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BFI (2014) - Night Will Fall: the story of file number F3080




Night Will Fall: the story of file number F3080

In 1945, Allied forces filmed the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, but the shocking footage of what they found was subsequently shelved after the withdrawal of government support for the project. Nearly 70 years later, a new documentary tells the story of a vital memorial film that is finally seeing the light of day.

While dining with Henri Langlois some time in the 1970s, Alfred Hitchcock informed the co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française: “At the end of the war, I made a film to show the reality of the concentration camps, you know. Horrible. It was more horrible than any fantasy horror. Then, nobody wanted to see it. It was too unbearable. But it has stayed in my mind all of these years.”

Yet, as André Singer reveals in the documentary Night Will Fall, the master of suspense only played a limited role in the preparation of footage that had been gathered by British, American and Soviet cameramen as Allied armies advanced across Nazi-occupied Europe. Ultimately, political considerations would prevent the film to which Hitchcock referred from being released. But, in his discussion with Langlois, Hitchcock may well have identified another reason why German Concentration Camps Factual Survey was shelved for several decades. “I don’t think many people actually want reality,” he explained, “whether it’s in the theatre or in films. It must only look real, because reality’s something none of us can stand for too long. Reality can be more terrible than anything you can imagine.”

Peering into hell

The footage of what Singer calls “the most searing, brutalising horror that humans can witness and endure” was recorded by ordinary soldiers like Brits Mike Lewis and William Lawrie, American Arthur Mainzer and Russian Aleksander Voro...