After World War II, British media mogul Sidney Bernstein enlisted Alfred Hitchcock to help make a documentary film out of an enormous amount of footage that had been compiled by British and Soviet army film units at Nazi concentration camps. As the legend goes, the director found the footage so disturbing that at first he didn’t return to work at Pinewood Studios for an entire week. According to a feature story at The Independent, “The film took far longer to make than had originally been envisaged. By late 1945, the need for it began to wane. The Allied military government decided that rubbing the Germans’ noses in their own guilt wouldn’t help with postwar reconstruction.” Five of the six completed reels were quietly shelved at the Imperial War Museum.
The footage was rediscovered in the 1980s, then screened—in poor quality and without the missing reel—at the Berlin Film Festival, as well as on PBS in America. But now the original cut has been restored with the missing sixth reel added back in, with plans to show the documentary on British television in early 2015, timed with the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. It will screen alongside a new documentary, Night Will Fall, directed by André Singer (executive producer of The Act Of Killing), with Stephen Frears serving as directorial advisor.
The material is bound to be controversial. The Independent report cites “truly shocking footage” from the Belsen-Bergen concentration camp in particular, referencing Billy Wilder’s comments after overseeing Death Mills—an American film that similarly covered Nazi atrocities—as a comparison. The extent of Hitchcock's influence is still somewhat in question, though his participation obviously brings extra curiosity to the project, besides a morbid one. After airing on British television, the two documentaries will be shown together at as-yet-undetermined festivals worldwide.
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