Everyone at Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image was very shocked and saddened to hear the news that Professor Thomas Elsaesser had unexpectedly passed away on December 4 while visiting China as part of his guest professorship in Beijing.

Most of us involved in BIMI and the Essay Film Festival team had known Thomas for many years. He had also visited us at Birkbeck several times in recent years, to take part in academic events here, but also as a filmmaker accompanying his marvellous essay work The Sun Island when we screened it in the 2018 Essay Film Festival.

In tribute to Thomas’s life and work we would like to share once again our audio recording of the excellent discussion between him and Professor Erica Carter (King’s College London) following our packed screening of his film on 28th March 2018 (and also publish for the first time, above, a short video recording excerpt).

In this, his first film, The Sun Island, Thomas documented and explored the life and professional career of his grandfather, Martin Elsaesser (1884-1957), who was architect and chief city planner in Frankfurt from 1925 to 1932. The recent and controversial acquisition of the latter’s landmark building, the Frankfurt Central Market, by the European Central Bank as the site of their new headquarters, allows the film to draw attention to the importance of Martin Elsaesser’s place in the city’s architectural history, and to the neglect of his legacy.

But the film also revolves around Martin’s private life, and notably his wife Liesel’s long-standing liaison with landscape architect Leberecht Migge. Home movies and photographs are combined with personal letters and contemporary interviews to create an intimate portrait of these relationships, and of the protagonists’ collective attempt to create a self-sufficient utopia on Sun Island during the crucial years between the Weimar Republic and World War Two.

BIMI would like to offer its warmest condolences to Thomas’s family, friends and colleagues.


Further Information:

1. Martin Elsaesser Stiftung PDF 

2. Review of The Sun Island

3. Thomas Elsaesser website