DIR: Johnny Gogan • WRI: Johnny Gogan, Nick Snow • DOP: Eoin McLoughlin • DOP: Johnny Gogan, Fionn Rodgers • ED: Patrick O’Rourke • PRO: Johnny Gogan • MUS: Steve Wickham • CAST: Jim Norton, Cathy Belton, Marian Quinn, Alan Devine
The human and environmental cost of technological progress is a spectre which haunts history, from medical trials without informed consent to conflict minerals in smartphones. It’s a difficult subject to grapple with, especially when a now mainstream technology or an historical feat of technological achievement has a murky past.
In Johnny Gogan’s Prisoners of the Moon, we hear the words of Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp survivor, Jean Michel: ‘It was at Dora I realised how the pyramids were built’. It was in the underground tunnels of Dora that the German army’s V-1 and V-2 rockets were manufactured using slave labour. The book that Michel would go on to write about his time at Dora would eventually lead by chance to one of the V-1 and V-2’s chief engineers, Arthur Rudolph, being forced to leave the United States despite being given citizenship while working on the American space program.
After World War II, several engineers and rocket scientists who were based at Dora, including Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph, were hired by the US government as part of Operation Paperclip. This docudrama examines this era, when US authorities decided to look the other way when considering the moral implications of recruiting former Nazi party members to work on their project to send a man to the moon.
It takes as its focus Rudolph, whose work on the V-1 and V-2 rockets contributed to the success of Saturn V and the Apollo 11 launch. Using a mix of archive footage, interviews, and dramatic re-enactment, the film follows Rudolph’s early career in Germany, his time in Dora, his immigration to the US and work on the space program, his return to Germany by ‘mutual agreement’ after questions were raised in the ’80s, to his detention when attempting to enter Canada in the ’90s and the subsequent immigration hearing there. The film explores Rudolph’s culpability, what he may have seen or not seen at Dora, and speculates on the man and his conscience.
The re-enactment segments are where the film wavers. While well cast, there are some scenes that may have been better served by a documentary style rather than a dramatic one. The wealth of detail in the film, from archive footage to written and verbal accounts and expert analysis, suggests there would’ve been ample material to tell this story in documentary mode alone. Those elements of this deftly researched docudrama are its strongest and most engaging, raising challenging questions about the role of Nazi scientists in the achievement of the first human space flight.
12A (see IFCO for details)
Prisoners of the Moon is released 28th June 2019