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Frederic Lumiere (Caught By The SS: The Wereth Eleven)

Frederic Lumiere: The Interview (Caught By The SS: The Wereth Eleven)

Frederic Lumiere is an award-winning filmmaker and an industry recognized leader in the fields of HD production and post-production.  He is executive producer and editor for 'Caught By The SS: The Wereth Eleven', airing in part on National Geographic on Wednesday, February 16 @ 9PM ET.  The film will then premiere at the WWII Museum in New Orleans on February 19 followed by possible theatrical rollouts.

We talked with Mr. Lumiere about this amazing documentary, the importance of it's story and how Shakefire.com's Peter Oberth even had a very small helping hand...

RYAN STERRITT: How did you discover this incredible story?

FREDERIC LUMIERE: I didn't discover this story, it came to me from the director and writer, Robert Child and it came to him from Joseph Small. Joe was traveling in the Ardennes in Belgium retracing the steps of his uncle who fought in WWII and he stumbled upon the memorial and the story in the small town of Wereth. He was so moved by the story, he did two years of research and as a result met the historian Joe Springer who helped him assemble as much info as possible and reconstruct the events that happened 68 years ago. Together they conducted their own investigation by talking to witnesses, by getting documents declassified by the military, etc.

Eventually, Joe decided this story had to be told on screen and he was introduced to Rob Child who had made many historical documentaries. Rob took a look at everything Joe had gathered over a couple years and agreed that this story had to be told.

Rob and I had been wanting to work together for years. We both live in Bucks County, PA and we even considered it for his Silent Wings film years ago but I got busy with another project 70'sFEVER for History and then WWII in HD for the same network.

After Rob wrote the initial script for the Wereth 11 and had all the reenactments story-boarded and was ready for principal photography he asked me if I knew anyone who could edit the piece. I said "Hey, I'm not doing anything this summer, I'll do it!" the rest is history.

RS: Do you feel that there are a number of amazing stories like this that still remain untold?

FL: Unfortunately yes. War is horrible and when you deal with such a ruthless group as the SS, you end up with a lot of injustice done onto human beings and heart breaking stories but what makes this story unique isn't only what the Germans did to these 11 American heroes but what America didn't do for them. Unless you are an African American soldier who was in the US Army in World War Two, I don't think you can fully appreciate what it was like. George Shomo, who was in the 333RD and was left behind to fight the Germans after 3 truck loads of his fellow GIs were evacuated during the initial German assault gives us a very clear and shocking glimpse as to what it was like when he tells us "As a black man in the US Army you weren't as good as a dog." One can only speculate why the murder of these 11 Black GIs was left out of the congressional report that list every atrocity (large and small) committed by the SS that week in that region, especially since it was investigated by the Americans and plenty of evidence (photos, eye witness, etc.) were available. This was clearly a war crime with evidence of dismemberment and torture of unarmed men. My issue isn't too much that it wasn't fully prosecuted because I don't know how much solid evidence they had to pursue it but that it wasn't even listed?! What other crimes that were not prosecuted of civilians and US troops were listed on that report. It's almost like saying, these guys were not human beings - their murder was not 'important' enough to be listed next to the murder of other men and women of other races. As George says"...weren't as good as a dog."

RS: How big of an impact do you feel the 333RD had on the war as a whole?

FL: Huge! They held the Germans back during the initial assault which gave others time to regroup and the ones that survived joined the 969th and played a crucial role on the assault of Bastogne. And this is just the Battle Of The Bulge. These guys had been fighting since D-DAY. Look - ultimately, nobody's saying one battalion is better than another, all we're saying is that there were a lot of Black American soldiers who fought for our country in WWII. Many valiantly but they didn't get the appreciation they deserved. When George Shomo finally made it back home after fighting the war, he had to sit in the washroom of a train that had plenty of seats because of the color of his skin. I'm sorry, I'm ashamed of a country that treated a hero in such a way. The most amazing part is, he says "I made the best of it" - no bitterness, just appreciation to be alive. That makes him twice the hero he was when he came back in my opinion. It really is amazing.

RS: Your last project, WWII in HD was a major event on the History Channel in 2009. When beginning work on The Wereth 11, was it intended to air on National Geographic?

FL: We had no idea where it was going to land. All we knew was that this story had to be told and had to be told well so as many people as possible could see it. Rob's vision for what this film was going to look like was very ambitious! When he brought the footage with everything he had shot in my edit suite I was a bit skeptical to be honest since I had never done any visual effects work before. So I purchased the latest version of After Effects and I took hundreds of tutorials - one after the next because even though C4 in Toronto took on the big visual effects shots, there were many more I knew I had to take care of such as explosions, gun fire, turning summer into winter, removing stencils from Howitzers in crazy shaky cam battle shots, you name it.  C4 led by Jonathan Gibson our visual effects supervisor did some incredible work on the bigger shots - 54 of them I believe. I would select all the soldiers, their action and where they should be on the screen and after a few days, sometimes weeks, the shot would come back fully flushed out like magic. These guys are truly amazing up there in Toronto. Here's an example of their work on the film:

Anyway, we didn't know where it was going to land but we knew that if we elevated the bar of war docs, it would find a home and the fine folks at National Geographic Channel recognized the value and within days of receiving the film, they came back and told us they wanted it.

RS: The narrator, Corey Reynolds, has worked in a lot of different mediums, but hasn't worked in voice over.  How did his involvement come along?

FL: Pure divine intervention as he says. I actually read an interview you guys did with him on Shakefire.com (Ryan Sterritt - 1/5/2011) and it clicked! Not only do I love his work on The Closer and I think he has an amazing quality to his voice but after reading that interview, I discovered he was a big WWII buff and even wrote a script on the Triple Nickles, all black paratroopers in the Pacific during WWII. It was a match made in heaven. He adds so much to the film! and thanks to you guys! Peter has a mention in the credits ;)

RS: Did you have a lot of cooperation with the U.S. Army in the making of this project?

FL: Joseph Small and Joseph Springer did. Four star General William E. "Kip" Ward commander of the U.S. Africa Command is a big supporter of The Wereth Memorial.

RS: What other projects do you have in the pipeline, anything you can discuss?

FL: Yes - I am producing a new story based on a book by Fred Jerome called "The Einstein File" on J. Edgar Hoover's obsession trying to bust the scientist. I am also close to starting a new WWII series. Something very new and very innovative that I can't talk about quite yet. But you'll be first to know! I love you guys - especially since you helped us find Corey!

RS: Was this project intended as a Black History Month premiere from inception?

FL: Kind of but if we couldn't pull that off, I always said that yhis story is just an important in June as it is in February.

RS: The National Geographic premiere is a shortened version of the actual film.  Was this a timing issue or some other decision?

FL: Purely timing. They have to allow for commercials and a 45 min. time slot. Corey is the narrator on the premiere this Wednesday as well!

RS: What kind of theatrical rollout is planned?

FL: Not sure yet. We entered the longer version in film festivals and are waiting to hear. We'll do what makes sense but the primary goal is for as many people as possible to see this story and NatGeo, with millions of viewers is a great way to start.

 

Ryan Sterritt
Interview by Ryan Sterritt
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