June 6, 1944, allied forces invaded Normandy, leading to the untimely deaths of thousands of young college aged men. This past Friday, February 18 at 2:30 p.m. in the Casey Academic Center Forum, students, faculty, and alumni experienced a part of this heartache through Charles Guggenheim's documentary D-Day Remembered.
The film, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1994, will be shown permanently at the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans, set to open on June 6, 2000. Guggenheim himself was present to answer questions after the film's conclusion.
D-Day was the last of a series of four films shown on campus in preparation for Convocation and Guggenheim's acceptance of the Award of Excellence from W.C., given "in recognition of his singular accomplishments in the field of documentary film."
Also shown in the series were A Time for Justice, Clear Pictures, and The First Freedom.
Guggenheim has made 80 films; a dozen were nominated for Academy Awards, and he has won four Oscars. The awarded films were Nine From Little Rock (1964), Robert Kennedy Remembered (1968), The Johnstown Flood (1989), and A Time for Justice (1995).
Friday's film D-Day Remembered details the events leading up to the invasion of Normandy during World War II. According to Guggenheim, the film took a year and a half to produce. It uses footage from the American and British governments, television stations, and library archives, among others. Most of the film featured in the documentary was used in government propaganda films in the U.S. during the war, edited in the proper context. Many of the clips used had not been seen by the public until this film was made. The voice-overs in the film are those of veterans Guggenheim interviewed for the piece. Guggenheim explained, "Virtually every person I interviewed asked for a transcript or a copy of the tape. They wanted it to show to their children because they never talked about their experiences in the war."
Guggenheim himself is a World War II veteran and participated in the invasion of Normandy. "My division was completely destroyed during the attack," he explained. "I wasn't with them at the time. I've often wondered why I was left behind. It isn't the fear of death but the agonizing thoughts that precede death, that need to know."
He continued: "When I was researching this film, I saw lots of pictures. The photos that move me are the ones of the faces of the young men looking out from the sides of the ships. That day, they weren't sure if they were going to survive. As infantry, two things happened: you were wounded or killed. Yet they all willingly faced it."
"That endless day after day of not knowing - it came back to haunt me almost fifty years later," added Guggenheim. "When I see [the film], I get emotional, I see the troops - I realize that they are the ages of you young people. They were eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-two; they had no choice, but they accepted the opportunity to serve their country. Their hopes and dreams - wives, jobs, children - were no longer a possibility, but they accepted it."
Guggenheim also answered a question about what it was like for the photographers who worked at the site of the battle to get shots of D-Day.
"I've thought a lot about [their bravery] because I was a rifleman, as well as a cameraman. I think they have an advantage in that no one is yelling at them to advance. But on the other hand, you feel an obligation to be with the soldiers as they move forward. The army had a lot of cameramen, but there were also one or two correspondents that were civilian," said Guggenheim.
He further explained, "The photographer Bob Kappa was incredibly brave; he took wonderful pictures of various wars. He began with shots of the Spanish-American War, working until he was killed in Indochina by a land mine during Vietnam. He went into Normandy and took eight rolls of the invasion. A courier rushed them to Britain to go to Life magazine. During development, they were placed in a heating chamber, and all but eight prints burned up. Those are the only pictures we have. I wonder what happened to the other cameramen there, why there aren't more photos."
After the question and answer session, Guggenheim talked further about his career: "I began by working in radio, before the invention of television. I was always fascinated by pictures, especially because I couldn't read until I was in the fourth grade. When I'm on a plane, I can't just sit and read. I have to look out the window, to see where we are."
"I make films based upon my experiences," he added. "All of my work deals with America and Americans, because that's the one thing I seem to know the best. That's what a student told me about Price when I was making the film about the author: 'He taught me that you don't have to look outside your own experience to write things that are interesting.' And that statement is total truth."
Guggenheim also spoke of why he chose to visit Washington College: "[Board member] Richard Harwood called me. I also know [former college president] Doug Cater. Both invited me down here. We're all good friends, and I have been at the campus before and liked what I saw. He and I worked with Robert Kennedy, I on his campaign film, and Harwood was a journalist for the Washington Post, covering his campaign. I have a great respect for him."
Guggenheim concluded by discussing objectivity and film making, as well as his latest project. "The film I'm working on now is about POWs in Germany during World War II. In December 1944, the Germans took a lot of prisoners during the Battle of the Bulge, estimated at 6,000 to 8,000 men. My film centers on a group of 350 men that survived a hard labor camp and death march," Guggenheim said.
He continued: "They were chosen based on their Jewish heritage or amount of trouble they caused within the camp, chosen to dig tunnels for underground factories for the Germans and other hard labor. Twenty percent of them died. The rest were then forced on a death march, where even more perished. Of the 350, I've been able to locate 45."
Said Guggenheim, "In a film, nothing is really objective. It can't be objective. The only thing it has to be is fair. Everything depends upon your point of view, influenced by the times in which you live. Things change, and the films that hold up are the ones that don't get trampled by changes in point of view. You have to be true to yourself and your sense of ethics and fairness; you can't go through life without feeling that you've made some sort of contribution."