Read our DVD Review!

The DVD format has enabled documentary producers and indie labels to get their work distributed to the masses through more formal corporate channels, like traditional video merchants and online sellers, and via basic websites from where anyone can order a copy of a specific film. But there are occasions when a real gem slips through the cracks because a film's language isn't English, specific film footage rights restrict distribution to certain territories, or broadcasters, including specialty cable channels, show a strange apathy to a work that's genuinely outstanding.

The story of the making of the documentary Das Leben geht weiter / Life Goes On is just as fascinating as its eponymous subject: UFA 's earnest attempt to create a realist-styled propaganda epic, so citizens would believe the war could still be won, when victory was pretty much impossible by 1945.

The behind-the-scenes saga of the unfinished epic would have remained an apocryphal little curio outside the scope of German film historians had German producer Carl Schmitt and British director Mark Cairns not collaborated on a non-fiction adaptation of Hans Christoph Blumenberg's book, and realized a viciously ironic tale of ego, self-preservation, and heightened lunacy.

Winner of multiple awards (including an International Emmy), the Schmitt-Cairns documentary is available in a German Region 0 PAL DVD from Polar Film, which includes English subtitles for the film proper, plus some unique German-only extras.

For this two-part profile of the filmmakers and their 2002 documentary, we've grouped and edited together material from separately conducted interviews with producer Schmitt and director Cairns into a more fluid narrative. Before proceeding, readers should check out our DVD review, and familiarize themselves with the doc's subject and style.

We should also warn you that the following transcript does contain a few major spoilers.



Mark R. Hasan : Do you know what led Hans Christoph Blumenberg to start what obviously was for him a very unique and detailed quest about a movie that many people, including film fans, hadn't even heard of?

Carl Schmitt : I came across the book in 1993 when I was in my last year at film college, and I was reading it because Blumenberg wasn't just a filmmaker and journalist; he's also a film historian. In 1992, there was the 75 th anniversary of UFA, which was founded in 1917, during the First World War. At the 75 th anniversary, he talked to a couple of technicians and actors, and they had a big party in Babelsberg, and the old people started talking about a film he'd never heard of. That's when he started looking into the Life Goes On story.

He dug up that [UFA] was planning a huge propaganda film just six months before the end of the war, and I found it quite interesting. The film was never finished, and nobody knows whether any clips survived, but I was always interested in the story behind the actual filmmaking – the backstage thing – because making a film of that size, and just six months before the end of the war, is just ridiculous.

I talked to Blumenberg after I had read the book, and I asked him if he was planning a documentary or something like that, and he said, ‘No. It's impossible, because the film doesn't exist, and there's no material left. Nothing.' The only thing which was found were about five brush still [drawings].

He said that, because of the lack of materials, you can't make a documentary. And I said, ‘Well,. That's not the point. The documentary is not about a film which is lost; the documentary is about the things behind the scenes,' and I think he didn't get this. Whenever I talked to German people, they always want to know ‘Oh, what happened to the film? Is there stuff available? Are there clips around?' And that's not the point.

The film is not important; it's the actual story that shortly before the end of the war, people tried to make a film that was impossible. You didn't have the money; you didn't have the people; you didn't have the materials. The American people and the English people realized this and immediately got the point that, on the one hand, people lost their sense of reality; and on the other hand, there were a lot of people who used the film to survive... Because it was a propaganda film, they could say, ‘I'm absolutely necessary to work on this film, so you can't send me to the Eastern front.'

MRH : I take it that Blumenberg did a great deal of research. Was there additional research you had to do, in order to get the project to a state where you could actually start a script?

Carl Schmitt : The only thing we had was the book. He didn't give us any materials because that was the deal he had with the people: the material they gave him in interviews and all that was just for his book; he wasn't allowed to give them to anybody else for a documentary or whatever.

Basically, we had to start from scratch... He started his book in 1992, and we started our research about seven years later, so a lot of people who were available for him to interview had already died, because they were eighty and older. We had to look into the archives again; we didn't have a lot of useable on-camera interviews; and most of our stuff came from looking through the archives in search of additional material.













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