Prisoners of the Moon – Johnny Gogan, Director & Nick Snow, Writer

Image used with kind permission from the IFI

In this podcast, Gemma Creagh talks to director Johnny Gogan and writer Nick Snow at a special screening of Prisoners of the Moon at the IFI.  The film tells the story of Arthur Rudolph, a scientist who played a key role in NASA’s historic 1969 moon landing. Rudolph was one of over 100 Nazi V-2 rocket engineers secretly brought to America in 1945 to work on the Cold War missile programme. He became a key figure in NASA’s space race, but was arrested in Toronto in 1990 on suspicion of being a war criminal. The dramatised trial (featuring Jim Norton and Cathy Belton) animates this revelatory documentary which uses archive material, expert witness interviews, and the testimony of Jean Michel, a slave labour survivor of the subterranean wartime V-2 Rocket.

https://www.prisonersofthemoon.com/events

This podcast was recorded at the IFI on Monday, 1st July 2019 at a special screening of Prisoners of the Moon.

 

 

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Irish Film Review: Prisoners of the Moon

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.

Cathy Butler

75′ 29″
12A (see IFCO for details)
Prisoners of the Moon is released 28th June 2019

Prisoners of the Moon – Official Website

 

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