In the powerful and luminous black-and-white film Heimat is a Space in Time, Thomas Heise explores “heimat,” his family home and homeland, through the upheavals of 20th-century German history. Winner of the Caligari Film Prize at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival and Best Film in the International Competition at Visions du Réel 2019, and official selections of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and New York Film Festival, Heimat is a Space in Time will make its U.S. theatrical debut via Icarus Films on March 13, 2020 at Anthology Film Archives in New York City, followed by engagements in Los Angeles and nationwide.
In Heimat is a Space in Time, Heise shares the stories of three generations of his family, in their own words. He sets the tone early, reading an anti-war essay written in 1912 by his grandfather Wilhelm, when he was a schoolboy. The director uses the same matter-of-fact, uninflected tone throughout the film – as he reads letters and notes from relatives who lived through the horrors of the First World War, Nazi Germany, and then life in Communist East Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Heimat is a Space in Time offers no context, no talking heads, no analysis; the potent imagery and seemingly simple narration is the documentary’s greatest strength. One segment involves Heise’s grandparents, a “mixed” Jewish-gentile couple living in Vienna during the Nazi era. Their letters capture the increasing measures taken against Jews: banned from buses, losing access to coal ration cards, and lastly being forced to a concentration camp in Poland. As Heise reads, lists with the names of Jews slated for deportation scroll by.
An essential film in Heise’s oeuvre – many of his previous films were banned in the former East Germany, where he lived until the fall of the Berlin Wall – Heimat is a Space in Time is an understated epic that brilliantly marries the written word, image, and sound design. The unspoken message is that the past, even as those who remember it slip away, remains with us.
“The material used in this film is what remains of my family. The remnants of those I knew, whose circumstances I had been part of or had otherwise experienced. Remnants that mirror history. A history that is just as much my own,” said director Thomas Heise.
Born in 1955 in Berlin, GDR/Germany, Thomas Heise (author and director) trained as a printer. In 1975, he began work as an assistant director at the DEFA Studio for Feature Films in Potsdam-Babelsberg, and in 1978, enrolled at the Academy of Film & Television. His first film, the documentary Why a Film About These People – produced entirely with materials bought on the black market – was banned from public screening. Heise broke off his studies. Since 1983, he has worked as a writer and director in the areas of theatre, audio drama and documentary film. Until the end of the GDR, however, all his documentary work was either blocked, destroyed or confiscated. Heise found an artistic home in the theatre, where he cooperated closely with author and director Heiner Müller. In 1990, Heise earned his MA at the Berlin Academy of Fine Art. Until 1997, he was a member of the Berlin Ensemble, where he acted as contributing director for numerous productions. In 2007, Heise began working as a Professor for Film and Media Art at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design. In 2013, became a Professor for Art and Film at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Austria. Since 2018, he has been the director of the Film and Media Arts section at the Academy of Arts Berlin-Brandenburg, Germany.