Graduate student spotlight: Frauke Thielecke

After two decades of success in the German film and television industry, award-winning director Frauke Thielecke decided to elevate her writing as a student in the comparative literature PhD program.

At the very moment Frauke Thielecke’s new film “Blutgeld” premieres on German television later this month, she’ll be sitting in a WashU screenwriting course working her way towards a PhD. The German film director was drawn to WashU for the international writers track in the comparative literature graduate program, but she has no intention of giving up her award-winning career in the film industry. During her five years at WashU, she hopes to elevate her writing, expand her creative community, and make strides as an auteur. 

Frauke Thielecke (Photo by Andreas Schlieter) 

Originally from Hamburg, Germany, Thielecke studied American literature and culture at Hamburg University and then went on to receive a diploma in film directing from Hamburg Media School. She got her professional start as a script supervisor and eventually worked her way up to director. 

In 2008, “Dunkelrot,” a film she directed about a couple navigating Alzheimer’s disease, won the award for best short film at the Max Ophüls Festival for German-language films by young people. The next year, she won “Newcomer of the Year" from Studio Hamburg, a leading German production house. Many of her films are action or crime dramas featuring female protagonists. Thielecke has also taught film acting to actors across Germany. 

After two decades of success in the entertainment industry, Thielecke was searching for a way to take her art in a new direction. “I always wanted to write but, because I was shooting so much, I never had time,” she said. “I felt the urge to tell my stories, the ones in my head.” 

After one semester of graduate work at WashU, she’s already completed scripts for a short film and a play. This semester, she’s working on a full-length screenplay.

With years of professional experience in the arts, Thielecke is the type of student Lynne Tatlock, chair of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures and director of the Program in Comparative Literature, had in mind when she started the international writers track nearly a decade ago with the help of colleagues across several departments. With its emphasis on combining creative practice with research and practical criticism, the program aims to attract working artists from around the globe.

“The combination of the creative and academic that has become a signature of the PhD program in comparative literature at Washington University has invigorated teaching and learning of both graduates and undergraduates,” Tatlock said. “It’s brought together artists from a wonderful variety of cultures and disciplines.” 

Frauke Thielecke directing on the set of one of her movies filmed in Massachusetts. (Photo by Rick Friedman) 

In the program’s foundational course, “Literature in the Making,” taught every semester by Professor of Practice Matthias Göritz, Thielecke had the opportunity to study alongside poets, novelists, and translators. The diversity of their experiences inspired her. “Being exposed to different kinds of literature, different types of works and approaches triggers my writing,” she said.  

She also appreciates how the program allows her to tailor her studies to her interests, encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration with the Performing Arts Department and Film & Media Studies. (She hopes to earn a certificate in film studies along with her PhD.) Last semester, she even collaborated with undergraduate students from PAD who performed excerpts from a play she wrote that semester.

The marriage of academic and creative writing in WashU’s comparative literature PhD program has been the perfect fit for Thielecke, and it has come at an ideal moment in her life. 

“Earlier in my career when I worked as a script supervisor, I saw directors who never even thought about taking a seminar or teaching a class, but I think it’s so important to stay flexible,” she said. “It’s important to keep your mind going. I love that the international writers track in comparative literature offers that.”

How to watch Thielecke's films

On campus: Thielecke’s award-winning short film “Dunkelrot” (Dark Red) will be shown on March 21 in Busch Hall, Room 100, at 6 pm. The film will precede a screening of “Kirschblüten-Hanami” (Cherry Blossoms) hosted by the German graduate students.

On German television: Blutgeld,” an installment in the Der Masuren-Krimi (Masuria Murders) series, will premier on Feb. 29. Another installment in the series, “Die Verlorene Tochter,” will premier on March 7.