Eastern European Spy Films Take Center Stage at Berlin Festival

A film festival concentrating solely on espionage cinema is now underway at Zeughaus Kino in Berlin. “The Celluloid Curtain: Europe’s Cold War in Film” presents rare and widely unknown spy films from Iron Curtain countries. The festival was created by Claudia Amthor-Croft of the Goethe Institute’s London chapter as a means to observe the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall and place a spotlight on the former Eastern Bloc nations. Rare films from Russia, Romania, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria are being shown, with more familiar Western European works included in the festival’s offerings. Its organizers are particularly excited about the setting due to Berlin’s paramount importance in the Cold War and its key part in the films running at the festival.

The depth of the Celluloid Curtain selections resulted from a two year project by the festival’s curators, Nikolaj Nikitin and Oliver Baumgarten, encompassing archives throughout Europe in the search for rare spy films. Their most important find, and the centerpiece of the festival, is the long banned Russian film “Skvorets i Lira.” It dealt with two operatives who infiltrate business circles in West Germany and its release in 1974 coincided with the Guillaume scandal in that country, whereby it was revealed that Chancellor Willy Brandt’s closest aide, Gunter Guillaume, had been working undercover for the Stasi, the infamous East German secret police. According to Nikitin and Baumgarten, the ban on the movie stemmed not only from its inopportune timing and strong parallel to the Guillaume affair, but its grim ideological tone was ill fitting in the emerging climate of détente. The Berlin leg of the festival, following on the heels of a great response in London, concludes on June 22.

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