The German wires are reporting that the wife of Kurt Maetzig has told the Leipziger Volkszeitung that the filmmaker who had such a profound impact on the cinema of what was once East Germany has died at the age of 101. Maetzig is probably best known outside of Germany for Das Kaninchen bin ich (The Rabbit is Me, 1965), one of twelve films banned by the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party in its XI Plenum in December 1965; the film wouldn’t be officially screened again until the 1990 edition of the Berlinale.
Maetzig directed dozens of documentaries, shorts and narrative features, and three more that need mentioning here are his feature debut, Ehe im Schatten (Marriage in the Shadows), quite the hit in 1947, Die Buntkarierten (The Beaverskin, 1949), a Cannes entry and critical success, and Der schweigende Stern (1960), based on Stanisław Lem‘s novel The Astronauts and known (relatively speaking, of course) in the English-speaking world as Planet of the Dead, Silent Star and Spaceship Venus Does Not Reply until it was chopped down and re-released in 1962 as First Spaceship on Venus.
Ultimately, Maetzig will also be best remembered for co-founding the Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft (DEFA) in 1947. To back up, his father, Robert Maetzig, ran a factory that produced film copies, and young Kurt went to work for him in the 1920s. Kurt Maetzig began making his own films in 1932, but because of his mother’s Jewish background, the Nazis revoked his permit in 1937. A member of the illegal Communist Party, Maetzig returned to Berlin after WWII and began working for DEFA, focusing at first on the weekly newsreel, Der Augenzeuge (The Eyewitness). Maetzig would eventually become the first president of the German University of Cinema in Potsdam-Babelsberg and a member of the Akademie der Künste (Academy of the Arts) in Berlin.