On the 4th December 1957, just by chance, Erika Steinhoff, born in 1934, goes to a screening of “Menschen am Sonntag” (“People on Sunday”) at the Free University of West-Berlin. Ulrich Gregor, born 1932, a member of the Student Film Club, who chose this film about the atmosphere of 1920s Berlin, conducts the subsequent film discussion. Erika is 23 and Ulrich 25. They get into an argument about the film – and turn into a couple. From then on they are on a single mission together: to screen films.
With charm, skill and persuasion they find ways to track down film copies and rent them. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, they often transport the heavy 35 mm copies together on their Vespa through the whole city. Soon enough the University screenings become too small a platform for them, they establish the “Friends of the German Kinemathek” and move to the Akademie der Künste (Academy of the Arts); there too, screening space is quickly insufficient. Student protests meet Soviet Revolution films, German denial of its Nazi past ist confronted with Alain Resnais’ “Night and Fog”. The program is socially critical and simultaneously orientated towards film as an art form.
In 1970 the Gregors (Erika and Ulrich get married in 1960) opened the Kino Arsenal with other fellow enthusiasts. From then on they show films four times a day: old German Silent Movies, Oberhausener Manifest Films, New German Cinema from young Auteurs, Workers’ Films from the ’68 Movement, Latin American Cinema, Russian, Polish, French, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Swedish, Italian Cinema, movies about Black America, movies from Africa, films against Apartheid, films about Nazi Germany, documentaries, fiction, Avantgarde – films from all around the globe. This was before the digital age, and in Germany most of these could solely be viewed in the Arsenal. Most of the time the cinema was sold out.
The BERLINALE, founded in 1950, was West-Germany’s most important Film Festival. By the end of the 1960’s it had reached its endpoint, both artistically and in terms of content. A German film (OK by Michael Verhoeven), critical of the Vietnam War, led to the festival’s cancellation. One didn’t wish to endanger the German-American friendship. It was a political scandal. From then on the BERLINALE had to open itself politically and artistically to the new era of social upheaval brought on by the movement of ’68, otherwise it would have had no chance of being seen as legitimate, either by its audience or by the filmmakers. The GREGORS were commissioned by the Berlin Senate to manage and organise a newly created section of the Berlinale: THE INTERNATIONAL FORUM OF YOUNG CINEMA. From today’s perspective, we know that the FORUM helped save the Berlinale and turn it into what it stands for worldwide: a cosmopolitan, political and artistic film festival. This is unique. Without the GREGORS, who shaped the FORUM for 30 years – from 1970 to 2000 – this would not be so. Among the many German and international filmmakers who were invited by the Gregors to show their first films at the FORUM are: Peter Greenaway, Jim Jarmusch, Helke Sander, Jutta Brückner, Edgar Reitz, Michael Moore, Wong Kar-Wai, Margarethe von Trotta, Wim Wenders, Doris Dörrie, Jeanine Meerapfel, Rosa von Praunheim, Chantal Akerman, Theo Angelopoulos, Aki Kaurismäki, and others.