Movies with Sorbian Roots By Frank-Burkhard Habel

in 16th Cottbus Festival of East European Cinema

by Frank-Burkhard Habel

Cottbus is a town of some more than 100 000 inhabitants and lies in Lusitania, in the Eastern part of Germany, not far from the Polish border. The city is celebrating the 850th anniversary of its founding this year. This is why they have had a retrospective of films about the men and landscape of this region now. Here are living a small population of Sorbs with their own language. The oldest example of Sorbian story telling in film was a silent movie from 1911. The Danish director Urban Gad made The Strange Bird: A Lover´s Tragedy In Spreewald (Der fremde Vogel. Eine Liebestragödie im Spreewald) with the famous star Asta Nielsen. It tells the tale of a young English woman who falls in love with a Sorb youth while on a visit to the Spreewald landscape. Asta Nielsen’s mimic art delighted both audiences and reviewers, as did likewise the film’s portrait of the idyllic countryside complete with moonlight impressions, boat trips and cute peasant dwellings. The critic of Der Kinematograph, Düsseldorf, wrote in 1911: “The scene in which the young English woman removes her stockings and shoes in order to refloat the grounded punt might be described as risqué, but it is so respectfully drawn that only the slightly depraved would detect any violation of moral sensibilities.”

Two movies in the Children´s Film section were based on the legendary Sorb figure Krabat, both made in 1975. There was Karel Zeman´s animated film Krabat – The Sorcerer´s Apprentice (Krabat– Carodejuv ucen) which tells the story based on a novel by Ottfried Preussler in classical Czech cartoon style and The Black Mill (Die schwarze Mühle), a feature fantasy film directed by Celino Bleiweiss based on a literary source by Jurij Brézan. The film symbolically places Krabat the journeyman at the centre of a popular uprising against a despot.

Just shooting right now is a new German feature film based on Preussler´s Krabat-Story in Romania.

The conflict between the traditional way of life of the Sorbs and the industrialisation of the Lusitanian region was the theme of two films by Konrad Herrmann from the 1970s and 1980s: Struga – Portrait of a Region (Struga – Bilder einer Landschaft) was a short documentary, and Rublak – The Legend of a Surveyed Country (Rublak) was a feature film based on a short story by the well known Sorbian writer Jurij Koch.

The Slavic minority of Sorbs plays an important role in the new production Beyond the Balance (Herzenbrecher) which received its German premiere at the close of the festival. The Lusitatians are said to believe in miracles. So the Cottbus-born director Bernd Heiber did his best in his first feature-length-film for having a mixture of thriller, fairy tale and comedy.