Help us preserve the film heritage of the 20th century


PROGRESS was founded in East Berlin in 1950 as the only film distribution company in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Until 1990, PROGRESS exclusively supplied the approximately 830 cinemas and almost 2,000 other venues in the GDR and reached approximately 190,000 people daily in about 2,200 screenings. After an eventful history, PROGRESS today preserves, digitizes and indexes an important part of the audiovisual memory of the 20th century and makes it available to the public on a historically curated platform. The constantly growing stock of currently around 24,000 films and recordings from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day includes not only the complete film heritage of DEFA but also other diverse collections such as Cintec and Wydoks; the contemporary witness archive Thomas Grimm; the West German newsreel "Blick in die Welt"; the Catholic monthly show "Zeitschau"/"Spiegel der Zeit"; commissioned films from ministries, parties and mass organizations of the GDR; "Maischberger" on n-tv, as well as footage from the "Medienarchiv Bielefeld" and US Archives.

History of PROGRESS

1950 to 1990

In 1950, PROGRESS Film-Vertrieb GmbH was founded in East Berlin by merging DEFA Film Distribution with the Soviet film distributor Sovexportfilm under the German-Soviet management of Rudolf Bernstein and Georgi Nikolajewitsch Nikolajew. In 1955 PROGRESS became a Volkseigener Betrieb (VEB). As a state cultural institution, PROGRESS was involved in the material planning of DEFA and the film licensing procedures. PROGRESS purchased foreign films and commissioned dubbing. PROGRESS also produced film copies for public screenings and was the only distributor to bring all domestic and foreign films to the cinemas in the GDR. At the end of the 1980s, there were almost 830 stationary cinemas, about 150 summer and tent cinemas and about 1,800 screens in public institutions such as club and culture houses, kindergartens and retirement homes. On average, PROGRESS reached about 190,000 people every day in about 2,200 screenings.

1990 until today

After reunification PROGRESS was placed under the control of the privatisation agency the Treuhandanstalt, the VEB then became PROGRESS Film-Verleih GmbH - and in 1997 was sold into private ownership. However, it remained a film distributor for all DEFA productions.

The DEFA stock of PROGRESS is the only film collection in the world in which the entire cinematic heritage of a country – which, moreover, no longer exists – is preserved as a single collection. This extraordinary situation has led to numerous requests from filmmakers in Germany and from abroad to use excerpts from this archive for documentaries and feature films revolving around stories east of the Iron Curtain.

Since 2012, this task has formed the core of PROGRESS. In 2019 the platform went online with the aim of making the entire DEFA collection digitally accessible to the interested global public by 2023. Since 2020, the stock of historical films on the platform has continuously expanded to include diverse film and photo collections of worldwide provenances. The stock already comprises around 24,000 films and photographs from all over the world, from the beginning of the 20th century to the present. With the help of artificial and human intelligence, the platform continuously indexes its holdings and makes them searchable in a variety of languages.


The PROGRESS portfolio includes numerous collections:

In addition, PROGRESS, on behalf of the Federal Archives and the Foundation Archive of Parties and Mass Organisations of the GDR (SAPMO), catalogues and exclusively exploits approximately 2,500 commissioned films from around 40 ministries, parties and mass organisations of the GDR. This includes recordings of the civil defence of the GDR, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Culture; productions of the Free German Trade Union Federation (FDGB); the Free German Youth (FDJ); the State Planning Commission and the German Central Institute for Teaching Materials. It also includes around 1,000 productions made by the Film Studio of the National People's Army (NVA), founded in 1960, which include numerous images of the border area, the construction of the Wall and the fall of the Wall, some as yet unknown to the general public. Reports on the work of the People's Police and the fire department, series such as "In matters of Order and Security" and the so-called educational films reflect many facets of GDR society. This repertoire is constantly supplemented by interesting new acquisitions.


PROGRESS sees itself as a company with an important cultural-economic mission: to grow the archive and preserve the audiovisual memory of the 20th century in one place in order to make it accessible to the public, keeping the collections alive through use.

As an all-German company, PROGRESS builds bridges between East and West and actively contributes to social and cultural rapprochement. In recognition of this mission, PROGRESS was awarded the special prize "Living Unity" in 2010 by the initiative "Germany - Land of Ideas" under the patronage of German President Horst Köhler.

Marilyn Monroe in Korea (1954)Marilyn Monroe in Korea | 1954

Blick in die Welt | 1963

Die Grube in Bischofferode | 1995