Karl Marx City

Petra Epperlein and Michael TuckerUSA / Germany89 minutes2016PGColourB&WEnglish German

Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker (Gunner Palace, The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair) take a powerfully personal journey through the former East Germany, as Epperlein investigates her father’s 1999 suicide and the possibility that he may have worked as a spy for the dreaded Stasi security service.

Invasions of our privacy have become widespread, with hidden cameras, hacked phones, and leaked emails. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from the most surveilled society in history, the German Democratic Republic. By its collapse in 1989, the state fielded 92,000 officers and had used perhaps 500,000 informants to report on its citizens over the previous four decades. This eerily fascinating, highly personal film from Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker — the pair whose Gunner Palace, The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair, and How to Fold a Flag have all screened at the Festival — transports us back to the GDR during those Cold War years, when the capacity to trust one's neighbours was systematically eroded.

A popular East German theory had it that if three people sat together, at least one was an informant. Could one of those informers have been Epperlein's own father? Epperlein was born in Karl Marx City (now Chemnitz). She left once the Wall came down, but the rest of her family stayed behind. Her father took his own life in 1999, leaving only a brief and cryptic letter. Over the course of Karl Marx City, we see Epperlein journey through the former GDR in search of clues as to whether her father was driven to suicide by guilt over having worked for the Stasi (Ministry for State Security). Epperlein interviews family and friends. She visits a Stasi prison and the sprawling Stasi archives, which contain 111 kilometres of files on over 17 million people.

Elegantly incorporating actual surveillance recordings and Stasi-produced propaganda, Karl Marx City offers a glimpse of what it was like to live in a world where privacy was vanquished and suspicion ubiquitous. This chilling synthesis of memoir and history speaks directly to our times, when our most intimate secrets or embarrassing photos can go viral in an instant.