“People on Sunday”. One of the scenes from the film at Nikolassee is shown on the screen, and Ulrich and Erika Gregor are sitting in the Arsenal cinema on Potsdamer Platz, as is so often the case. The classic of the Weimar cinema by Robert and Curt Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer and Billy Wilder still causes discussions after decades between the two. Satirical train or film about high-spirited young men?
Alice Agneskirchner’s documentary “Come with me to the cinema” is dedicated to the life of what is probably the most important couple in German cinema, the Gregors. Co-founders of the Friends of the German Cinematheque, co-founders of the Arsenal, co-founders of the International Forum of Young Film.
Strictly chronologically from the beginnings in Berlin in the 1950s to the present day, Agneskirchner alternates between talks and film excerpts. Didactically, the sector boundaries flash on the Berlin map as a context for the early years. The film thrives on the anecdotes of the Gregors. At the beginning they tell how they discovered Sergei Bondarchuk’s “A Human Destiny” on one of their forays through East Berlin cinemas.
Erika Gregor persuaded her husband to drive up to the Soviet embassy in Berlin, which was still undivided, on a Vespa to get the film for a screening at the Free University. The plan is working. It is one of the first examples of how the Gregors kept the cinema of the Soviet Union and later also the GDR and other countries of Eastern Europe visible in West Berlin in the middle of the Cold War. But if such memories don’t need one thing, then re-enactments: Agneskirchner films a couple on a moped with a roll of film. Not her only penchant for convention.
In 1963, the Association of Friends of the German Cinematheque was established to supplement the Deutsche Kinemathek, which had been founded shortly before, and began monthly screenings in the Academy of Arts. The Friends show classics of silent film and contemporary film art, the first program combines Paul Leni’s “The Wax Museum” with short films from the Oberhausen environment.
The evenings become a fixed point of contact for West Berlin cinema enthusiasts. Six years later, fellow campaigners of the Gregors found the Bayreuther Lichtspiele in Welser Strasse, the club took over the cinema and renamed it Arsenal. In 1971, the new festival section “Forum” emerged from the scandal surrounding Michael Verhoeven’s controversial Vietnam film “O.K.” at the previous year’s Berlinale.
Agneskirchner’s biggest omission lies in the structure of her film: it doesn’t go beyond the two Gregors. There is no suggestion that the Freie Universität Film Club was part of a broader film club movement that has attempted to reform German cinema since the 1950s. None of Arsenal’s co-founders, many of whom have been collaborators for decades, are mentioned by name. This has the effect that Gero Gandert, Heiner Roß and Manfred Salzgeber present the program of the first forum in the archive material, but their names are not known.
In this representation, the municipal cinemas in West Germany are no longer the result of a multifaceted process that is linked, among other things, to the founding of the first municipal cinema in Duisburg in 1970 and Hilmar Hoffmann’s work as head of the cultural department in Frankfurt – but they go linearly to the arsenal return.