"Swastika" screened in Germany, after being banned for decades....


Philippe Mora's documentary about the Fuehrer's home life has finally been screened in Germany, after being banned for decades. Paola Totaro reports from Berlin:

(The Age) WHEN intimate colour film of Adolf Hitler cuddling a pet dog and smiling tenderly like a baby was shown for the first time at the Cannes Film Festival 36 years ago, a scuffle broke out in the audience and the screening had to be abandoned.

The documentary, Swastika, contained extraordinary, never-before-seen footage of Hitler entertaining friends, family and his inner circle — including Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels. Much of it was shot by his girlfriend, Eva Braun, at Hitler's Bavarian mountain retreat, the Berghof in Obersalzberg.

The colour vision of Hitler as a human being rather than a long-dead monster depicted in grainy black and white so outraged some audience members that fisticuffs broke out and the German distributors panicked. The movie later opened in other countries, including the US, Britain and France, but despite widespread critical acclaim, it was mothballed and Germany banned it.

Last week, however, Swastika — and its Australian director, Philippe Mora — were warmly welcomed back to Berlin by a new generation. Championed by the esteemed German documentary maker Ilona Ziok, the film was shown in the cinema used by the Nazis in Berlin; it opened the Biberach Film Festival in Munich; and there are special screenings planned in Dresden this week.

Mora, the son of Melbourne's famous Jewish bohemian emigres Georges and Mirka Mora, has been based in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was just 22, living and working in London, when he was engaged to document the making of Albert Speer's book, Inside the Third Reich, into a US-backed feature movie by the British producers David (now Lord) Putnam and former Fox boss Sandy Lieberson. When Hollywood pulled out of the Speer project, its producers agreed to back Mora and his research partner, German filmmaker and historian Lutz Becker, to finish their own film about the "Nazification" of Germany.

"I had seen a picture of Eva Braun in a book holding a 16-millimetre camera, and I immediately wondered where that film might have ended up," Mora told The Age in Berlin.

In fact, Becker had also stumbled on a clue when he met, in 1973, an army officer at a film party in Phoenix, Arizona. The man had been in the raiding party that took the Berghof and when Becker asked if he had found any film there, he said "yes" and that "a pile of cans" had been taken away.

"The short version is, we contacted the Pentagon and, months and months later, a colonel called back to say they had 'captured' a bunch of film cans in Eva Braun's bedroom in April 1945 and asked us if that was what we were looking for?" Mora said. "Nobody had ever seen this material before. It was absolutely incredible . . . there were eight hours of footage but in the end we used just a fraction . . . most of the footage with Hitler in it."

Controversially, the film is unnarrated. A tapestry of expertly interwoven news footage, Nazi propaganda movies and Braun's 16mm reels documents the rise of the Nazis between 1933 and 1939. It shows Hitler in private and in cinema verite style through Eva Braun's hand-held camera.

Seen throughout the film are Goebbels, Goering, Speer, Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler, his deputy Reinhard Heydrich, Eva Braun and her sisters, and Blondi, Hitler's dog.

When it was shown in London at the British Film Institute a fortnight ago, the film's message — that the greatest evil is often banal — was lost to some in the audience.

At a discussion with Mora and the producers, some viewers expressed anxiety that the "human" vision of Hitler and his inner echelon, without comment, might be used by the neo-Nazi movement or that its irony might be lost on a younger generation. However, a 16-year-old stood up and said she felt these adults were arrogant to think that young people would not understand the film's clear anti-Nazi message.

"In London, time seems to have stood still in some ways and there were people who still just didn't get it," Mora said. "In Germany, it was a whole different story. One of Angela Merkel's speechwriters was given a copy and was very interested in it and the screening was attended by members of the Ministry of the Interior, as well as various diplomats from European countries."



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