M.: Stewart McAllister, Peter Tanner, Marcel Cohen. Trattamento e commento: Colin Wills, Richard Crossman. Consulente per il trattamento: Alfred Hitchcock. Voce narrante: Jasper Britton. Prod.: Sidney L. Bernstein per British Ministry of Information · DCP. D.: 88’. Bn.
On 29th September 1945, the incomplete rough cut of a brilliant documentary about the concentration camps was viewed at the Ministry of Information in London. For five months, a small team led by Sidney Bernstein and that included Stewart McAllister, Richard Crossman and Alfred Hitchcock, had strived to complete the film from hours of shocking footage that recorded, in a detailed and candid manner, the brutality of the Nazi regime. Unfortunately, this ambitious Allied project to create a feature length, factually-based documentary report that would damn the Nazi regime and shame the German people into acceptance of the Allied occupation had missed its moment, and the film was shelved, unfinished.
In 1952, the unfinished rough cut (five reels of a planned six reel film) and all the associated materials for the film (rushes, script and shot sheets) were deposited at the Imperial War Museum. In 1984 the film was screened in its incomplete form at the Berlin Film Festival, with the allocated title Memory of the Camps; this screening being followed in 1985 by a broadcast on Frontline in the USA. Even in the incomplete form (regularly borrowed from IWM) the film was immensely powerful and thought provoking, creating an awed hush among audiences. Indeed, it was the admiring reaction to a 2005 screening at Il Cinema Ritrovato that encouraged us to explore the idea of restoring and completing the film.
The work began in December 2008, when the IWM team including myself, George Smith, Andrew Bullas and David Walsh, investigated whether the sequences for the never assembled sixth reel could be found among the rushes. We were able to identify most of the sequences (except for two maps) and assembled these on to VHS. Even though we had not been able to match every scene described in the original shot sheet, this first version clearly ‘worked’ in terms of continuity and created a logical and powerfully poetic conclusion to the film.
In 2010 the project began in earnest, the first task being to identify all the relevant sequences in 17 hours of component reels (fine grains and negatives). These sequences were digitally scanned at Dragon and the whole film assembled anew, including, for the first time, the sixth and final reel. A sound effects track was created using synch sound captured at Belsen camp in April 1945 and sounds recorded by the British Army at Pinewood and on the battlefields of Europe. The original 1945 commentary has been recorded with the actor Jasper Britton providing the narration. As no titles existed, these were compiled and created afresh. English subtitles have been added for all the heard and written German and Polish and, in the credits, we listed all the cameramen who shot the original footage; crucial figures previously ignored in discussions about the making of the film. Establishing the identity and roles of the filmmakers and writers who worked on the film at the Ministry of Information was not easy, as many of the key documents were not dated and named, and so many of the attributions are based on our understanding of the production process. The new main title is the correct historical title, found in the September 1945 Ministry of Information Catalogue of Films for Liberated Territories.