INTERFILM mourns for Werner Schneider-Quindeau (1949-2017)

Obituary. By Karsten Visarius


He used to love discussions, and he was an enthusiastic preacher. He enjoyed engaging in disputes. And he had firm convictions that he defended with vigour. His charm allowed him to make new contacts time and again. And he had the ear of a good pastor who listened to the stories of the lives of the people whom he encountered. He was a critical person, a theologian from the bottom of his heart, a cineaste, reader and music lover full of never-ending curiosity, a true friend, and a loving father and husband. For many of us the news of his sudden death is almost inconceivable. Werner Schneider-Quindeau deceased completely unexpectedly on August 24, 2017. His passing is a painful loss. We will miss him.

He was born in Gönnern, in the Hessian hinterland between Marburg and Dillenburg, in a rural environment with which he always kept in touch. And from which he went far away at the same time. A religious instruction teacher awakened in him the interest in theology, which he studied in Bielefeld first, then in Göttingen. That is also where his vocational career started. Between 1975 and 1982 he worked as a scientific assistant in the theological faculty. His time in Göttingen shaped his theological thinking in the tradition of Karl Barth. And it shaped his understanding of the Protestant church as an institution that has to undergo continuous reformation in its relationship with the world and with people, in the very spirit of its beginnings – in order to discover God anew again and again. This was the place of his first marriage, and this was also where a terrible blow of fate hit him, the loss of a child who had only just been born. When in his later life he thought about the image of a father, which was one of his lasting topics, this painful experience was always in the background. 

It was partly because of this shock that he left Göttingen and took his first position as a minister in Walldorf near Frankfurt in the south of Hesse in 1984. He remains unforgotten as the pastor of the rebuilt cottage church of the opponents of the expansion of Frankfurt airport by the Western runway. This commitment outside existing institutions was characteristic of his political support for those who are weak and beaten. And it was an evidence of his fighting spirit that he always maintained. It must have been in Walldorf that he met the then chairman of the jury of Evangelische Filmarbeit, Rudolf Joos. This acquaintance led him to become a member of the jury, and its chairman in 1987. As everyone knew this office was very close to his heart. Even when he officially retired he could not tear himself away from it. He served as jury chairman for thirty years, up to his death. He had planned to give up this office at the end of this year. 

Film and church turned out to be a fruitful field of work, always in this close correlation. Werner dedicated a great deal of time, work and thought to this field as the author of numerous essays, during events and in many volunteer functions. He became the chairman of the Film and Audiovisual Media Committee of the Protestant publishing orization GEP in Frankfurt, and in this function he was also a GEP board member. In the years 1999-2003 he was the film officer of the Council of the German Protestant Church, and advocated to turn this volunteer task into a full staff position as a culture officer. From 2004 until 2013 he was vice president of INTERFILM, a member or president of numerous church festival juries – in Berlin, Cannes, Locarno, Moscow, Oberhausen, Venice – and remained a member of the INTERFILM board until he died. He was involved in the preparation of the film talks “Arnoldshainer Filmgespräche” and developed the form of film conference meditation documented in the series of film books resulting from the events. 

He viewed film as a field for sharpening the sense of perception and for insight (not least for the church), for the discovery of human experience and emotions, possibilities and interdependencies, and for creative and critical objection to the prevailing situation. “The art of distinction as a protestant task” (German title: Die Kunst der Unterscheidung als protestantische Aufgabe)  was the programmatic title by which he also described the key motive for his endeavours to bring the church and film closer to each other. His passion for film certainly went beyond that. However, he also remained a theologian to the core. His second wife, the psychoanalyst and professor Ilka Quindeau, inspired a further intellectual perspective of his continuously growing cinema experience: the question of the relationship between psychoanalysis and film. A book on this topic, on which he had recently worked, remains unfinished. 

From the administration point of view in life all those were second jobs. But his view was certainly different. And at the same time he put no less energy into his official tasks, as the principal of the Theological Seminary in Frankfurt (1989-2000), as pastor for societal responsibility of the Protestant church  in Hesse and Nassau (2000-2007), and as the city church minister of St. Katharinen in Frankfurt (2007-2015). These titles come with a remarkable, sometimes frightening workload. Describing it would mean going beyond the limits of an obituary. 

Besides film there was a second big topic which kept him busy: the holocaust. He always viewed German society as overshadowed by it. Based on this understanding he intensively involved himself in Jewish-Christian dialogue, amongst other things as a member of the working group Jews and Christians at Arnoldshainer Filmgespräche. When he dealt with the Bible he always thought the Torah along with it. It was on this basis that another field of work emerged, the organisation of study tours to Israel and to New York. For him Jerusalem was the place of his spiritual origins, New York was an almost utopian cosmos of cultural diversity in which he found an urban, vital Jewish and Christian community life, and Frankfurt was the centre of his life: these were the three cities for describing his personal coordinate system. On his sixtieth anniversary his friends and colleagues dedicated him a festschrift on this complex of topics called “Religion and urbanity. Challenges for the church and society”. 

Chch parishes, city organisms, films, journeys with people – for Werner Schneider-Quindeau all that meant the crystallization of living relationships. That is where he found people, and people found him. They offered him a cornucopia of perceptions which came before effects for him. That is how he was so close to many. Now they will have to find him in other realms. 

Frankfurt, August 27, 2017/Karsten Visarius