Searching through reels of archive film is a bit like searching for a lost treasure in the warehouse at the end of ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark’.
The sheer volume can be daunting.
If you are after something quite general – it’s very easy, but counter intuitive as it may seem, the more specific you are with WW2 archive – the harder it can get… with that one clip, that one elusive little gem, glittering just out of your reach…
For my documentary ‘Portrait of a Soldier’, I have been very fortunate. The fact that over 4 hours of footage filmed during the Warsaw Uprising has survived is really a miracle. That it also survived communism is another.
To now be able to use this in my film, along with beautiful photographs – many by acclaimed photographers; Sylwester “Kris” Braun, Eugeniusz “Brok” Lokajski and Jerzy Tomaszewski – is a true privilege.
But whilst my film is nearing post-production completion, This blog post – is about that one archive clip that I could not find the rights to and therefore, will not be in the finished film… And that despite the clip being used in two previous documentaries about the Warsaw Uprising!
Sometime ago I met with director Paul Meyer, who used the clip in his film “Konspirantinnen: Polnishe Frauen Im Widerstand 1939-1945”. Mr. Meyer was not sure of the clips origin and some suggestions have been made it was not filmed in Poland, but in Ukraine. In any event, it seemed impossible to establish where the footage had been sourced and acquired from. The clip was also used in another documentary called “Betrayal: the Battle for Warsaw” which was shown on the History channel. Having worked at History, I was in this case given access to the production paperwork – yet again, like all the other searches through various footage companies, this eventually also led nowhere.
The reason this clip is special is that it depicts something rarely, if ever, caught on film – It shows a man and a woman assassinating a German officer (?) on a street, in broad daylight.
How a resistance mission this dangerous would ever be recorded on film, is in itself questionable.
But unlike some ‘acted / re-constructed ’ film recordings from this time, that often make their way into archive footage collections, this film clip has something authentic about it:
The jumpy camera movement. The reactions of people passing by. The look of the woman’s face as she rushes towards the camera. It feels real.
But where this film was recorded, by whom – and for the purpose of documentary making: who holds the rights to this archive clip today ? This all remains a glimmering mystery to me…