In 1983, the Berlin Senat awarded my German partner and myself a “low-budget” grant to produce a short documentary film about the Great Jewish Cemetery of Berlin (that was founded in 1880 and has over I 10,000 graves). Entitled Bin Verlorenes Berlin,this film suggests that the cemetery itself is the principal surviving relic of the “lost Berlin,” for in its gravestones-in their designs and verbal-numerical details-­ are implicit images not only of Berlin Jewish life but Berlin in general in its greatest years (1860-1940).The visual track of the film consists of scenes from the cemetery; the soundtrack has the voices of ex-Berliners reminiscing about the cemetery and the world represented there. Twenty minutes long, this German film made its debut at the Berlin Film Festival last February and has since been shown at film festivals in Oberhausen and Bavaria (the Grenzlandfilmtage); it has been invited to the Israel Festival in June and will probably go elsewhere in Europe.

Since Bin Verlorenes Berlin ought to have an English version, not with subtitles but with a new soundtrack of ex­-Berliner stalking now in English, we thought of applying to the National Endowment for the Arts, whose Media Arts program had previously supported my work; but in truth, this film is not Kunst, as the Germans would say, but Wissenschaft or scholarship. It has a particular historical subject, a subject which is visually an especially resonant historical symbol. So, instead, we applied in 1983 to the National Endowment for the Humanities, which, however, refused to fund it.

Such refusal is, of course, the privilege of any discretionary agency, but what is curious is the explanation. To the folks at the NEH, the principal deficiency with our application was not the film’s unconventional way of evoking history or its European subject but something else. The principal charge against us was that we lacked an advisory board of scholars (only”professors, with Ph.D’s” would do, we were told) who should have submitted their “letters of commitment and resumes,” to quote the opening sentence of the NEH’s explanatory letter to me.

It seems that the NEH has a very particular concept of how a documentary film should be made. Once a filmmaker has an idea, he should gather around him a group of scholars who advise him from the beginning, who observe him closely through every step of the production, and who approve the final result;for this work,the academic advisors should be paid a consultant’s wage. Tue model behind these requirements appears to be that of scholarly popularization. The NEH insists there is no other way.

It never occurred to us to proceed in this way. Tue first reason is that I know no one else more familiar with the subject and its significance. This is less an assertion of arrogance than an expression of my sense that no one known to me,professor or layman, perceived the symbolic importance of the cemetery and then bothered to investigate the place. Indeed, some prominent scholars of German-Jewish history have never been there at all. However, the NEH appears more impressed by credentials than knowledge,perhaps because the former isso much easier to measure. (Of course, once we finished a rough print, we had the good sense to show it to scholars, who identified errors we gladly corrected.) The second reason why we did not form such an advisory board is that the Berlin Senat did not require it (and indeed might have thought such consultancy wages an objectionable extravagance).

Indeed, if you live in West Berlin for any length of time, you begin to learn that there is a Western way to do things and an Eastern way. The principal difference is that the Western way favors imaginative freedom and individual authority; the Eastern way favors mental restrictions and the close hierarchical supervision of cultural activity. To do a cultural project in the East, you must get permission from far more authorities than are necessary here; and to get this permission, it helps to surround your project with the names of party hacks and other pets of the party government,whose affiliations are politically acceptable, all of whom, of course, should be paid off simply for associating their names with yours. That is the Eastern way of doing cultural things; there is no other way there. Now, looking at the National Endowment for the Humanities, especially in contrast to the Berlin Senat (that funded the film,after all),to which side of the Iron Curtain, as we say, does our Humanities Endowment belong?

Meanwhile, asEin Verlorenes Berlin is touring European festivals,which are often attended by the curators of other international festivals(New York, Filmex in Los Angeles, Sydney, etc.), we are often asked whether there will be an English version of our film. In reply, we explain that we would like not to translate the German film with either voiceover English speakers or subtitles-to cite two conventional methods-but to compose a new soundtrack wholly in English. Good idea, they reply. Here in America the directors of the Jewish Film Festival would like to show it with an English soundtrack; Educational Television, as well as the Margaret Mead Film Festival at the Museum of Natural History, have decided that they cannot make a decision for acceptance on the German version alone.

Have you applied to redo it in English? everyone asks. Yes, we reply. Don’t you have government organizations in America that support such things? Of course we do. Have you applied to them? Yes, but we were not successful. Why not? The NEH complained that we did not have a board of academic advisors under whose close supervision we would work, who would be paid off for their involvement with us. To an American, this answer indicates only that academics have taken over the Humanities Endowment, writings elf-employment, if not featherbedding, into its granting procedures. To a European, this NEH policy indicates something more, and more ominous—that this Federal cultural agency epitomizes the communist way of doing such things and, beyond that, indicate show closely America resembles the Soviet Union!

In short, the NEH has politicized our initially nonpolitical film, wholly on its own initiative. As Ein Verlorenes Berlin tours Europe, this story of its funding (or lack of it) will be making a decisive contribution to the current debate for the mind of Western Europe. On one side is the American position, which advises Western Europe to side with us, because we are different from the Russians and can protect you from communism only if you let us put our armaments on your lands. On the other side is the essentially anti-American position that says Western Europe should remain neutral and forbid American armaments, because the U.S. and U.S.S.R. fundamentally resemble each other. It appears that the National Endowment for the Humanities, not withstanding its militant conservative rhetoric, provides ammunition for the latter position. We would agree that, in this context, the NEH was objectively Com-Symp.

At the Endowments last fall was circulated an “Administrative Directive”outlining a “Personnel Security Program” that requires the Endowments to employ “only those persons whose employment is found to be clearly consistent with national security interests” which it defines as “the protection and preservation of the military, economic, and productive strength of the United States, including the security of the government in domestic and foreign affairs,against espionage, sabotage, and subversion and any other illegal-acts designated to weaken or destroy the United States.” There is no question about it by the secriteria,in order to protect America and the American way, it is time to flush out the NEH.

-Richard Kostelanetz

Mr. Kostelanetz is at present completing a book on literary granting in America. He worked in Berlin initially as a guest of the DAAD Kunstlerprogramm.