A Multi – Layered Story

When there are so many ingredients to a film this poses the question – what should be more prominent? The archive footage? The beautiful landscape? Both?

Robert Blackmore is editing Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Human’s in the Telling. Here he looks at the film technique that enables him to fill the frame with pictures from the past as well as the present for storytelling that is truly multi-layered.

Dreams of Peace & Freedom: The Human’s in the Telling is a film about one man’s pursuit of natural law across Europe after WWII. David Maxwell Fyfe played a key role as prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, and subsequently becoming part of the team who drafted the European Convention on Human Rights to ensure the horrors and atrocities of the two world wars could not happen again.

At the film’s heart we have a musical performance which weaves David Maxwell Fyfe’s words with songs. These are spoken and sung in many locations to tell the story of his journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg, so this film also has an important sense of place, with scenes filmed in beautiful locations in Scotland, England, Germany, and France – landscapes filled with the history we wish to tell.

One of the main intentions the director set out from the beginning was to make sure that the letters and archive material were also a key feature of the film.

With all these components editing this film is complex. How does one piece them together?

Normally a shot comprises a character or object in the foreground. This is in focus and directs the eye to what is most important in telling the story. The background is the surrounding area that is less often in focus but is essential to being able to show the audience where a person or the object stands in relation to the story.

When there are so many ingredients to a film this poses the question – what should be more prominent? The archive footage? The beautiful landscape? Both?

I wanted to create a film canvas to paint on so that the past could be brought into the present. It needed to be multipurpose to enable the audience to watch archive footage integrated into the background landscape as if it forms one large piece of a jigsaw.

Courtroom 600, Nuremberg – a still from Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Human’s in the Telling

I will give you an example. We filmed in the Courtroom 600 in Nuremberg where the Nuremberg Trials were held, and where both the prosecutors, defendants, and judges all watched the evidence of Auschwitz. We filmed some static shots in the direction from which they saw them projected onto a screen, and so I thought about using the archive footage as the foreground, making it part of the background which was the courtroom.

To do this I used a technique called masking, or matte, where documents or archive footage can be shaped to superimpose onto part of the landscape. The opacity, or the colour of the letter or old film can be adjusted to mix with the brightness or indeed darkness of the landscape of the original shot. It needs to complement the colour of the frame and change of colour in the background. Of course, there is trial and error in creating these effects, and sometimes it does not link well with the storytelling aspect of the film. So, with the director, we review and try again.

Lily Casson speaks the words of Sylvia Maxwell Fyfe – a still from Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Human’s in the Telling

In outside shots we had the thought that we could have the letters or documents masked around David Maxwell Fyfe or Sylvia (his wife) when they were sending letters to one another so when their words were spoken they wafted in the landscape as a ghostly effect.

The use of masking in this way is steeped in history, going back to the early 20th century. I first saw it on a YouTube video in 2010 where the person who had made the video had imposed another video on a building, and what struck me as amazing at the time was the fact that the background was moving but the video that had been put on the building did not move from its original position. Discovering this technique has been a huge influence on the was we’ve made this film, as it allows the viewer to take in the physical history while at the same time we are able to illustrate the importance of the landscape in the telling of the story.

And I very much hope you will watch to see what I mean for yourself!

The film will be releasing on 27th August. Find out more at www.thehumansinthetelling.org/film

Watching History

When we are able to see raw footage of historical events – with our own eyes – as part of the timeline of history, it ensures that these events can never be forgotten.

Robert Blackmore, who has incorporated extracts of archive footage in his editing of The Human’s in the Telling film, describes the emotional impact of seeing history unfold on screen.

A picture paints a thousand words as we are often told. Historical film footage shows us at a glance how people used to be – their style, representation, and stories. Unedited footage so often can tell a story of its own.

One of the most interesting parts of my role in The Human’s in the Telling is editing together the archive footage from the Nuremberg Trials, which we use with great thanks to the people at USHMM.

Watching the material shows me how the desire to film historical events hasn’t changed that much over the years. There has obviously has been an enormous change in technology, and we can now see more detail in colour rather than just black and white. ​​

But our reason for documenting life is not that different. When the Russian army decided to film the liberation of Auschwitz when they entered the camp for the first time, they had to make a moral judgment as to whether it was appropriate to film what they found there.​

They must have decided that without good evidence, we cannot have justice. And with a film, we can look at the bigger picture that affirms the written word for that evidence.​​

I think that if there had not been such extensive filmed footage from Auschwitz, it would have been easier in the years to come to become a  Holocaust denier – the evidence may have been written down, but with the technology we have now, it would be much less strong in the public eye.​​

Nuremberg was not only revolutionary in terms of the law, but it also revolutionized how we see the evidence. ​​

Watching the trials, I often wonder what the response of the judges and the prosecutors would have been at Nuremberg. Even some of the defendants responsible for those terrible events, watching the reality of the Holocaust unfold in front of their very eyes for the first time.

That is why I believe the Allies wanted to film those horrific events. They believed that someday, in some capacity, sometime in the future – there would be an opportunity to show what really happened in Auschwitz.​​

And with developing technology it is a role that Steven Spielberg has taken on – through digitizing the film making it possible to show the past in schools, in museums and through hundreds of documentary films.

In turn, this has empowered people to speak out – they are less afraid of telling their side of the story. One can only wonder at the times in history when cameras were not invented, where its’ course might have been changed by using the power of film. We take it for granted that we can capture anything anywhere at any time now – obviously within reason.​​

When we are able to see raw footage of historical events – with our own eyes – as part of the timeline of history,  it ensures that these events can never be forgotten.

Footage Accessed at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives & Records Administration