Screenwriter J Michael Straczynski is making the move into directing. The creator of the classic science-fiction television series Babylon 5 will be helming the World War Two drama The Flickering Light from his own screenplay.
The film will center on the unusual production of the film Tieflans (The Lowlands) by director Leni Riefenstahl, noted for the films she produced for Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany. Riefenstahl used inmates from the nearby Marzahn Concentration Camp as unpaid actors and extras in the film.
Straczynski detailed the story to Variety –
‘The Flickering Light’ is based on one of the most surreal and little known chapters of film history and the Second World War itself,” Straczynski said. “During the day, the prisoners were escorted to the studio by armed guard and corralled onto movie sets. They were cleaned up by the largely sympathetic Aryan crew, feasted on food unimaginable to prisoners, then dressed in period Spanish wardrobe as Riefenstahl required ‘authenticity’ on camera. Then after filming each day, returned, once more in rags, to the horror of the camp.”
An adaptation of what was reportedly Hitler’s favorite opera, Riefenstahl worked on the film in stages in 1940, 1942 and 1944, however she did not get around to editing the film right away. At the end of the war, the raw footage was seized by France and it took Riefenstahl several years before the material was returned. Although some footage had been damaged, Riefenstahl was able to complete and edit of the movie and get it released by 1954, where it proved to be a commercial and critical failure. It was the filmmaker’s last project.
The Berlin facility that Riefenstahl shot Tiefland was the renowned German Ufa Film Studios, used by such pre-Nazi German directors such as Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau. Now known as Studio Babelsberg, Straczynski plans to shoot on the same stages that Riefenstahl used when production commences in November.
This is not Straczynski’s first project based on a little known historic anecdote. His screenplay for Clint Eastwood’s The Changeling was based on an actual kidnapping case in Los Angeles in the 1930s. He has also received credits for his work on Ninja Assassin, Thor and Underworld: Awakening. He also wrote the first screenplay for the upcoming zombie epic World War Z, though it looks as if his work has been scrapped. He also developed a prequel to the classic science-fiction film Forbidden Planet for Joel Silver, though since there has been no news on the project in a while, I would venture to say that it is dead.
Straczynski’s only previous directing credits were for the Babylon 5 series finale episode “Sleeping In Light,” and a direct-to-video Babylon 5 project called The Lost Tales.