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In the National Interest received 5 stars in BIAFF 2008.
It was also selected as part of the programme to represent Britain at the UNICA 2008 Festival, where it won a Gold medal.

The making of…

IN THE NATIONAL INTEREST

THE STORY

Unlike most classified documents, intelligence papers are not reviewed for publication after 30 years. They remain secret for ever. However, sometimes official researchers are allowed to read "redacted" (edited) documents. The Anglo-Polish Historical Society was given such access to prepare an official report on intelligence co-operation between the two countries during WWII. This half-opened a window into some of the most secret decisions of the War.

Much of the report (which, incidentally, carries a foreword by both Prime Ministers) concerns the huge amount of intelligence information provided by the Polish resistance - the Home Army. This included the first Enigma machine obtained by the Allies and exploited so effectively by the mathematicians at Station X in Bletchley Park.

However the report also makes reference to a visit to London in 1942 by a member of the Home Army, Jan Karski. He gave an eye-witness report of the extermination of the Jews in the concentration camps, yet Britain's intelligence chiefs refused to accept his evidence, discounting the existence of the holocaust. William Cavendish-Bentinck, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, the main co-ordinator of intelligence in the 1939-45 war, summed up the views of the British intelligence hierarchy. He thought the Polish reports on the German atrocities were not credible. According to the information obtained from the intelligence archives he stated that they were "exaggerating the German atrocities, and did so 'to stiffen our resolve'". Moreover, the new official history says: "As Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and thanks to Enigma, Cavendish-Bentinck had access to the decrypted German police and SS reports which also mentioned the persecution and genocide of the Jews on the territories held by the Germans. This was a clear validation of Polish and Jewish information". Roger Allen, a high ranking Foreign Office official who worked closely with Cavendish-Bentinck during the war, "refused to believe that the Germans used gas chambers in Germany to murder people". Karski's testimony was kept secret. In the War Cabinet minutes concerning Karski's report, all references to the Jews were deleted and, when Eden wrote to Churchill on the subject, he also removed everything which mentioned Jews being murdered.

THE FILM

This film presents an account of the crucial meeting of the Joint Iintelligence Committee that heard Karski's graphic report, yet decided to conceal it from ministers. Subsequently, we learn that the cover-up continues to the present day.

Scripting

After over a year's research, including correspondence with the Imperial War Museum, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and other bodies worldwide, I prepared the first outline of the script. Drafting the script was by far the hardest part of the film making. I wanted to convey the enormity of the decision to leave the Jews of Europe to their fate not through horrific images or impassioned speeches but as a cold, rational process. Even Karski was to present his information dispassionately - knowing that his case was best made by the facts. Only Zygielbohm could be allowed to reveal his emotion. He was the Jewish representative in the Polish government in exile in London and his wife and son were in Warsaw. (He later committed suicide on learning that they had died in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He left a suicide note "against the indifference with which the world looks at the destruction of the Jewish world, looks on and does nothing to stop it.").

Secondly, I did not want to demonize Cavendish-Bentinck. He shouldered a heavy responsibility and exercised his duty in the way he thought to be in the best interest of the country that he served. Had it been known that 6 million lives were at stake; perhaps the decision would have been different. And perhaps the war would have been lost: at the time there was a real fear that Stalin might sue for peace and leave Germany fighting on only one front. This was real life not Hollywood. No black and white or good and bad. Just shades of grey.

Thirdly, I wanted the film to contain faint echoes of the decision to go to war with Iraq, where an assessment of the national interest influenced the interpretation of intelligence information.

Acting

Once you have a compelling story and a coherent script, good actors are the third vital ingredient of a fictional film. We advertised on the website www.shootingpeople.org and received responses from about 40 actors willing to work on an expenses-only basis on a film that they hoped would contribute to their showreels. We auditioned about a dozen of them and were fortunate to have some very strong actors to fill the lead roles.

Committee Cavendish-Bentink Discussion

Locations

An important characteristic of a film maker is that he should have no pride - or, at least, he should put the film above all else - because you spend more time begging and pleading than at the actual shoot and never more than in trying to secure locations. My first choice as a location was a beautiful William Morris room in Henley Management College, which occupies a Thames-side house previously owned by a Mr. Smith (W.H.!). A friend who lectures there got me a meeting with the Facilities Manager who kindly agreed to let us film there over Easter. Unfortunately, however, one of the lead actors was in a West End production that put on extra performances over Easter. Given the choice of location or actor there is no contest. So we looked elsewhere. We then approached Sue Ryder Homes, who have a lovely old house in the Chilterns called Parmoor. Again they were very supportive because Sue Ryder was heavily involved in helping Polish ex-servicemen settle here after the war. (She was later appointed to the House of Lords as Baroness Ryder of Warsaw). But the only suitable room in Parmoor was rather dark with little space for the camera. We therefore approached the Marian Fathers, a Polish Catholic order based in Henley. The Father Superior agreed because the film was about a Polish war hero. This gave us access to a most beautiful library in Fawley Court, a house built by Christopher Wren. I learnt later that it was available for hire for wedding receptions together with the adjacent reception room…for £2000 a day!

Props

In my previous existence (in Whitehall) there was a saying that "the devil is in the detail". It's true! Who can lay their hands on a 1942 slide projector? How do we conceal the actual projector and the cable to the computer used to show the slides as a Powerpoint presentation? Where can we hire a General's uniform and who will collect it? Don't forget the water glasses for the meeting table…and the mock up of an intelligence dossier…and the front page of a newspaper…and a notice for the meeting room door…and does anyone want vegetarian meals…the train times from London to Henley…the "Filming in progress" signs…

Karski Censor's badge Censor's hand

The filming

Hoorah. At last we were off to the location with a car stuffed with props and an antique table to stand the projector on tied to the roof. And, yes, everyone turned up: 7 actors, 3 cameramen and me. The room was set and the 3 identical (FX1) cameras white balanced and all with the same settings and then we hit the technical problems! This beautiful library had 3 huge floor-to-ceiling French doors along one wall and the morning sun was streaming in, burning out one side of the image. The "right" answer, of course, was to infill with lights on the other side…and at least double the shooting time. So, instead, we partially closed the shutters, to reduce the contrast without losing too much light, and pressed on. Then there were the lovely 17th Century oak floorboards…that squeaked when anybody moved. No problem when the actors move - just authentic ambient sound - but the cameramen and the director had to learn quickly to stand very still. And, finally, the walls were lined with bookshelves, which looked great, but they were glass-fronted, providing perfect reflections of the cameras, microphones and the director! Many of these had to be removed in post-production using After Effects.

The shooting took place over 2 days. On one of these we brought in only the two lead actors and shot their long speeches without other actors present. This saved some money and avoided asking the actors to hang around doing very little but, given the choice again, I would not have done this. Even if they say nothing, the other actors give the lead actors the right eye-line and provide visual feed-back, so making their delivery more convincing.

The scene in which Karski presents evidence of the holocaust was central to the film. I wanted the audience to feel uncomfortable watching this presentation but I did not want to use horrific images of the holocaust. Instead, I wanted him to be so intent on giving his evidence that he would be oblivious to walking in front of the projected images. My intention was to achieve a disturbing effect by projecting the images onto Karski's face where they would appear slightly distorted.

Slides 1 Slides 2 Slides 3

The wrapper

So far I have talked only about the scenes set in 1942. In order to be able to draw a parallel with recent decisions based on intelligence, I decided to put this in the context of an archivist/censor digitizing official films in the current day. Technically, this was fairly straightforward to film but involved a great deal of work in post-production, dropping the archive film and computer frames onto what were blank screens.

All we needed was a studio with a Steenbeck film reader. So in the margins of a club visit to Ealing Studios, I knocked on the door of an editing studio and had the most excruciating conversation with a disembodied voice on the entry phone. No, they were far too busy to let anyone film there. However, a young man standing next to me, having a smoke on the pavement, said he would approach a pal who worked in Soho. I gave him my mobile number and we ended up in one of the biggest editing studios in the country. (They were colour grading the latest James Bond movie upstairs). I never cease to be amazed at how helpful people are when you're trying to shoot a film. One more day's filming and it was in the can.

Steenbeck Closeup of film Censor

THE END

Like all sad film makers, I then spent several months huddled over a computer in the spare bedroom - trimming and filtering, masking and tracking, titling and sound editing. Eventually, DVDs had been burnt for the actors and a premiere screening held in the dining room. A little over 3 years from inception a copy was in the post to Brian Dunkley for inclusion in BIAFF 2008 and the rest, as they say, is history…

Acknowledgements

My sincere thanks to my long-suffering wife, Hilary, Producer, Kate Dooley, Director of Photography, Geoff Addis and additional cameramen Laurie Joyce and Brian Hibbitt.

Phil Martin,   April 2008

Audience silhouette. Audience silhouette.
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