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Alexander Stark
Doctoral candidate, first cohort (2017-2020)

“The filming baker’s wife” Elisabeth Wilms – Amateur film practices and/as useful cinema culture

In 1941 Elisabeth Wilms (1905-1981) discovered her passion for filmmaking. Wilms, who ran a bakery and a grocery store with her husband in Dortmund, started filming the daily life in her surroundings with a borrowed 16mm camera. She continued even after the widespread destruction of Dortmund in World War II, and in 1947/48 produced two commissioned films for the German charity organization Evangelisches Hilfswerk, which depict living conditions in the almost completely demolished city center. These two films were her first commissioned works, and what started out as a hobby became a successful business within a few years. In the following decades, Wilms was highly active in the field of useful cinema and produced films for a variety of customers and with the most diverse purposes. Among others, her oeuvre included industrial films, image films, and religious works. When she died in 1981, Wilms left more than one hundred films as well as a rich archive consisting of documents and personal records.

In my project, I took Wilms’s case as an example for the interconnections of amateur and commissioned film production in Germany during her period of filmmaking. I therefore studied her professionalization process from an autodidact amateur filmmaker to a successful author of commissioned films and her undetermined status in the gray area between amateur and professional filmmaking. I also examined the three fields of useful film production which played the biggest role in her career: charity films, promotional films for the City of Dortmund, and industrial film production. Lastly, I focussed on the role that her films play in the local commemorative culture of Dortmund.

The project was completed in March 2020, defended in April 2020 at the Philipps-University Marburg and published in January 2023 under the title “Die ‘filmende Bäckersfrau’ Elisabeth Wilms” (Link).


Alexander Stark studied Media and History at the University of Trier. From 2014 to 2017 he was a research associate in the project Advertising and the Transformation of Screen Cultures at the Department of Media Studies at the Philipps-University Marburg. He has given talks on the interconnections of amateur film and useful cinema at various international workshops and conferences, such as the symposium The Noisy Amateur Film (Bern, 2017), the workshop Amateurism – Professionalism – Pragmatism: Situating Film Practices (Gothenburg, 2017), the 11th Orphan Film Symposium (New York, 2018) and the conference Urban Layers – Rust Belt and the Ruhr (Dortmund and Cincinnati 2019/2020). Between September 2017 and May 2020 Alexander was a PhD candidate in the Graduiertenkolleg “Configurations of Film” at the Goethe University, Frankfurt. From June 2020 to August 2020 he had a Postdoc-position at Philipps University Marburg, which was funded by a stipend of the Graduiertenkolleg. Heis currently working on an application for a DFG-funded research project on the history of television advertising in the FRG and GDR.