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Looking back at In Toni's Footsteps

In the misty ages past known as 2002, long Before the tendrils of terror had wrapped themselves around Mark and Carl's minds, Carl co-wrote and produced a World War II documentary called In Toni's Footsteps. This feature length World War 2 documentary tells the story of the Occupation of the Channel Islands from 1940 to 1945 by German forces. The only British territory ever captured during the war, this period was recently brought to international attention with the cinematic release of feature films Another Mother's Son and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

In Toni's Footsteps was a labour of love to Carl having been born and raised on the island of Guernsey and having relatives who had lived through the Occupation. The film was very well received on its completion the film has lived a limited life as a tourist DVD. Yet with the world of video streaming proving to be the resurrection ground for many a forgotten film, we are delighted to announce that Dark Matter Films will be taking over distribution duties for In Toni's Footsteps, beginning with its first on demand release on Vimeo. The documentary, shot on high grade Sony Digibeta and featuring an original brass score by the Guernsey Concert Band, has been upscaled to 720p and will be released to purchase for £2.99 on May 9, 2019, the 79th anniversary of Guernsey's liberation by British forces and the official end of the Occupation.

Here Carl reminisces with a few thoughts about the creation of the film:

About In Toni's Footsteps - Carl's perspective

In Toni’s Footsteps was co-written and directed by Jon Hickman, a very good schoolfriend of mine. Jon had discovered a fireman's training manual in his grandad's attic that had been used by a German soldier as a notebook during the war when posted to Guernsey.

Research into the scribblings in the notebook by Michael Amtmann in Germany and David Caldwell-Evans in the UK discovered not just the name of the soldier (Toni Kumpel) and his rank (private) but his home town of Buisdorf. This fired up our imaginations to find out more about this soldier and his life during the war. Up to this point most Occupation writing and film work had covered the perspective of the islanders only, focusing on the hardships felt at living under German rule. Jon and I decided it would be a more interesting, balanced story if we looked at the Occupation from both sides. We embarked on a quest to find out what happened to Toni, and through this tell the wider story of the Occupation.

The project turned out to be an ambitious one! We were relatively inexperienced recent university graduates with no professional credits to our name. Despite this, managed to raise enough finance to take a small crew of four on a four week shoot in the summer of 2001.

The shoot comprised two weeks touring Germany, a total journey of well over 1000 miles interviewing twelve ex-German soldiers ranging from privates to captains who had served in the islands, as well as school friends of Toni whom had never left their home of Buisdorf. Translations on set were handled by DOP Anne Misselwitz and sound recordist Christian Koefed. We were treated with such hospitality it was quite an emotional experience. We heard some astonishing stories, including stories of unlikely friendships, shipwreck survival, starvation, criminal acts and acts of insubordination, whilst being fed, and fed...and fed! A truly memorable time I'll never forget as it allowed us to make a connection with these people who forty years earlier were The Enemy.

Carl looks at old war pictures with ex-German soldier in his home

Following that trip, we journeyed for a week in both Jersey and Guernsey to capture the stories of survivors who lived through the Occupation, gather historical research from local historians, and to capture a wide variety of archive materials kindly supplied by the islands' libraries and private collectors. They also filmed around the substantial German defence works still present to this day: bunkers, hospitals, gun emplacements and fortresses. I remember clearly the most ironic event happening whilst in our home island of Guernsey was England playing and beating Germany 5-1 in the World Cup qualifiers. Old wounds indeed!

In total we shot just over 24 hours of footage. Digging into this we built up a story that covers the five years of Nazi rule of the islands, a time that became something of an obsession for Hitler as he stockpiled and built up the islands to defend against a British assault that never came, part of his "Atlantic Wall". The film tells a fascinating and unique story that sits in sharp contrast to the horrors of the World War 2 battlefields: a time when British civilians and German soldiers were forced to live side-by-side in an uneasy peace as the war played out around them. enemies forced to live together. Through all this we also discovered a very real connection between the peaceful paradise of the Islands and the horrors of the Russian Front, with the divisions posted to the Islands often being used as feeder divisions for the campaign in the East and a recuperating ground for those returning from that hell.

In Toni’s Footsteps tells this unusual Second World War story from the perspective of both sides, weaving the story of Toni Kumpel through tales of fear, brutality, oppression and starvation yet also hope, creativity, joy, unlikely friendships and golf.

I am absolutely delighted to be finally bringing this In Toni's Footsteps to online streaming for the first time on May 9th and hopefully introducing it to a global audience - its a fascinating social study, war tale and look at what makes us human regardless of sides.

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