Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Germans in the Woods: Our Partnership with StoryCorps

The first film created under the banner of Rauch Brothers Animation is "Germans in the Woods".  See a teaser here.

Our partner on the film is StoryCorps, the national oral history project.  What is StoryCorps?  In their own words:

"By recording the stories of our lives with the people we care about, we experience our history, hopes, and humanity. Since 2003, tens of thousands of everyday people have interviewed family and friends through StoryCorps. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to take home and share, and is archived for generations to come at the Library of Congress. Millions listen to our award-winning broadcasts on public radio and the Internet. StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, creating a growing portrait of who we really are as Americans."

Heavily influenced by Aardman's Lip-Sync series and films like "Creature Comforts" and "Going Equipped", Mike and I had been thinking about doing documentary animation for years.  During an internship at StoryCorps, Mike was encouraged by Dave Isay, SC founder, to try adapting the recordings into animation.  Two months later we brought him a pair of animatics, one of which would become "Germans in the Woods".  In GITW, World War II veteran Joseph Robertson recalls shooting a young German soldier at The Battle of the Bulge, his "saddest memory".

The recording is so packed with emotion that we always felt if we did a halfway decent job on the design and animation we'd have a pretty good film.  Still, the idea of translating such a raw and personal story was daunting.  How could we translate this man's memory without getting in the way of his message?  How could we tell the story with respect and dignity for Joseph Robertson and the young man he was forced to kill?  The story tells us that each death in every war is a unique and sacred event of profound tragedy, not only for the dead but also for his killer.  Robertson says "I still see him in my dreams and I don't know how to get him off my mind", 60 years later.

Who was the soldier he shot?  A member of the Hitler Youth.  To prepare for the film, I read "A Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika" by Alfons Heck.  In this memoir, Heck describes his life in a German town during Adolf Hitler's ascent to power.  Reading this book it becomes clear how enticing the Hitler Youth would have been to a young German boy: it offered comradery, purpose, a ticket to higher education, the facade of authority and, most of all, the seductively fiery rhetoric of Nazism.  If an entire nation was brought under the sway of such madness, how could impressionable boys and girls fair any better?  Toward the end of the war, with the "regular" German army nearing defeat, Hitler and his commanders cynically called on the teenage boys of the Hitler Youth to defend against the advancing Allies.  The soldier Robertson was forced to shoot was one of these young kids.

I won't bother to get into the design of the film here, you can check the studio site and previous posts to read about that, but I would like to talk about the responses we've been getting.  When you work on something like this for six months, it's easy to forget how strong your first emotional response was.  All of that has been brought back to me in watching the film with others: their eyes open wide, mouths part and gasp, and we frequently see people break into tears.  My cousin sobbed for half an hour after watching the film.  We are humbled at this kind of response and feel extremely indebted to Joseph Robertson for his service, his sacrifice, and his willingness to share this story with us.  If the film has any power, it comes from that man's voice.

You can see a teaser for the film at our website here.

The video posted below is an interview with Dave Isay in which he describes the StoryCorps project and his goal of making us into "a nation of oral historians".  There is also a longer, maybe more complete video from ABC News that profiles Dave and the StoryCorps project available here. 

1 comment:

stephen said...

congrats again on finishing. The film's powerful stuff.