Report From The Aleutians

Because of this apparent shortcoming, other filmmakers of the time chose to deal with the war in a more sophisticated and nuanced way. As we shall see, these nuanced ways of looking at the war often had more to do with character than plot and perhaps more to do with confession than testimony. These films would allow the audience to get to know the people involved in the war and then leave space for them to draw their own conclusions. John Huston is perhaps the most notable example of this approach. He produced a similar set of documentaries during the war but often ran into trouble with the war department (perhaps, as we shall see, it was because he was ahead of his time). His first film after joining the service was called Report From The Aleutians, shot in 1943. In it, he chronicled a bombing mission by the Americans against the Japanese in a very straightforward manner; very similar to the way Capra utilized the expository style. He included the events of the mission and narrated the events himself, but also chose to focus on the men involved, the ex-farmers, ex-storekeepers and ordinary people that made up the American servicemen. However, he was implicitly aware of the fact that the film was propaganda. He was told that the purpose of the film was “cheering our own boys on.” Thus, he was forced to lie to the audience in his voice over. In the bombing mission against the Japanese, Huston confidently declared that all the planes came back safe, in keeping with the wishes of the war department, when in fact some of those bombers had been shot down.

As Huston continued his journey through the war, looking at the events through his lens, he began to downplay the desire to glamorize war and promote the American side, and would instead start to portray the effect of war on all those involved. Those characters that he mentioned as an aside to the plot in Report From The Aleutians would begin to occupy a more prominent place of his future films. In exploring character, Huston seemed to be concerned with honestly depicting the gruesome reality of war even if it went against the wishes of his superiors.

– from the upcoming book “How to Film the Truth: The Story of Documentary Film As a Spiritual Journey” to be released in the Summer of 2018 by Wipf & Stock