Film, Shelburne Falls resident to peer under Iron Curtain

  • An East German government agent conducts surveillance on a playwright in the 2006 film, “The Lives of Others,” which Pothole Pictures will show Friday and Saturday at Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls. Contributed image/Andrew Baker

Staff Writer
Published: 11/14/2019 6:28:46 PM
Modified: 11/14/2019 6:28:35 PM

SHELBURNE FALLS — This month marks three decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall. So this Friday and Saturday, Pothole Pictures will present a program that peers into how life was before the wall came down.

The nonprofit community movie house will show the film “The Lives of Others” at Memorial Hall, 51 Bridge St. Then, after each screening, Shelburne Falls resident Andrew Baker will speak to his experience living behind the Iron Curtain.

Pothole Pictures extends an open invitation to any audience members who wish to share memories or reflections about life behind the Iron Curtain in the former Soviet-controlled police states of Eastern Europe.

“It’s really a film that goes back and looks behind the wall (at) the police state that was East Germany,” Baker said, focusing on a playwright and the man tasked with listening in on him.

“The drama is really in the story of how the listener is changed by the life he’s vicariously experiencing and the playwright’s life as it moves toward the movie’s dramatic conclusion,” Baker said, of the award-winning, 2006 film that was written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

For Baker, the theme of being listened to resonates vividly with a part of his childhood. At the age of 9, he and his parents moved to the former Czechoslovakia, where his father worked as a diplomat. The family stayed for three years and moved to Washington D.C. when Baker was 11.

“That three-year period is like a little village under glass in my memory,” he said, “because it’s so discrete from the rest of my life.”

While in Czechoslovakia, Baker and his family lived “in the bubble of the American embassy,” he said, adding that his experience in Czechoslovakia is that of a visitor, rather than a citizen who may face other repercussions.

“You’re in a very privileged (situation with) a sort of observership when you’re part of the foreign service,” Baker said of his experience.

Baker’s family and local Czechs who knew them were all spied on, he said.

“We had the experience of knowing that we were being listened in on all the time and the Czechs that we knew lived with that feeling as well, and that reality.”

Some aspects of being spied on were not subtle, Baker recalled.

“Everyone who worked for us,” Baker said, like a house cleaner and a cook, “had to work for the Czech secret service. That was a condition of their employment and we knew that.”

Baker reminisced about his family’s car being tailed as they drove around on vacation, adding that sometimes his dad would play a game of cat-and-mouse just for fun.

In 1968, Baker and his family experienced the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia.

“We had a very present experience (of feeling observed) after the Russian invasion took place,” he said. “The city and the country were effectively occupied by Soviet troops. There were Russian soldiers standing on the corner when we went to school.”

The military occupation that Baker experienced “slowly receded back into a more internalized oppression that the rest of the Eastern Bloc experienced as the years went on,” he said.

For Baker, who is now 60, Friday and Saturday will be a family affair. The Kensington Players, who will provide the “music at the movies” before the film, includes his step-mother, Katharine Baker.

Music begins at 7 p.m. each day, with the film starting at 7:30. Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for children.

Reach Maureen O’Reilly at or at 413-772-0261, ext. 280.

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