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The First World War from Above (2010)

The history of World War I as depicted with archival and modern aerial footage.

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The history of World War I as depicted with archival and modern aerial footage.

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7 November 2010 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Az I. világháború madártávlatból  »

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(HD)| (archive footage)
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Not only history of early aerial photography but human interest story, too
18 May 2016 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Aerial observation had been possible since the invention of hot air balloons, but with the advent of World War I it was possible to combine improved aircraft with cameras light enough to take aboard and aim at enemy territory. Both sides came to recognize the importance of this new technological synergy and the interpretation of the resulting bird's-eye views of enemy installations and troop movements. Now, planes could be sent to bomb enemy targets that had been specifically identified. The drawback for reconnaissance pilots was that the enemy knew what they were doing and began to shoot aerial photographers out of the sky.

The human interest story comes as a surprise. The filmmakers discovered a reel in a French government archive that showed aerial footage of the Western Front taken within months after the end of the war. From above, you can see that hostilities have ceased, and now people are clearing away some of the wreckage and even trying to rebuild. And while the cameraman is never seen, the pilot he sits behind frequently turns around and smiles at the camera. Who was he? the filmmakers wondered. They not only learned who he was but that he had a sad fate. Twenty years later, he and his wife were founding members of the French Resistance who fought the Nazis who conquered France in 1940. The couple were captured by the Gestapo, tortured, and executed. What is more, they left behind a toddler, a girl who grew up never having known her parents.

"What would you say if I told you that we found film of your father?" one of the filmmakers asks the now elderly daughter of the pilot in the movie. She expresses incredulity until they open a laptop and show her the image of the pilot turning around and smiling at the camera.

"In the only picture I have had of my father," she says through tears, "he is older and seems so serious. I never expected to see him moving or looking so young and smiling. It's as if you have given my father back to me."


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