5th November 2008
In my last post, I described the short documentary film K.R.O. Germany 1947, which was filmed in Germany in the Autumn of 1947 and first released in Britain in January 1948.
An article written by the film’s director, Graham Wallace, for the journal Documentary Film News, provides a further insight into why and how the film was made.
In the credits, the film was billed as a co-production between the British Crown Film Unit, and the German Junge Film Union, a group of young film makers established in Hamburg after the war. The director and unit manager were British, the cameraman, his assistant, the editor, electricians, production manager, script girl and sound technicians were all German.
In the article, the location for the film was identified as Peine, a small country town lying between Hanover and Brunswick, selected because life there was: “… typical, on a small scale, of life all over Germany. Here we find all the problems of the Black Market, shortages of clothing and food, overcrowded accommodation, idle factories and refugees that were the concern of the central character of our film – the Kreis Resident Officer.”
Making the film in post-war Germany was not easy, in the director’s words: “very much harder than working under the most trying conditions in England.” There was a shortage of film and equipment. The German team were poorly paid, short of food, and hungry: “Like everyone else in Germany, they are strictly rationed on a low level, though they are entitled to draw heavy-workers’ rations. Even these, by English standards, are meagre indeed … Much of their salary went to buying extra food.” English members of the unit helped out with part of their, higher, rations. Transport was difficult. Motor transport was almost unobtainable locally, and “at one time we transported our lights through the streets of Peine on a horse-drawn cart!”
Processing the film locally in the British Zone proved impossible, as the laboratories were subject to frequent power cuts which meant they “… cannot work for days at a time, until there is a guarantee of current being available for long enough to run a roll of film through the bath.” Eventually it had to be sent to Berlin and then returned to the team for viewing and editing. Interruptions in the electric current also caused problems when shooting, as the lights were run off the local electricity supply: “This was never constant for more than a few minutes. All the members of the unit had to stand by the lamps ready to move them forwards or backwards with the voltage fluctuations.”
Probably most interesting was the description in the article of relations between the film unit and the local population. In contrast with the impression given in the film of the quiet and authoritative K.R.O. listening attentively to the German Bürgermeister (the mayor), sympathising with his problems, but also giving the German authorities clear instructions he expected to be obeyed, the article explained that, although at first the Burgermeister willingly consented to appear in the film, he later had second thoughts. “Apparently he had been accused by his colleagues on the council of undue ‘collaboration’ with the English and he was fearful for his re-election at the forthcoming municipal elections.” Similarly, in contrast with the picture shown in the film of the K.R.O. sympathising with the plight of 300 refugees in temporary accommodation and being welcomed there when he visited them, the article revealed that they “regarded our operations as a put-up propaganda job by the English and demanded to know what we are going to do about sending them back home or giving them proper accommodation.”
On the other hand, as Graham Wallace explained in the article: “again and again we received great help and friendship from the people of Peine who appreciated what we were trying to do. They felt strongly the lack of mutual information about our two countries and if our little film would in any way help to promote an understanding of German problems in England, then they were quite willing to help.”
The only serious antagonism (and this was in 1947, well before political and diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies had formally broken down) was not with the Germans in Peine, but when the unit was filming near the border with the Russian Zone, when the sight of English and German technicians working together “aroused deep suspicion in the minds of the Russians guarding the frontier between the two Zones … otherwise we might well have been making a film in the English countryside, instead of in occupied Germany.”
The final paragraph of the article sums up, in many ways, a typical British view of post-war Germany and the German people.
“And when the shooting was finished and the unit broke up, the two English technicians had a much deeper insight and understanding of Germany today and the difficulties under which the German technicians work. The German technicians, too, had learnt something of the English tradition of documentary film production and later the [German] cameraman was able to visit England for two weeks to study our methods at first hand.”
Though Graham Wallace is describing film-making here, the same sentiments could be transferred to many other areas. Note how he describes himself, the director, and the British unit manager, as the two ‘English technicians’, modestly implying an equality of status with their German subordinates and colleagues. But note also how the “English tradition of documentary film production” is clearly assumed to be superior to the German tradition, which had been condescendingly referred to earlier in the article as dealing, not with “real people and their daily work”, but “for the main part of excellent instructional films or pretty studies of ‘Spring in an Alpine valley’ and other well-worn themes.” And the solution: was for one of the German technicians, the cameraman, to visit England and learn the English way of doing things, for himself.