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The Sons of Great Bear

Josef Mach
Die Söhne der großen Bärin
GDR 1966 / 98’
Eastern Bloc Hits

After the success of West Germany’s Karl May adaptations, like Winnetou (1963), the East German film studio DEFA decided to make Westerns meant only for Soviet bloc audiences. Referred to as the ‘Easterns’, they brought about a big change in the ideology and aesthetics of the genre. Some Easterns were shot in Yugoslavia in the 1960s, but they are not Yugoslav films. Instead, the Yugoslavs produced WWII films modeled after the Western, with the brave partisans fighting the evil Nazis.

However, because Winnetou was made in Yugoslavia, DEFA chose it as the location. The first Western shot by DEFA in Yugoslavia was Czech director Josef Mach’s picture The Sons of Great Bear (1966). It stars former athlete Gojko Mitić in his first acting role. Here, the biggest star of East German cinema plays Tokei-Ihto, the son of a Native American chief butchered by the ruthless ‘Red Fox’ Clark, a symbol of all capitalist white men. The Sons of Great Bear is a film about the unrelenting fight for freedom of the Dakota tribe at a time when almost every other tribe has yielded to the white man.

Miroljub Vučković / Rotterdam IFF

Josef Mach

Born in 1909, died in 1987, Czechoslovakia. He was an actor, screenwriter and director. He is best known for The Sons of Great Bear (1966). Mach is a master of several genres: politically committed drama, comedy, fairytales and Westerns.

Selected filmography

1946 Velký případ / A Big Case

1949 Vzbouření na vsi/i The Village Revolt

1956 Igraszki z diabłem / Hrátky s čertem / Playing with the Devil

1958 Hořká láska / Bitter Love

1960 Valčík pro milión / Walz for Millions

1965 Synowie Wielkiej Niedźwiedzicy / Die Söhne der Großen Bärin / The Sons of Great Bear

1966 Czarna pantera / Der schwarze Panther / Black Panther

1977 Tichý Američan v Praze / A Quiet American in Prague

Cast & Crew

director Josef Mach
screenplay Liselotte Welskopf-Henrich, based on her novel
cinematography Jarosław Tuzar
editing Ilse Peters
music Wilhelm Neef
cast Gojko Mitić, Jirí Vrstála, Rolf Römer, Hans Hardt-Hardtloff, Gerhard Rachold
producer Hans Mahlich
production DEFA
sales DEFA
language German
colouration colour