Enrico Cannizzo - FILMINE (IT)
Paolo Maria Spina - REVOLVER (IT)
Boris Despodov - ARTHOUSE BLOCKBUSTERS (DE)
Wojtek Karubin - MOVIE MATES (PL)
Festival film documentary: 80'
TV doc version: 52'
The Secret Hand is a documentary about STASI, one of the most pervasive secret service in history, and how it controlled, infiltrated, repressed and manipulated artists in the former GDR.
When we talk about “the hand of the artist”, we refer to his personal touch, his style, his poetry.
However, in former East Germany, another hand, the secret hand of the STASI, the feared secret service, frequently intervened in artists' work, manipulating and surveilling them.
After the Berlin Wall fell, East German citizens gained access to their STASI files, revealing that their life stories had been scripted and directed by the STASI. This also happened to Jörg Metzner, co-founder of the theater group Wühlmaus, who learned from his file that the group's disbandment was a result of STASI operations, including creating internal conflicts and sabotaging their activities. Furthermore, Jörg found out from the file that two components of the theater group - Jürgen, one of his best friends, and Susanne, his girlfriend at the time - were STASI informants and that both had spied on him.
Similar stories unfolded for other characters in the film.
Wolfgang Grossmann, a former drummer in the punk band Zwitschermaschine, discovered that STASI successfully manipulated the band's activities, transitioning them from punk rock to free jazz and removing political content from their lyrics.
Franziska Großzer, today an author of children's books, was persecuted for a long time by the Stasi, who did not allow her to express her career as a writer, and used forms of psychological pressure with the moral blackmail of involving her then children.
In the film, the storytelling is entrusted not only to the direct voices of its protagonists, but also to the dry and merciless pages of STASI files written about them.
The film tells about these advanced and sophisticated forms of censorship in the attempt to discover how the censor thought and acted behind the curtains by analyzing the secret files he produced.
Jörg Metzner with the Wühlmaus at a pacifist initiative
The purpose of this work: Censorship as an always topical issue.
In China, authors or artists whose works have been censored or banned say: I have been harmonized. As is well known, art thrives on dissent and critical reflection on sociopolitical and existential conditions. Power wishes no dissent, but harmony and conformity. The relationship between political power and artistic freedom is an indicator of the democratic quality of a social order. Therefore, the issue of censorship and restrictions of artistic freedom is always a topical one.
All the more in our time, shaped on the one hand by the legitimacy crisis of western democracies, on the other hand by the rise of China as a world power. The increasing international influence of a gigantic empire that merges unbridled capitalism and communist oneparty dictatorship into a hybrid with totalitarian traits poses a serious challenge to western open societies, especially when it comes to freedom of artistic expression as a fundamental human right.
In contemporary advanced mass societies in a globalized world, governmental censorship take place in a differentiated manner in order not to discredit the reputation and legitimacy of authoritarian political regimes. Strategies and methods of political interference to control cultural and artistic production can be as creative, sophisticated and flexible as art itself can be.
The Background: Repression and disciplining arts in former GDR
In this context, the experience of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) during the Cold War period is very instructive. The East German communist regime kept a population of around 17 million inhabitants under complete and permanent surveillance for 40 years. Social organization, propaganda and indoctrination forced people to integrate into collectivist order and educated masses to conformity to life norms and ideological doctrine. The system regarded individual selfdetermination, alternative life plans and autonomous action and thinking as damaging, hostile, anti-socialist attitudes and behavior.
There was no official censorship in the GDR but the communist party established a framework of systematic conditioning in order to exercise control over all forms of literature, arts, culture and public communication. Many artists and authors tried to avoid conflicts from the outset, creating works that fit into the guidelines set by the regime. This phenomenon was called the "shear in the head". For others the omnipresence of censorship was as a challenge and a stimulus to their creativity. They tried to avoid censorship with clever usage of satire, irony and metaphor to say the desired in a for the censor unrecognizable way.
The Ministry for State Security, commonly known as STASI was the main instrument of domestic repression to maintain the party rule. The tentacular secret police apparatus could count on a widespread network of tens of thousands of civilian informers active at every level of society. So called unofficial collaborators, acting out of political conviction or in return for favors or because they were put under pressure, provided reports on the behavior of people from their domestic or work environments. They frequently spied on closed friends and family members.
It was only after the suppression of the "Prague Spring" in summer 1968 that the GDR regime began to consider the fight against all manifestations of "politicalideological deviation" and combating "anti-state agitation" as central tasks in the cultural sector. In June 1969, a new special operative division (Main Department HA XX/7) was set up with responsibility for securing the areas of cultural production and mass media communication. This unit established a dense network of confidants and informants in all institutions and associations for artists and cultural workers, e.g. in the Academy of Arts, publishing houses, theaters, museums and galleries as well as club-houses, in order to track developments in all cultural and artistic activities.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the system sought to burnish the GDR's international reputation while fighting internal opposition by intensification of the STASI's efforts to punish dissident behaviors without imprisonment or court judgments. In 1976, special techniques were defined to break down, undermine and paralyze people, individuals and groups, in a form of "silent repression”. Artists critical of the government and youth subculture groups were among the main target groups of so called “disintegration measures”. The use of such methods is well documented due to STASI files made public after the collapse of the regime in 1989/90, with up to 10,000 individuals estimated to have become victims.
The Film “The secret Hand”
“The secret Hand” tells of the measures of control, repression, infiltration and manipulation that were initiated by the STASI to take action against artists and artist groups whose work was considered “anti-socialist”, it means incompatible with the ideological state doctrine or with the general state order. When one speaks of the “hand of the artist”, one means his character trait, his stylistic code and thus also his poetics. In the former GDR there was often another, secret, insidious hand that intervened right into the creative process, forcing artists to operate in directions pleasing to power or to cease their artistic activity altogether. The documentary tells about these subtle and sophisticated forms of censorship, how they were conceived, developed and implemented, and the effect they had on individuals and groups. The narration is based on the content of the no longer secret STASI files, which are preserved in Berlin in order to find out how the secret police censor thought and acted, following the documents he created.
The film presents a series of real-life stories that attest to all the major forms of conditioning, influencing, and covert pressure exerted by authority. This should stimulate reflection on the meaning of freedom of expression and artistic freedom as well as on the special relationship and interaction between art and power. The protagonists of the plot are not that much the individuals affected by such measures, but the sometimes paternalistic, sometimes disciplining, sometimes stupidly punishing and oppressive, sometimes perfidiously falsifying intervention of power, as well as the irrepressible vitality and human ability to circumvent the censorship and the oppressor deceive by exploiting the contradictions of the system and developing strategies and practices of authentic expression using every available space.
Stasi official making an interception
The voices of the characters themselves will guide us in the discovery of the story. We want to create a relationship of trust with them, set up the shooting in a discreet and delicate way, and so put them at ease to retrace those human experiences so touching and dramatic. In this storytelling we have an additional element: the dry, cold and merciless pages of the STASI files, in which the lives of the characters have been rewritten by the secret hand of Stasi officials. By asking the protagonists to re-read with us their dossiers, we want to bring out the contrast between a strictly operational language and the psychological consequences and emotional and biographical disintegration that produced those repressive measures.
The project is in development stage. After a preliminary phase of research and idea definition, in collaboration with co-author Gianluca Falanga, collaborator at the Stasi Museum in Berlin as historical researcher and trainer, we have already met the film's characters in Berlin, who are willing to participate in the project and very motivated. With some of them, we have already shot preliminary footage to create the teaser. The production team brings together producers from four countries: Italy, Poland, Germany, and Bulgaria. We also have the patronage of the Stasi Museum in Berlin, and we have initiated a collaboration with the Havemann Archive in Berlin, a renowned hub for the study of dissidence against the GDR regime, and a curator of a vast collection of video and photographic archives. We have received support for development from the Film Commission Torino Piemonte. The majority of the budget is still to be covered through regional funding by each of the co-producers involved.
producer, director - IT
Valerio Valente was born in Turin (Italy) in 1976. He studied Cinema at the University of Turin and after that he worked as first A.D. with various international directors. In the last 10 years, he has directed various projects: commercial films, branded contents, music videos, TV contents. His first feature film, Double (2021), had its premiere at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival 2022 and won the Best Screenplay prize at the Salento International Film Festival 2022.
producer, director - IT
Enrico Cannizzo is an Italian Producer and director who started with the production of feature films. After that, he was involved in the production of a variety of projects, including documentary films for Sky Arte and other TV projects for Viacom/Paramount. Since 2012 he has been a partner of Filmine company with which he produced the documentary Coltivare Storie (2022), the feature film Double (2021) and the short film Ultimo Impero (2022).
Filmine is a production company based in Turin (Italy) born in 2012 from the experience and know-how of professionals of the field. In its first years of activity, it worked mainly within commercial and TV, while in the last years it has focused more in the development and production of movie projects. In 2021, its first feature film, Double, was selected by the San Francisco Independent Film Festival. In 2022, Filmine produced the Short Film Ultimo Impero and the documentary Coltivare Storie.
scriptwriter, author - DE
Gianluca Falanga is an Italian researcher and writer who lives in Berlin and works as research assistant at the STASI Museum. Falanga has been working for years on the repressive methods of STASI, the organization of a police state in former GDR, the politically and ideologically motivated persecutions which lasted until the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.
One of his most recent books, Labirinto Stasi (Feltrinelli, 2021), deals with the theme of the opening of the STASI archives in 1992, when it became possible for millions of people to read the dossiers containing the information gathered about them and the repressive or discriminatory interventions undertaken against them by the secret police. This experience was traumatic for many, since the identity of the spies, often friends and relatives, who had reported them or had provided information about them became known. This stimulated processes of individual and collective reflection, which in part still persist today and have helped to come to terms with the heavy legacy of the dictatorship.
PAOLO MARIA SPINA
producer - IT
Since 2002, Paolo Spina has handled his production company "Revolver", Rome, Bologna and Ancona based, involved in several international arthouse co-productions of features and docs. Member of the European Association of film professionals, the Berlin based EFA, European Film Academy, voting for European Film Awards. Consultant for other production companies in Italy and abroad (Los Angeles, Barcelona, Berlin, VGIK Moscow, Toronto), as well as for full-rights distribution companies in Italy and abroad (Poland, Canada, USA). Executive line producer in every Italian region for several foreign films, TV series, commercial spots, from UK, CH, Germany, USA, Poland, France. Another side-activity is the straight-to-tv distribution, collaborating with Italian State free tv broadcaster RAI and pay Tv SKY, for the rights-trading of TV series, arthouse and mainstream films, TV movies of any genre, and packages of festival-documentaries, as well as with Amazon platform, Discovery/Warner free Tv broadcaster and Disney+ Svod platform. As a TV distributor, sold hundreds titles to Italian TV channels in 25 years of film-market as buyer experience. Present in all the main international film and TV markets since 1997 (Cannes film, Cannes MIP, Berlin EFM, Toronto, AFM Los Angeles, Venice' Mostra "Coproduction Bridge", Amsterdam IDFA, MipCom, Rome MIA, etc.
producer - PL
A former manager at the Warsaw Film School and associate producer at Paisa Films studio in Warsaw from 2007 to 2012 where he collaborated on three full-length feature films, a full-length animation, and a popular TV series. In 2012 he established his production and distribution company – Movie Mates. He has produced a feature documentary EARLY APEX (2023), and a documentary series SPORTS FANS for Discovery Corporate Services Limited, UK (2016-2017) among others. Company is also active in distributing Polish movies in the airlines. Currently Movie Mates produce two feature documentaries. ARIA DI BRAVURA is a coproduction with a Polish branch of CANAL+ and tells the extraordinary story of once prominent singer who lost her operatic voice and developed a unique method for treating stutter. Another film is a feature documentary about Polish acknowledged sculpturer Igor Mitoraj titled MITORAJ. THE NEED FOR BEAUTY. Since 2020 Karubin is also co-owner of an independent gaming studio developing a cross-media project titled WONDER LEGENDS.
producer - DE
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