A few filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino,
Steven Soderbergh and Kevin Smith owe their current prominence to having their
films being accepted and then seen at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City,
Utah. Producer-director Martin
Doblmeier, however, has gained both acclaim and distribution by capitalizing on
When his new documentary Bonhoeffer received a polite no-thank-you letter, Doblemeier presented the film with local churches and gained as much and maybe more attention when packed crowds watched it from pews. It didn't hurt that Doblemeier had explored an undeniably fascinating subject with the film. It recounts the life and thought of German theologian Deitrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) whose writings and speeches explored the role of Church in the modern world. These words are now required texts in Christian seminaries.
Bonhoeffer is probably better known for being one of the few Germans, much less German clergymen, who tried to take concrete action against the Nazis. Not only did he give an anti-Nazi speech on German radio the day after Adolf Hitler became German chancellor in 1933, but he was later executed for being part of a series of plots to assassinate the Führer.
Exploring the relationship between religion and social issues as Bonhoeffer had done is a familiar and productive task for Doblmeier. His degrees are in Broadcast Television and Comparative Religion. He and the company he founded, Journey Films, have turned out the documentaries Thomas Jefferson, A View from the Mountain, which examined the Declaration of Independence author's internal and external struggles with racial issues, and Bernardin, a look at Chicago's Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.
Journey Films projects have been presented on The History Channel, PBS, ABC, and NBC, but Bonhoeffer is the first documentary they've produced that has made it to the big screen through a deal with First Run Features. It's now playing in New York and has toured the country as it was presented in churches.
Having a short discussion about Bonhoeffer and his ideas is simply impossible. From his office in Alexandria, Virginia, Doblemeier spoke with me for an hour by phone about trying to make Bonhoeffer's complex life and thought fit into a ninety-minute running time. He also recalled how touring the country has made him realize that many of his protagonist's struggles still haunt us today.
In many ways even though it's been sixty years since his death, Dietrich
Bonhoeffer is more "popular" than ever. The Borders bookstore I went
to last night had twenty books by or about him.
Martin Doblmeier: I think it's true. I think, for a lot of reasons. I think what's most interesting for people is that he wrote, what I think from a Christian point of view, are timeless classics and yet he didn't identify in the books themselves the conflict of his own day.
In books like The Cost of Discipleship
and Ethics and things like that, you never see him talk about Adolf
Hitler and the Nazis. He's not particular in that sense. He's always drawing on
universal ideas. And yet knowing that the background of the rise of Nazism the
pending war, the Holocaust and everything, it's all there, and it's continued to
make him most potent.
When we look back at the twentieth century, I
think that really the moment that humankind reached its lowest level, I think a
lot of people would say during the time of Nazi Germany. It continues to be
fascinating for so many people. With Bonhoeffer writing out of that in such
poetic and profound language, there will always be interest in that. As long as
there's this period of evil in the 1930s and '40s, there will always be like the
antithesis of that coming out of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's writings.
One of things that really makes him stand out is how much of an anomaly he was
with his actions and theology.
Few us start out on a path to be alone. But what happened with Bonhoeffer as the
1930s evolved, Churches initially became a source of confronting the rise of
National Socialism. Bonhoeffer joined that.
But as even the Confessing Church—that he was
involved in the creation of—began in his mind to fail to live up to what the
expectations are, he finds himself in more and more isolation from them. So he
goes out of the mainstream into this renegade Church to support a type of
resistance to the rise of National Socialism. When as far as he's concerned,
they're no longer true to what they're being called to be, he moves away to them
into further isolation. And then, he finds himself becoming part of the
[Hitler assassination] plots. It's known in Germany that he's joined this group
[Armed Forces High Command office of Military Intelligence], which means all the
pastors think that he's sold everything out. So, he's isolated from them, and
he's isolated more and more from mainstream Germany at the time, so his
decisions constantly put him into positions where he had to operate alone, and I
think a lot of that is what forced him to go deeper inside.
I was surprised by how many of his students, relatives and friends were still
living at the time you shot this film.
We tried to do our homework as best we could. When you look at them, these are
people who in some cases had very brief encounters with Dietrich Bonhoeffer for
a year or two, sometimes longer. But this was sixty years ago, but you still see
that glimmer in their eyes when they begin to talk about the story. They're very
personal stories for these people. His memory is still very present to them, and
those moments are very transformative for them.
DL: I struck by the sheer diversity of subjects, too, because you had people who knew him personally and then you had these theologians and the historian who covered the assassination plots.
MD: Peter Hoffman is, everybody seems to agree, the preeminent scholar on the German resistance. He brought a lot together for us in the film. He's a big admirer of Bonhoeffer. Of course, he puts Bonhoeffer in perspective. He's not the same as Von Schtoffenberg, who went out and tried to blow up all the generals [in the July 20, 1944 attempt]. He's not that same kind of character and realistically doesn't have the same kind of role in the Nazi resistance.
But I understood that when he came to sit down to do the interview with this film. He was sort of connecting Bonhoeffer to the movement at that time and saw that Bonhoeffer was trying to do clearly what he was called to do.
It must have been an awful decision for these people. Bonhoeffer is deciding whether he wants to become part of these plots. I think he really did agonize over that for a long period of time.
One of the things that strikes me from excerpts of the writing you included was
that he was an ardent pacifist even though he's getting involved with these
MD: I think that he was, when you read his earlier writings
especially. [During] that speech that he gave in Fanö, Denmark in 1934, he
defies the formula for that event, which was to speak in a general way about
Church and State and the role of the Church in the world, and to speak clearly
to challenge the churches to stand up and be public in the accusing of the
rearming of Germany and the potential for war that exists here. I think that the
language that he used, saying that "There's no way to peace along the road
to security, that peace has to be dared. It's the great adventure."
In the months that we have been traveling the
country, building the grass roots audience for the film, playing those lines
over and over again, they've been very disturbing lines for people who can find
themselves. It's easy to be a pacifist when the real danger is not confronting
you. I think that Bonhoeffer deeply wanted to go down that pacifist road. That's
why he communicated with Mahatma Gandhi and wanted to go to India for the
longest time and study under Gandhi for the longest time.
Once [World War II] broke out, things became
absolutely clear to him. With the direction that the country was going and the
evil that the German people were going to wreak on the rest of the Europe and
eventually around the world, something desperate had to be done.
With someone like Hitler, impeachment wasn't an option.
A lot of the images we have of
the day: Gandhi, Walesa and even Tutu himself, these were people who had the
opportunity to use different kinds of strategies, you know: locking arms,
blocking traffic, symbolic walks to salt sea, one-day walk outs for workers.
The Nazis were ruthless killers without conscience who would think nothing of eradicating entire villages of people, and they had a systematic plan to wipe the Jews off the face of the Earth. This was not about one-day strikes tying up traffic. Bonhoeffer know that something much more serious had to be done. For him being a peacemaker meant stopping that source from where it all began. I think that's how he reasoned it in his own mind.
I really wonder how the war would have ended if the allies hadn't had an
unconditional-surrender policy because the German resistance members were
negotiating with them for support in the plots.
MD: I come from the religion and theology background and not so
much the German resistance. It's my understanding that [the British] Parliament
was always suspicious that were good Germans who really wanted to do this. I
think the bottom line for Parliament is as they were being bombed by the Germans
constantly, any kind of word getting out that they were getting ready to strike
some kind of covert deal was ridiculous. As far as they were concerned, if [the
resistance] did wind up succeeding in killing this guy, then we could all sit
down and talk about this, but there was not going to be any deal before this was
done. I think it might have been naïve on the part of von Dohnanyi [a
co-conspirator and Bonhoeffer's brother-in-law] to expect that it was going to
I think the allies didn't believe that this
could be accomplished. What exactly was to be their role in all of this was
unclear. If this happened, I think the allies might have thought about it
differently, but in fact it never did happen. So it's almost a moot point
Wasn't Bonhoeffer death just a few days before Hitler's eventual suicide?
Hitler died on, I think the 30th of April. The [European] war ended
in the beginning of May. Bonhoeffer was executed on the first week of April
[April 9, 1945, to be exact], so it's all in a period of a month.
It's sad that Bonhoeffer was just a few days of being liberated from jail.
MD: And of absolutely no threat to anybody. The order to have him and Hans von Dohnanyi killed was given directly by Hitler. It was just one more sweeping, useless killing. They just came in and swept everything away.
Because you've concentrated on the theological, it's interesting to know some of
the roots and the evolution of anti-Semitism in Germany.
For Martin Luther, he felt that it was a religious issue, that Jews could always
be converted. They had missed the boat on the Redeemer, but that they were still
redeemable in that sense by converting to Christ. But Hitler's methodology was
absolutely racial. It was not just that this was a religious and theological
issue, it was a racial difference as far as he was concerned, and he combined
those into a really potent focus to his anger and his hatred of what had
Bonhoeffer is interesting because he's seeing
that early on. Even in 1933 [when Hitler became Chancellor], he writes something
called The Church and the Jewish question, and he comes right out and
says that the whole idea that the National Socialists are now saying that we
can't have people who are baptized Christians who are of Jewish blood is
absolutely wrong. It's a totally misconstrued idea of what a religious person is
all about. I think he's pretty clear.
I hope one of the things that's different about the film is that we didn't want to go back and pull out the same old tired footage of the Holocaust and all the other stuff. But the Bonhoeffer story leads you the realization that Hitler was really skilled at using religious language, religious imagery, religious symbolism constantly. And he took that from the Churches. And not only did they let him take it, but they stood with him as he did that.
DL: That reminds me of the photo you've used for the one-sheet poster for the film where Hitler is shaking hands with clergymen. It's really creepy.
MD: It is. It's very disturbing. People realize that this is the Church sucking up to a successful political effort that's going on. [It's] when we've played this film now for churches all around the country, that people get how disturbing this is, that the Churches gave up their own ability to speak in a prophetic way about this. The Churches did have an opportunity to stand up and say we're not going to let this kind of language--of Hitler offering 'the resurrection of the German people' and 'the salvation of the German people our German history' and all this kind of language. It shows the potency of religion in traditional culture and yet at the same time when you lose a handle on it, when you have it taken over by people who intend to misuse it, it's really even more dangerous than people imagine.
I think that the role of the churches in this is really something that has been underexplored, and I think that part of the reason for that is that churches today are struggling with question of how are they relative to a culture. I don't want to make parallels with Nazi Germany, but I want to make clear that the churches in a growingly secular society are always looking for how they are relative in all of this. I think the danger of trying to be constantly relative comes out in this film.
DL: It's interesting that the Lutheran churches as you described them in the film were really decentralized until the rise of the Nazis.
MD: There were twenty-eight individual fiefdoms of Churches, really. Hitler really did systematically go out to nationalize them and have selected, appointed a Reich Bishop, that became Ludwig Müller, who's the bishop in that photograph. He's just beaming, beaming as he shakes hands with Adolf. That was all part of the plan.
What's interesting is that by the late 1930's, Hitler's already tired of this. Müller's been pushed aside, and the churches don't clearly have anything to offer Hitler anymore. He's moved beyond this. One of the things we don't talk about [in the film] is that in April of the spring of 1938, one of the top bishops in Germany decides to give to the Führer a birthday present. He's going to insist that each one of the pastors in the churches all across Germany take a vow of allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Most of them do.
But this is one of the ways this rebellious Confessing Church is broken down piece by piece because a lot of those pastors have to take a vow. And it throws them into a turmoil because they start debating questions like "If I take vow with my words that my heart doesn't really feel, is that really a vow?" and "If I don't do this in front of my people because they're calling me to do this, am I not being faithful to my people who are calling me to serve?"
Bonhoeffer, just by a quirk of luck, didn't have to take the vow. He wasn't called to take the vow because he wasn't a pastor of a parish. He was sort of on the lam already, so he was able to avoid having to do that.
There were a couple of cases just by luck where Bonhoeffer was sort of pushed to the brink. The other way they began to break down the Confessing Church is that they began to draft these guys. They didn't want to go and just crush the Church, but they would find out occasionally who was preaching against the State, especially by 1938 and '39. They were getting drafted. And so they wound up in the service. Half the guys that were training in Finkenwalde [in Pomerania] that Bonhoeffer began for the training of a new ministry, wound up dying in the war. A lot of those guys died on the eastern front. Of course, if you didn't agree to serve, you could be actually executed at the time for non-service to your country.
DL: You can't escape the issue of faith because it drove Bonhoeffer, but you've generally made it so that people who don't share his views can appreciate what he did.
MD: I didn't do it with any subversive attempt at evangelizing. That's not the way I do it. Frankly, I just think he's a great character. I just think he's somebody who didn't always know the direction he was going and what he was going to have to do when he was put in a terrible situation. You watch him squirm and twist and pray his way out of it. That's what I think is the most interesting part about him.
He makes a lot of mistakes. He finds himself to be cowardly when he's asked to preach at the funeral service for his sister's father-in-law. The father-in-law's Jewish, and [Bonhoeffer] takes the counsel of his other pastors, and they say, "You could get into trouble for doing this," and he doesn't do it. Later on, he deeply regrets it. I think that's a real turning point in his life. In the last trip to New York, you can almost feel that when he gets on the boat and goes over that this is not going to last for long. He's already decided that this is a bad decision. He comes back, but he did do that. He got on the boat as if he was going to leave.
He was here in this country. He was safe. A lot of the people wanted him to stay. He had friends here, people he'd been corresponding with since his first trip to the United States. People cared about him deeply. He kind of had a "made" life if he stayed here. He decided to get on the boat and go back.
DL: Speaking of New York, it's really fascinating how he drew parallels between the racism here in American and what he later saw in his own country.
MD: Isn't it always easier to see the dirt in someone else's house than it is in your own [laughs]? It really is. He comes over to this country and says, "Look at these people." But what's really interesting about Bonhoeffer is he's part of the aristocracy, really. He comes from a really wonderful, upscale neighborhood. His father was the leading professor of psychiatry in the University of Berlin. They were living uptown. There was no question about it.
This very white guy comes over here, and he doesn't bring to the whole discussion a real white, elitist European attitude. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. He befriends this guy in a seminary class, a black guy. And he's willing to go up with him. He's not reticent to do that at all. He goes into Harlem. Not only does he go there; he falls in love with what he sees.
He's always looking for something new. He had this sort of youthfulness about him. He's always getting excited about something new that he's learned because he wants to integrate it into his live. That's the compelling aspect of him. He's always excited about something.
He was always writing back to his family. We only used a part of it [in the film], but he was clearly really taken by what he saw. And I think it transformed his way of thinking about religion and the potential for the Church can really do for social change. He really got that. It wasn't just an academic study any more for him. A lot of people said he was a scholar when he came over to this country, but he left to become a Christian, understanding what he was supposed to do with his understanding of the role of God in the world. And also the music. He was very classically musically trained, but he fell in love with these spirituals. He can't help but play them for his buddies when he goes back.
This is a guy who was looking for adventure, for new ways and paradigms and was constantly open to how they could transform him and how they help him to do what he's supposed to do.
DL: He's a complicated subject, so it must have been a challenge to fit his story into ninety minutes.
MD: Well, the original cut was four hours [laughs]. So we knew that it had to be workable and honest for people who come from all different kinds of backgrounds. To some people, ninety minutes just the beginning for what they want from a story on Bonhoeffer. We felt that this had to be made for mainstream America and decided it was very difficult to pick the aspects of the stories would hold the story as a whole together. There were lots of regrets about things that never made it into the film, but at the same time the response has been so great that I think we got the core of what we had to get at with the film.
DL: Even though Bonhoeffer was rejected from Sundance, you helped gain attention for the film by playing it at Park City, Utah churches. It might have drawn people who wouldn't have gone to the churches in the first place.
MD: We got a lot of people who came to see it in the churches. We launched it on a Sunday night and sold out the first show out and added a second show and sold that out and then sold out every show except one for the rest of time that we were there. The pastors of the churches said that most of the people who were walking through the door, they had never seen them before. There were a lot of people with Sundance jackets and shirts on. They were festival people who decided to go to a film that wasn't part of the formal festival program.
But we were getting a lot of attention in Park City. I was doing a lot of radio interviews, and people seemed to take to the story. And it honestly had an outsider-knocking-on-the-door-trying-to-get-in kind of sense.
In some ways, it's only safe to say this constant dialectic process that's going on. Sundance begins as the alternative to the Hollywood mainstream commercial film world, but now after twenty-something years, it's a bit of its own empire for what's sort of antithetical to it. We got a lot of "Congratulations for taking it to Sundance anyway" kind of thing.
It's a great festival. It's got some of the greatest films in the world, and it gives an opportunity to showcase films that are really up against a lot to get any kind of national release.
We didn't do it for that. We just had a film we believed in and got this kind of response from the churches who said if they won't show it in the festival come out here, we'll show it for you. We'll fill these churches up, and, sure enough, we did.
What's really interesting is that having done with that, when the news started writing stories about this, by the time we got home, we had invitations all across the country to do the exact same thing. We got floods of phone calls and e-mails, "Come on and do this. Come here to California. Come here to all these places around the country," so we decided to do that. We had nothing else to lose, and we needed a little bit of money to support the funding of the film. Eventually it did lead to a theatrical distribution deal. First Run Features saw that we were drawing audiences. It actually all worked out for the better.
DL: You've been making films of this nature for a long time, but Bonhoeffer is the first one you've had playing in a theater.
MD: Everything has been for television. This is the first of what we hope is many things that we'll do that will go to the theater. How people relate to God, the divine, the spiritual in their lives, that's the subject, the core of what we do. But it can take different forms. We've been talking about taking more fiction kind of stories. Certainly we're not going to look all that far away from documentaries and real-life documentary films. But in the end we're going to pursue a different kind of path.
This is not the first time you've interviewed Desmond Tutu, is that correct?
MD: That was the third time I've interviewed him. He was a real-life example of somebody who had known the Bonhoeffer story, had read about Bonhoeffer, had been taken up by his story in school and then had his moment to make his moment for how should the Church stand resist evil. What lengths should it go? Should it take the path of nonviolent resistance? When is violence acceptable? All these kind of issues played out in a very practical way for Desmond.
DL: Didn't this project take about six years?
MD: We began shooting in 1998. With the first funding that we got, which was not a lot, I immediately went to Germany and did the interviews with the people who were the oldest and the most frail, the people closest to Bonhoeffer, family members, friends, formers students. Those people we felt if we waited a couple of years to raise the money, we'd always regret it.
DL: Getting Eberhard Bethge [who died in 2000 and to whom the film is dedicated] must have been really important because he was one of the last few people who knew about the assassination plots.
MD: And he knew everything. Bonhoeffer is really a personal story, and I think one of the great aspects of the story is that we tried to get the fact that not only is this the story of theologian who gets involved with the plot to kill Hitler. Under all of this, going on now fifty-sixty years later, it's really the story of a friend, Eberhard Bethge, who would not let the legacy of his good friend Dietrich Bonhoeffer be lost.
This is the man who went looking for his buddy peddling a bicycle through the rubble of Berlin in the days right after the end of the war, not knowing himself what had ever happened to him. Hoping that they could sort of find each other and eventually deciding that it was going to be his task because he was a theologian, a scholar, a thinker and his closest friend. It was he who's probably best at taking those little fragments of these books, Ethics and The Letters and Papers from Prison and gathering them up, getting them out there and making sure that last thoughts could have some sort of enduring value.
And then what I think is also interesting is that over these last fifty years, if you've never encountered Bethge, he spent his last fifty years answering every query, every letter, every telephone call from every junior scholar writing a paper about Dietrich Bonhoeffer asking for clarification or another understanding about his or her understanding of the subject. He made himself endlessly available to the new scholars coming thought the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s on any question they had on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
I also think that what he did that was really critical is that theology has changed a lot in the fifty years since Bonhoeffer has died. You've gone through radical feminization; you've gone through globalization; you've got the ecumenical movement. All this kind confluence of social thinking has changed enormously in the last fifty years. It was Eberhard Bethge who really picked up the mantle and was constantly trying to show people what Bonhoeffer was writing in the '20s, '30s and '40s was really into the core of the new thinking about these different issues that were coming to the fore. He was constantly, not reinventing, but helping people as they were trying to reinterpret Bonhoeffer for their time. Bethge was always there for them -- always there for them.
DL: I saw how thick his Bonhoeffer biography was at Borders.
And my friend has translated that! It's just been retranslated. In fact there
has been a big new translation project. There's such a revival in Bonhoeffer.
Most people who've read Dietrich Bonhoeffer in English have read through the
earliest translations most back in the 1950s when people were first getting his
original works and were translating them hurriedly into English. There was
always the feeling they were adequate but not necessarily proper the way they
should have been done.
There's been enough money raise to begin a real systematic and thoughtful translation of all seventeen works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think they're five into it and have another twelve to go all because there's this interest and revival in Bonhoeffer.
DL: Even without the Park City publicity, it does seem striking that there's this much interest in him.
MD: I had hoped there would be. I wasn't thoughtful enough or astute enough to do any kind of market research. If I had, I probably would have been discouraged from doing it. Although his books are popular in a circle of people, by numbers they don't sell enough to justify going out and trying to make a big effort to get a documentary out on the streets. There's a core of people who think that Bonhoeffer's just the living end, but that core may not be large enough in principle to sustain a documentary.
But what's happened over the last six months right now, the response has been positive enough, long enough and consistent enough for the distributor to think there is an audience here. I hope so. That remains to be seen, but I hope it will turn out to be something.
DL: I thought Klaus Maria Brandauer was an appropriate choice to read Bonhoeffer's writings for the film.
MD: He was always my first choice. It's kind of strange. When I saw him in the movie Out of Africa in the mid-80s, what I saw was a guy in his 30s with thinning hair, blond and portly. I thought, "He kind of looks like Bonhoeffer." I never forgot that. When it came time to try and cast somebody to read for Bonhoeffer, he was my first choice. He read the script and said, "I'll do it."
We were in Germany filming and set up a date in the studio. He sat down, and he read it in both English and in German. The Germans are making a German version of the film, but they have his voice in German to do that with. He was very systematic. He wanted to read the material over. We gave him the entire script so he'd know what he was coming in from, where it was going to, that kind of thing. I thought he did a great job.
DL: This was a small production because you also narrated, and your collaborators had to double, triple or quadruple up on jobs.
MD: It's a function of trying to be efficient and cost effective. Also a lot of people had a lot of talents. I do a lot the research, the writing and preparing all the material for the interviews and everything. There's so many other parts of the process going into this. Adele [Schmidt] and Janna [Morishima], who's the associate producer, had a lot of the responsibility of working with us trying to find the footage, organizing the photographs. It's a big job. People have been laughing saying that it's not all that many credits for the big job that it is. It's a huge job, but at the same time I think very talented people are capable of doing the very best job in a couple of positions.
DL: A friend of mine who's an atheist had a discussion with me about Bonhoeffer that took hours.
This is the stuff I like to do.
When we did Thomas Jefferson: A View from the Mountain
a few years ago for [PBS], and we did it on race in slavery in a time when all
these issues were right on the table for America. It prompted an enormous
what we were doing [with Bonhoeffer]
in this first phase in January and June of this year, I would have a question
and answer period after the film was finished. We'd introduce the film, start
the film and then I'd come back after the film was finished, and I'm telling
you, the people stayed. They wanted to go over, they wanted to talk about all
the complex stuff that was going on: the role of the Church, the separation of
Church and State, Bonhoeffer's decision to do this. They would ask some more
trite questions like "Where did you find the footage for this?" And
every body wants to know what happened to Maria [von
Wedemeyer, the woman to whom Bonhoeffer
proposed marriage before he was imprisoned].
they were really wrestling with were all of these underlying issues, feelings
and questions going on. There were times when people wouldn't even ask a
question. They would just stand up and say, "That was making me think of
this a lot."
we like to do because we do religion really makes it difficult and challenging
way of going into the filmmaking process because we know the success of the
films really depends on whether people cannot see things in simply a historical
way but to allow the subjects and the material that's being raised in the film
to work on the contemporary emotions and feelings that people are going through.
One of the
things I tried to point to in the film, and this is not a political statement,
but mostly an emotional statement on my part, is that we were traveling around
the country mostly in February, March, April and May. We were beginning the
build up to the war [with Iraq]. We were as aware as anybody else was then. The
country was divided pretty consistently: seventy percent for the war and the
President, thirty percent against the President.
happening was that I told the people, "This is not a political statement on
my part, but you get a sense in this country today that even if you are part of
the thirty percent to speak out against it because you don't want to feel as if
you're not being patriotic and supportive of the country and everything else.
Put yourself emotionally now, not just mentally but emotionally in Bonhoeffer's
moment when ninety-nine percent of the people were supporting the policy of the
policies of the new State and that whole sense of not standing up and being
German and supporting the National Socialist party and how difficult it must
have been to speak out."
is speaking out on the second day after Hitler is taking office. He's on the
radio charging into Adolf Hitler. That really did make an emotional connection
because we had a corollary moment in our country so you could reach in and feel
that. That's not to say "Was Bonhoeffer an anti-war character?" but it
does allow people to make an emotional connection with how enormously difficult
it was in his time to stand up and say, "I'm against this. I may be all
alone, but I'm against this."
Although religion is clearly the main reason you've explored this story, it's
great that you could make a film that doesn't seem like an electronic Sunday
MD: I hope not. I intentionally don't want it to be that way at all. I think the majority of times when people who do that kind of filmmaking, book writing, or storytelling really are didactic, you really lose the audience. People are intelligent, and they all come out of their own personal experience, especially regarding religion, spirituality, faith, anything like that. If there's a context for them to look at Bonhoeffer and see something that they can relate to, they don't have to be told how to think about it, they just have to have the opportunity to experience it and see what he lived through and how he though. I think the story's powerful enough to make the connection. My job as the filmmaker is to really internalize the material itself and to come to an emotional connection with the material as well as do all the research and the reading to understand what's going on with all the different levels, and then put it in a way for people to stay with it and understand it and allow that opportunity for the connection to happen.
Read the review.