Dr. Petra Dilthey

Germany

Ethnologist, filmmaker

DAAD Scholarship 1988–1989

Dr. Petra Dilthey privat


“Even back in my schooldays, I was fascinated by distant foreign cultures,” Petra Dilthey recalls. As an ethnologist, today she is just as much at home in Brazil, Kenya or India as she is in Munich. Together with her husband, Uli Schwarz, she has founded the film production company up4change.tv and makes empathetic documentaries about social change in developing countries – either to follow up her own projects or on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Contact with other cultures involves understanding.
Petra Dilthey

Petra Dilthey’s initial professional training as a physiotherapist was motivated by her desire to go into development cooperation – to help people and tackle problems in a practical, hands-on manner. “When you’re young, you’re really enthusiastic about wanting to help. Today, I realise that outside help alone is not the right approach.” The ethnologist’s work has shifted focus: “Contact with other cultures involves understanding.” She believes that the desire for change must always come from the people themselves.

This insight came to Petra Dilthey in 1988 while in Brazil on a DAAD scholarship. After completing her state examination as a physiotherapist, she had studied ethnology at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, specialising in ethnomedicine. The funding subsequently enabled her to pursue research for her PhD thesis on the healing methods of spiritism. This was also a formative period for her personally: “Being left wholly to my own devices during that time gave me a great deal of strength.”

One of Dilthey’s most successful projects is the feature-length film “Slumgott” (Slum God), which documents life in an Indian slum and was screened in German cinemas in 2010. The couple use whatever they earn to fund new projects of their own. In 2014, the two filmmakers launched their education project “ethno e-empowerment” (www.eeem.org), working with nomads in Kenya. Using ethnographic videos, the nomads learn to read, write and do arithmetic on tablet PCs. Since 2016, Petra Dilthey has received funding from the BMZ for her private project “Digitale Alphabetisierung” (Digital Literacy). For her, small steps are more important than big successes. “What I find most uplifting are the lasting personal relationships that are created with each project – that’s something that warms my heart.”