Interwar Films at the Austrian Cultural Forum

The month of June is a feast for film aficionados at the Austrian Cultural Forum: For our CineClub we will be presenting four Interwar films, “Sonnenstrahl”, “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans”, “Menschen am Sonntag” and “Dracula”, coinciding with the Swept Away Festival at King’s Place in London. All of these have been filmed between 1927-1931 and manage to capture not only the essence of filmmaking at that particular time but also the revolutionary transition from silent films to the talkies that we appreciate today.

About the Swept Away Festival 


Music in 1920s Berlin and Vienna: cool, sleek, jazzy and very modern. But by 1934, denounced by the Nazi government and their music banned, composers were swept away into exile. The Swept Away Festival at King’s Place rediscovers the lost generation of the music created between the world wars. Therefore, Londoners (or those who happen to be in London this June) can experience the music and film of the turbulent early 19th century.

For more information and Festival tickets go to the King’s Place website.

Interview with Fritz Urschitz, Brigitte Mayr & Michael Omasta 

To give our visitors and readers some more insight, we had the chance to question film historians Brigtte Mayr and Michael Omasta (Synema), as well as our film curator Fritz Urschitz and ask them about the selection and importance of the four films:

  1. Why did you select these four movies in specific for the interwar films theme?

That was actually quite a lengthy process because there are plenty of amazing films from that time. All of the four chosen films are unique in their very own way –masterpieces in their own right.

  • People on a Sunday by Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer: an avant-garde project, filmed with a borrowed camera and a budget of 1000 German Mark.
  • Ray of Sunshine by Paul Fejos: a wonderful Viennesefilm, filmed in the “Rotes Wien” (red Vienna) during interwar times.
  • Sunrise by F.W. Murnau and Carl Mayer: even in the past vaunted as one of the most beautiful melodramas in the history of film.
  • Dracula by Tod Browning and Karl Freund: a milestone of the horror genre, or: an encrypted critique on capitalism.

Furthermore, all four feature Austrian filmmakers, who were – sooner or later – forced to emigrate: apart from the already mentioned ones – Mayer, Ulmer, Fejos and Freund – also: Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann and actor Bela Lugosi from Hungary.

  1.  What makes each of these films worth watching in regards to their content?

The selected films, apart from Dracula, tackle everyday problems such as: rampant unemployment, the market crash, the great depression etc. Nonetheless, all of the films are characterised by optimism, which encouraged the audience back then – possibly even today.

  1. What makes the films relevant to contemporary audiences?

That’s a question for the filmmaker! No one would ask an artist or writer about this. Why would an audience be interested in a painting of Klimt these days, but not in a film from the interwar times? But we don’t want to be polemic. It’s those four films in specific that convey information on the art of film in the interwar times. They oscillate between documentaries and movies, between the handicraft and charm of improvisation, show everyday heroes as well as the art of acting.

  1. Which feature(s) is/are most representative of interwar films?

A special feature of a lot of interwar films is the diversity, meaning: There are multiple languages – “Ray of Sunshine” e.g. in German and French, “Dracula” in English and Mexican – or silent films that were re-released with sound afterwards, and of course films like “Sunrise”, that were written by film poets – such as Carl Mayer from Graz – and even had sound planned for scenes – despite being a silent film.

>> See our previous interview with Brigitte and Michael (Synema)

The CineClub Interwar Screenings:

SonnenstrahlSonnenstrahl (Ray of Sunshine) by Paul Fejos (1933)

Hans (Gustav Fröhlich), recently made redundant, trudges to the Danube to commit suicide. When a young woman (Annabella) throws herself in, he rescues her and they begin their long and erratic love story. Together they decide to face the hardships of life together and decide to sell soap on the streets to ensure some income. This brings the couple a step closer to independency and hope. Writer-director-epidemiologist-archaeologist Paul Fejos offers us a view of life during the epoch of ‘Red Vienna’.

When: 7:00pm – 9th of June 2015


Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans by F.W. Murnau (1927)

Due to an affair, a farmer is tempted to murder his wife in order to start a new life. Before commencing his murderous attempt, the farmer gazes into his wife’s eyes and is overcome by remorse. Desperately, he tries to regain her love. The silent film from the year 1927 was directed by F.W. Murnau, one of the leading figures in German Expressionism. Austrian Carl Mayer adapted the screenplay from Hermann Sudermann’s short story A trip to Tilsit.

When: 7:00pm – 11th of June 2015

Menschen am SonntagMenschen am Sonntag (People on a Sunday) by Robert Siodmak et al (1930)

This silent film by Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer and Billy Wilder was shot in 1930 in and around Berlin and tells the story of a group of friends ( a wine-seller, a cab driver, a model, and a record-player seller) who come together for fun activities by the beach at Wannsee. The film captures the mood of an eventful Sunday back then perfectly. It is considered an excellent example of ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ in film and manages to portray the elements successfully.

When: 7:00pm – 17th of June 2015

Dracula by Tod Browning (1931)Dracula

Bela Lugosi stars in this first ‘official’ adaptation of Bram Stokers novel. Shot in 1931 and directed by Tod Browning the horror film is one of Lugosi’s most iconic roles. The Austrian cameraman Karl Freund, well known at the time for his work on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, also contributed to the film’s enduring popularity and is believed to have co-directed it.

When: 7:00pm – 24th of June 2015

For more information on the screenings, go to the ACF Film section.
All events are for free but please make sure you book a ticket as seating is limited!


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