Helma Sanders-Brahms (20 November 1940 – 27 May 2014) was a German film director, screenwriter, producer and actress.
Sanders-Brahms studied acting in Hannover from 1960-62, and German, English, and pedagogy in Cologne from 1962-65. Her early career involved work as a television announcer and model.
During a trip to Italy in 1967, she interned with film directors Pier Paolo Pasolini and Sergio Corbucci, a decisive experience in her choice to pursue film-making.
Beginning in 1969, she made her own films, writing her own screenplays and producing many of her films herself.
Her film-making comprised both fiction and documentary films, and many of her films contain a strong autobiographical component.
Her early films engage critically with the themes of labour, migration, and the situation of women in West Germany.
Under the Pavement Lies the Strand was a central film for the German women’s movement and for the student movement, as well as for the director’s own emergence as an explicitly feminist film-maker.
The controversial made for television movie Shirin’s Wedding depicted the tragic death of a Turkish migrant to Germany, addressing the subject of forced marriage.
From her reading of classic German literature, she developed a special sympathy for the work of Heinrich Von Kleist. At least three of her films are either based on, or explicitly refer to, that author.
Sanders-Brahms gained international recognition with Germany, Pale Mother, which addresses German women’s experiences during and after the Nazi period.
Her final theatrical film Geliebte Clara (“Beloved Clara”) concerned the love triangle between Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, and Johannes Brahms, who was a distant relative of Sanders-Brahms.
She then made one last work, a TV documentary So wie ein Wunder, about the musician Werner Heymann shown on German television in 2012.
Her films count among the most significant of the New German Cinema, and have been awarded many prizes at festivals worldwide.
In 1982, she was a member of the jury at the 32nd Berlin International Film Festival. She was made an Officier of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and a member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin.
Sanders-Brahms died in Berlin on 27 May 2014 after a long illness.