Director Dan Turner tells us how his new short film, Night Of The Broken, came to be, and the challenges of making it.
What if Hitler survived the war? It’s a question that’s generated many conspiracy theories and even launched a CIA investigation in the 1950s based on rumoured sightings in South America and Europe.
It was the starting point for a long period of research and discussion that I carried out for over eight years into Adolf Hitler, and in particular the Holocaust that nearly destroyed an entire race of Jewish people. My research took me to some very dark places in what happened at those concentration camps, but also how much of the world looked the other way whilst those atrocities took place.
One tiny beacon of hope that emerged during that period was the Kindertransport, a train service that took Jewish children fleeing Nazi persecution, and rehomed them predominantly in British homes that had been volunteered by British families. These poor frightened children were separated from their parents and travelled alone, some just babies, guided by a network of volunteers to safety. They represented a fraction of the children in peril, the majority of whom never made it out of that horror alive. Which is where development of Night Of The Broken took shape. The idea of a Jewish Kindertransport child who had grown up in England to become a doctor in the 1960s. What kind of person had she become? What was her legacy? How did she feel about surviving whilst so many of her people had died?
In my research, I explored the idea of survivor’s guilt, and the pain and grief that many Jewish people carried around because of it. I was also astonished at the level of compassion and forgiveness that existed, despite everything the Jewish people had gone through. It was humbling, to say the least.
It was this point where the two elements came together, and I pondered the idea of the Jewish doctor finding a stricken Adolf Hitler on his death bed. Hitler, racked with unbearable pain, begs for the doctor to end his life, to put him out of his misery. The doctor has a terrible dilemma – to give him a peaceful end, or to let him suffer in terrible pain like the monster had fostered on her own people. I had explored moral and ethical dilemmas in the past, particularly in my feature film The Man Inside, but this idea had so many more layers and subtexts, as the character of the doctor had to face so many difficult emotions that she had buried inside her when faced with this impossible situation.
As the film itself developed, and then into filming in 2021, there seemed to be almost daily cases of anti-Semitism in the UK, and the desire to tell this story, and tell it sensitively, began to weigh heavily. I was fortunate to have a really first-rate cast help me bring this story to life.
Tracy Ann Oberman, herself from a family of Holocaust survivors, was instrumental in ensuring the story was authentic, and was herself very aware of our responsibilities to the Jewish community. This was crucial to me, as this casting had to carry added resonance; something that, as an English filmmaker, I needed some help and guidance with. When you look into that character’s eyes, it’s important to see the decades of hurt beneath the surface.
Timothy West MBE agreed to play Adolf Hitler and brought over 50 years of stage and screen with him to the part, creating a character that rose above caricature into something more complex and challenging. Timothy was aware, as was I, that invoking the character of Hitler couldn’t be done for sensational or gratuitous reasons; we had to bring something new to an audience but in a way that was nuanced and based on painstaking research.
Timothy was unrelenting in his commitment, and it was astonishing to see a 90-year-old man with so much passion and energy in his performance.
Rounding out the principal cast was Annette Badland, who brought a grace and authority to the film that immediately set an important tone, not only on screen but off-screen as well.
Shot at a 100-year-old care home in North Wales, the film was one of the most challenging I have ever made, emotionally and physically. This challenge carried on through to the editing and eventually to the music composition. All through making the film, there has been a delicate balancing act of making a disturbing and gripping story but also being truthful and respectful of the legacy of the Jewish people. I see this film as the beginning of a larger project that will explore these characters and themes. I feel Night Of The Broken is a glimpse into a world not fully explored and the next step will be to embark on a feature film that will go further and deeper.
My hope is that we have created something that is thought-provoking and goes to the heart of what makes us human. As Gertrude looks down at the stricken figure of Adolf Hitler begging for her help, in the face of every atrocity he has committed, I hope the audience ponder what they would do in that situation. In today’s world, the notion of compassion and humanity seem more relevant than ever.
Night Of The Broken is beginning its festival run over the coming months.
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