The Forgetting Game (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

November 14, 2013 by  


A fascinating and insightful film of hope in the worst situation but also featuring a long overdue reunion of two families.  “The Forgetting Game” is a documentary worth recommending!

Images courtesy of © 2012 INDIEPIX. All rights reserved.

DVD TITLE: The Forgetting Game


DURATION: 70 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: Color, 16×9, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, English



RELEASE DATE: September 25, 2012

Directed by Russell Sheaffer

Music by Ed Cuervo, Madison Bullard, Ben Baker

Edited by Russell Sheaffer

Shot by Russell Sheafer

Additional Cameras: Jim Bittl, Pulkit Datta, Heather Kovacevich

Produced by Pulkit Datta, Jim Bittl, Russel Sheaffer


Beate Kernke

Neil Clarke

Pam Clark

Mark Clark

Steven Clark

Brita Bleuel,

Bodo Broszinski

Thomas MEvius

Neil Sheaffer

Howard Rulstol

Kaleigh Herrington

Richard Nilbert

Aralyn Calkins

Adrian Calkins

David Clark

Lynne Bennett

Claire Clark

Joanna Kernke

Annie Calkins

Terry Calkins

Brielle Herrington

Susan King

Bodo Brosinski

Thomas Mevius

In 1963, just two years after the construction of the Berlin Wall and during the height of Cold War tensions, a 5-year-old girl became an unlikely beacon of peace and hope. After secret negotiations between the Red Cross and the East German government, Beate Kernke became the first person to be legally and peacefully transferred from East to West Germany. She was then erased from popular historical record.

The Forgetting Game tells the poignant story of a little girl torn between two families and the hostile political climate in which she came to represent peace and compromise. Through this incredibly personal story, the film questions what we remember and what we choose to forget.

In the 1960’s, as many people began to flee from East Germany (German Democratic Republic) to West Germany, in response to not losing any more of the country’s intellectuals and young people, a wall was constructed.

As many who tried to flee during and after the walls were built, many people lost their lives trying to escape and were shot to death by GDR soldiers.

But in 1963, during the height of the Cold War, secret negotiations were taking place between the Red Cross and the GDR and a 5-year-old girl named Beate Kernke became the first person to be transferred from East to West Germany.

With the help of Red Cross field director Neil Clark, Beate was transferred from her grandparents home in East Germany to staying a week with Neil and his American family for under a week, before she immigrated to the U.S. to be reunited with her mother and stepfather in San Francisco.

But the story of Beate Kernke was erased from historical record and no one knew what happened to the 5-year-old girl.

Filmmaker Russell Sheaffer wanted to find out what happened to Beate Kernke and the result is his 2011 documentary, “The Forgetting Game” which was released on DVD courtesy of Indiepix.

“The Forgetting Game” revolves around Neil Clark’s family talking about their memories of Beate coming home to stay with them for the week and their memories of Beate at five-years-old and wondering what has happened to her over 40-years later.

Meanwhile, Russell Sheaffer interviews Beate Kernke, living in Alaska and her memories of living with Neil Clark, being reunited with her family but how her life has been a challenge as a teenager, in the military and the challenges of raising her daughter’s child.

But with the Clark family having wanted to know the whereabouts of Beate, what happens when the Clark family reunites with Beate.


“The Forgetting Game” is a documentary using archived footage with modern footage, so as one can expect from a documentary, picture quality differs with various source material.  But for the most part, the film does look good on DVD and the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack features clear dialogue and music.


“The Forgetting Game” comes with the following special features:

  • Deleted Scenes – Featuring three deleted scenes: Coming to Berlin, Susan King, Neil Clark Jr.
  • The Wall – (26:25) An older U.S. propaganda film about the Berlin Wall. [Note: The videos on the extras menu are accidentally switched as “The Wall” actually goes to the “The Challenge of Ideas”]
  • The Challenge of Ideas – (9:18) An older U.S. Propaganda film about the Berlin Wall. [Note: The videos on the extras menu are accidentally switched as “The Challenge of Ideas” actually goes to the “Wall”]
  • Photo Album – A self-playing photo album.

“The Forgetting Game” is a documentary that is among the successful Kickstarter campaigns from 2010 that tries to answer the question of “why do some elements of history get erased in favor of other, often more simplistic elements?”.

In the case of this documentary, what ever happened to the 5-year-old East German girl, Beate Kernke, after she was brought to the U.S.

This has been a big question that has resided long with the Clark family, who took in Beate in West Germany for under a week before she was taken to the U.S. to reunite with her mother and stepfather in San Francisco.

While the film showcases the now older Beate Kernke, who lives in Alaska, trying to take care of her daughter’s child and has had some rough situations in her past life growing up, on the other side, we see the Clark family wondering what happened to Beate as any record or negotiations between the Red Cross and the East German government or any record of Beate being transferred to West Germany is not on record.

While the film doesn’t try to polemicize the power struggles of Germany at the time, the documentary does introduce the viewer of how things were back in the early ’60s in the GDP before the wall was built and that people have died trying to escape East Germany afterward.

While no one was allowed to leave East Germany, somehow and for some reason, young Beate Kernke did.  The questions of why was Beate able to leave East Germany and why was it never recorded will probably forever remain a mystery.

“The Forgetting Game” features Beate Kernke discussing her life as a child and her life growing up but also with the help of the Mayor and City Clerk of Douberlug-Kirchhain of meeting with Beate’s aunt in Germany in the present for public record and to find out more about how Beate ended up with her grandmother.

Meanwhile, the other side of the story is about how the family that helped take Beate out of East Germany and had her live with them temporarily reminiscing of their time with Beate.  For a long time, they have been trying to find Beate for over 40-years, going as far as trying to contact Oprah Winfrey for her help in reuniting them.  But the Clark family give context of their arrival to Berlin and seeing the wall being built, while they share their memories of a young Beate living with them for a short while.

But eventually the documentary would culminate to whether Beate will reunite with the Clark family 47-years later.

For the most part, the documentary features a good balance of historical news footage and first hand accounts of Beate’s life in East Germany up to the week she stayed with the Clark family and how life was for Beate living in the U.S., while the Clark family had continued their search of wondering what happened to her, as she had made an impact on their lives.

While I wish there were answers to why Beate was left out of public record and interviews with possibly government officials that may still be alive, that can lend some idea to why Beate’s transfer was never recorded, I realize that this is a low-budget documentary which earned over $7,000 on Kickstarter, there is only so much one can really accomplish with that much money.  But with that being said, the good thing is that Russell Sheaffer was able to get key interviews and most importantly document the reunion of Beate and the Clark family.

As for the DVD, and as I mentioned earlier, as a documentary, picture quality usually differs on the source material as modern and archived footage was used in the film.  But for the most part, picture quality is good.  Dialogue and music was clear through its Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.  There are a few deleted scenes plus two U.S. propaganda films included in the special features.

Overall, “The Forgetting Game” manages to show viewers of an unlikely situation of a 5-year-old girl being transferred to West Germany, the first person to be transferred legally.  And to follow-up 47-years-later with Beate Kernke and the American family that took her in for a week.

A fascinating and insightful film of hope in the worst situation but also featuring a long overdue reunion of two families.  “The Forgetting Game” is a documentary worth recommending!



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