Overview: When British, Soviet and American forces liberated Nazi concentration camps in 1945, army and newsreel cameramen recorded the terrible discoveries they made. Later, Sidney Bernstein of the British government’s Ministry of Information and his team, including supervising director Alfred Hitchcock, drew on this footage, shot at Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and Auschwitz, to create a harrowing film titled German Concentration Camps Factual Survey.
NIGHT WILL FALL reveals the previously untold story of this deeply moving documentary when it debuts exclusively on HBO. Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, directed by Andre Singer (executive producer of The Act of Killing) and produced by Sally Angel and Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour film series, X Men: The Last Stand), the film juxtaposes horrific raw footage and scenes from the 1945 documentary with insights from the survivors, the soldiers who liberated them and the filmmakers who recorded these appalling images. Marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, The film will have an encore presentation Tuesday, Jan. 27 on HBO2, when networks around the globe will also present it.
Despite the 1945 documentary’s artistic pedigree, the initial support it received, and the use of some of the most riveting concentration-camp footage ever shot, Bernstein’s project has not been widely seen The film tells the incredible story behind the film, featuring interviews with concentration-camp survivors, several of whom identify younger versions of themselves in the footage, as well as archival interviews with Bernstein (who later founded Granada Television), Hitchcock and director Billy Wilder. In the 1980s, original reels and notes from the documentary, which had been stored since 1952 in the archives at the Imperial War Museums (IWM) in London, were combined with a commentary read by actor Trevor Howard. However, the final reel was missing. Four years ago, the IWM began an ambitious project to digitize, restore and complete German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, including the never-before-seen sixth reel. The finished film features heartbreaking interviews with survivors, soldiers, historians and archivists, which are presented along with unflinching, restored, rarely-seen archival footage and eyewitness testimony. It provides a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at how this forgotten documentary was made, and how it has finally been completed after 70 years.
Expectations: Well, come on people this is about the Holocaust. This is not going to be a comfortable and easy watch. But, it is going to be a fascinating one too. I suspect great care was taken to preserve and document the original footage and all will be presented in a delicate yet powerful manner and tone. The trailer helps confirm that hope.
Gut Reaction: I must stand corrected. Though the focus of the original footage was to point out the atrocities to mankind at the hands of Nazi Germany NIGHT WILL FALL is not. This documentary is about the film crews and what they were assigned to document and the creation, development and purpose of that cinematic chronicle. If you focus on the film history it makes the subject matter a bit easier to handle.
NIGHT WILL FALL breaks up the horrible imagery with discussion of how the film was conceptualized, scripted, edited, and marketed. It helps to divert the viewer’s thoughts. Remember we are actually viewing two films here; the original footage, technically entitled “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey” and the modern-day documentary of its creation. We are not seeing, thank goodness, all 4-hours of the original footage as this documentary breaks up the film with the likes of hearing director Hitchcock’s own words on how he became involved, etc. Also of note was the fact that the original intent didn’t stop with the long, hard look into the death camps and the burial pits, but also explored the humanitarian efforts of cleaning and clothing survivors in the weeks after liberation. The modern documentation even goes further to show the use of the original work at the Nuremburg Trials. And, of course, it is always amazing to hear the survivor’s memories, as painful as they may be, coming to life. Plus, with the nature of this film being what it is, we also get film crew testimony as well. All of this makes for a more tolerable 118 minute watch. My only complaint is that I wish one of the final images of the documentary was not of a victim lying there with his skull cracked open and his brains lying on the ground beside him. Aw, poor soul.
In Conclusion: NIGHT WILL FALL is an engaging look at the documentation taken of the concentration camps of WWII. It solidifies the belief that such documentation must chronicle such situations as harrowing as the camps in order to insure the likes are never repeated again. Imagine if VICE uncovered something today of that magnitude.
What a powerful start to the HBO Documentary Film schedule for 2015! It is going to be a great year. We conclude with buzz about this documentary’s premiere and a look at what is up next week.
Next Week: On 02.02 HBO will air an encore presentation of the previously reviewed documentary VALENTINE ROAD beginning at 6:30pm.
About The Author
Editor at Large of HBOWatch.com and the internet's foremost HBO expert.