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Annekatrin Hendel • Director

"...And yet unrest remains"


- German Films sat down with Annekatrin Hendel, to present a portrait of the shoemaker-turned-director’s career in the creative arts

Annekatrin Hendel  • Director

Some people in the audience at the Berlin cinema “Babylon” were fuming. After a screening of the prizewinning documentary, Enemy of the State, director Annekatrin Hendel and writer Paul Gratzik, who had worked for the Stasi for many years, were sitting on the panel to discuss the film. Gratzik discontinued his work as an informant before the end of the GDR and came out as an informer to his friends. This courageous and unusual step makes his story unique, but made little difference to those protesting in the auditorium. Hendel bore this with astonishing composure, determinedly defending her protagonist. Fearlessly, she put herself between this man who had been guilty of betrayal during the GDR and an angry audience, a testament to the kind of woman she is.

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Hendel was not even allowed to graduate from secondary school in the GDR, although she was an excellent pupil. Her mother, to whom she remains grateful to this day, encouraged her defiant spirit. At home, Hendel experienced personal freedom within the general lack of freedom. What she learned then in the GDR also helps her today: to be rebellious, to learn the rules so you know how to bend them, to refuse to be intimidated by the authorities. 

After school she went to the Komische Oper in Berlin, where she learned the craft of bootmaking, before going on to study what would now most likely be called “design”. Hendel became departmental head of a leather works making special shoes at the age of only 22, and her career seemed mapped out. But she dropped out, making unconventional fashion in the artistic underground until 1986. Even at that time she loved doing things she had never learned, breaking into different professions through the side door. She was soon convinced that she could tell stories as well, ones that could not be expressed in fashion, so she moved into the theatre. She worked as a stage set and costume designer for almost twenty years. The word she uses to describe her unlearned activities is the wonderful old idea of “imposture”, which has a daring and playful aspect. Perhaps this is why she has often turned in her films to people with a similar tendency: to those who walk an eternal tightrope. Her films about Rammstein’s idiosyncratic keyboard player, Flake (2011), the Enemy Of The State Paul Gratzik (2011), the poet and Stasi informer Anderson (2014), and the film genius Fassbinder [+see also:
film review
interview: Annekatrin Hendel
film profile
(2015) show a lively curiosity, free of prejudice, a sensitive empathy for people’s contradictory nature.

Her entry into the film business, initially as a producer, had an element of self-empowerment as well. Hendel wanted to reach more people than is possible in the theatre. She was dissatisfied with many films about the GDR seen in the cinema, with their clichés of uniformity, melancholy, and constant despondence: as she saw it, passion was also a part of life in the GDR. And so she came to film with a programme for content that is still valid today. She is interested in differentiated, German, contemporary historical material, in the unique nature of life during the far-reaching, radical changes that she experienced herself. She says that she knows exactly what she wants with her next seven or eight films.

Hendel has become a documentary film director who knows that she belongs to the last GDR generation able to tell authentic stories about a country that has disappeared. In the near future she is planning to explore new territory again. By making a film version of Marion Brasch’s autobiographical novel Ab jetzt ist Ruhe, she is intending to direct a fiction feature film for the first time; parallel to this, she plans to make a documentary film about this fascinating family of artists, who reflect Germany’s most recent history so dramatically. Hendel also wants to become an international name with her works, and because she is convinced that you should always shoot for the moon if you want to land among the stars, she says quite clearly, and only half jokingly, that she wants the Brasch film to achieve an Oscar. 

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