Night Will Fall, film review: How Bergen/Belsen documentary was shot, edited and shelved

(15) André Singer, 75 mins Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter
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The Independent Culture

In April 1945, an advancing British army unit in Germany was approached by German officers who warned them there was a typhus epidemic in the Bergen/Belsen camp ahead.

When the British arrived, they encountered a vision of hell. Among the British soldiers were newly trained cameramen who filmed the squalor, death and degradation they encountered with exemplary skill. Their footage later fed into a film produced by Sidney Bernstein, on which Alfred Hitchcock worked as a supervising director.

André Singer's film tells the story of that documentary, which is called a "forgotten masterpiece" of British cinema history. The Bernstein film included footage from other liberated camps shot by US and Soviet troops. Singer is a little disingenuous in that he doesn't explain that an unfinished version of the film was shown on American PBS in the 1980s.

Nonetheless, this is a shocking and moving account of how the Bernstein documentary was shot, edited and shelved. (By 1946, as the Cold War was beginning and the reconstruction of Germany was underway, it no longer served propaganda purposes to show it.)

Singer has interviewed cameramen and survivors. Their testimony is heart-breaking. Bernstein's intention was to prove that "this actually happened" and to show on camera German civic leaders and army officers at the site of the atrocities. Singer's documentary stands on its own but also provides contextualisation for Bernstein's film, which will be shown in a restored and completed version under the title German Concentration Camps Factual Survey at the London Film Festival.

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