EMU professor presents the story of Lotte Reiniger

EMU continued to celebrate Women’s History Month’s focus on celebrating women of character, courage and commitment with “The Woman Before Disney, Lotte Reiniger’s Dancing Shadows,” presented by professor Margrit Zinggeler of the German Department. Although many think that Walt Disney produced the first full-length animated film, in truth a German woman working in this new field accomplished that feat in 1926.

“I very much enjoyed this event,” Zinggeler said. She was excited about the opportunity to share Reiniger’s life and accomplishments to contribute her part to Women’s History Month.

Lotte Reiniger was a woman who embodied all the elements of character, courage and commitment. She was born in Berlin-Charlottenburg, Germany in 1899 and spent her life creating silhouette films. She made more than 70 films during the course of her lifetime, producing her first film in 1919.

She was later encouraged to work on her first full-length film. Released in 1926 and running 65 minutes long, this film was “The Adventures of Prince Achmed.” Reiniger both wrote the script and did the film work for this movie.

It’s a very intricate process to create films in this way. She would use flat black paper, creating silhouettes, which would be the characters in the film. These simple black figures would then convey emotion to tell the story to the audience. She also would use a colored background to give depth to the scenes of the film.

Reiniger focused on a lot of the fairy tale stories, especially the Brothers Grimm stories. Reiniger said at one point, “I believe in the truth of fairy tales more than I believe in the truth in the newspaper.”

Zinggeler provided a variety of clips from different Reiniger films, including “The Adventures of Prince Achmed,” “Cinderella” and others.

Allison Rusco, a sophomore at EMU majoring in music education with a German teaching minor, especially enjoyed the fairy tale clips. “It’s interesting how much closer her Cinderella story was to the Grimm story instead of Disney’s version.”

Reiniger travelled a lot during hard times, especially during World War II, exploring and continuing to work in film. In the 1970s, she won prestigious awards recognizing her for her innovative work in film.

For more about Lotte Reiniger, many of her films are easily found on YouTube or lottereinger.de. Her website is only in German but, as Zinggeler said, “that gives a good reason to learn German.”

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