Showing of “Free to Rock” at Zoopalast
Berlin, November 17, 2017
CDA Kent Logsdon
Antje Lengsfeld, Yvonne Schrön and Wolfgang Els, thank you to everybody here at the ZooPalast for hosting Doug Yeager at this showing of his documentary film “Freedom to Rock.”
Tim Hoffmann, I also would like to thank the Wacken Open Air und Metal Summit, as well as the Schoepflin Foundation for co-sponsoring the tour that will take the film, in addition to Berlin – and Potsdam this morning, to Leipzig, Dresden, Neubrandenburg, Rostock and Greifswald. The documentary will also have its television premiere this evening on arte.
Many of you in the audience are perhaps considering a career in film or the arts. I am not a film-maker. I am a diplomat. The main focus of my work is building relationships between the people of the United States and peoples of other countries. At its best, diplomacy is about finding the smallest common denominator between different nations. This film shows how rock and roll turned out to be a common denominator during the Cold War. In fact, this documentary was shown at a conference on public diplomacy in Berlin a few months ago.
Without a doubt, our Embassies and Consulates in eastern Europe – including the DDR used American music as a public or cultural diplomacy tool. The Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and here, RIAS, broadcast jazz and then rock ‘n roll across the Iron Curtain. These broadcasts were viewed by the Soviets as an overt political subversion campaign. According to KGB memos, at one point, 80% of Russian young people listened to western radio stations. By the mid 1980’s, the Soviets were spending more than three billion dollars a year to jam or block these programs.
In those days, it was radio. Today, it’s the Internet. What this film shows is that it is almost impossible to stop the exchange of cultures through national borders. And why? Because it wasn’t just the broadcasts – it was the musicians, the producers, the people of rock and roll that made the difference. Their sounds inspired artists all over the east bloc.
Rock and roll was a form of youth rebellion in the United States. It was no different in eastern Europe – except that it was forbidden. It became a symbol of freedom that, in the end, perhaps helped to bring down the Iron Curtain. The spirit of rebellion and freedom that was such a big part of rock and roll turned out to be stronger than state oppression.
And so, this documentary is definitely not your cookie-cutter view of the Cold War. It reveals the many different layers and aspects of life during this period of history. It is the result of ten years of thorough research, finely-tuned editing, and a deep understanding of the role of culture and music in our world – then and now.
We are honored by the presence of filmmaker Doug Yeager who will be joined by Professor Jessica Gienow-Hecht from the JFK Institute to talk about the film and answer your questions after the showing.
Viel Spaß beim Film. Und nochmals vielen Dank an alle, die diese Filmtour möglich gemacht haben.
Enjoy the film. And again thank you to all those who made this film tour possible.