. Ulmer in creating that genre. In fact, we can see a direct connection between the crime films of the German Expressionist cinema and the American private eye movie in the work of these directors that goes beyond high contrast lighting and oblique camera angles to an atmosphere of dark fatalism and despair.

Gotto then lectures on the role of the city and urban space in not only German films, but also American films from the 1940s to the 1990s, ending with a recent rap video. Next, we screen Bill Wilder’s A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948), a film that takes place in Berlin after World War II and features many location shots of Berlin in ruins.

On my final morning, Prof. Freyermuth lectures on stereotypical images of Germany and America, as found in the autobiographies of German émigrés in Hollywood. This is important for the students, because German American teams will have to work together on their films of Cologne in the coming weeks, so they need to know what kind of cultural prejudices each side is bringing to the project. Next, I lectured on German and European avant-garde films from the 1920s, since PEOPLE ON SUNDAY must be seen not only in the context of the Weimar film industry, but also in the context of the avant-garde, since it was made and released expressly as an independent and avant-garde film.

In the afternoon, we screen Billy Wilder’s ONE TO THREE (1961), another film about Berlin, but produced at the point when the Berlin wall was being constructed. It is a screamingly funny comedy about a Coca Cola executive in Berlin, winning the war the way we know best: with American consumer goods.

Now the students have to discuss their ideas for projects. I can’t wait to see the films.




I fascinated by this... it almost sounds like an experiment. Specifically feed students examples of work relating to their own tasks within moments before they are asked to perform that task. Five weeks isn't a long period of time; have you considered that maybe this work will look almost like a frustrated collection of thoughts pertaining to the films that were just screened? The collaborative efforts between students from Germany and the U.S. will be interesting.

This is a grand experiment. The student filmmakers are working with an experienced team of professional filmmakers as instructors, but it remains to be seen what they produce. They will have a lot more than five weeks for post-production, all of which will be done on-line from both sides of the pond.

Thanks you so much!

Michael Wellspear (

I think this is a great experiment. I love the idea of taking a weeks course in Cinema, learning things like German expressionism and Weimar cinema. I agree with what Paul Strand said, "the collaborative efforts between students from Germany and the U.S. will be interesting". I would be very interested to see the film they end up making. It should be a very interesting look at Cologne.

I love this idea. I wish I had the opportunity to participate. I think the experience they learned is far more valuable than something taught in the classroom. Are there plans of more events like this?

Yeah i agree with the previous comments, a very intriguing experiment. I think it is neat that the American and German students are collaborating. The fairly short amount of time also gives it a deadline feel which I'm sure is good experience. From my understanding growing as a filmmaker is getting experiences like these where you are learning and creating at the same time. Definitely something I will look out for in the future

This project is extremely interesting in that it seems a really great way to bring together two perspectives into one piece. I think the only thing that could make it perhaps more interesting, or at the very least, another way of approaching it would be to have the two perspective teams make their own individual films and then explore the different ways that Americans and Germans see the world. It also seems to be a very good lesson in the changing nature of cinema today, as that there are essentially no films made with only US money and are almost universally collaboration projects. This project reminds me a little of Robert Frank's The Americans photography work.

Sounds like a fascinating experience. I've never put much thought into differing perspectives between America and Germany before. Im curious as to what these cultural prejudices are supposed to be though, unless of course theyre making a film about a controversial topic like American slavery or the holocaust.

Well, that's certainly a great experience for students. Sure, the difference is huge and it's quite interesting to track all the convergences and divergences between two cultures.
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