There is a certain joy in the discovery of cinema.
While cinema is filled to the brim with paint-by-number stories and familiar tales, once a while you stumble across a story that leaves you mumbling to yourself in awe going "I didn't know that."
Such is the case with Joseph Cahn's feature documentary The Unimaginable of Peter Ertel, an Official Selection of the 2017 Heartland Film Festival taking place in Indianapolis from October 12-22, 2017.
At the time of filming, Ertel was 96-years-old. He was an author, a poet and an avid pianist and a former agent for the U.S. State Department, a role he'd been recruited into in order to help the rebuilding of his former country, Germany, after six years of war had left the nation devastated. Ertel immigrated to America in 1953, finding work with a small Cleveland chemical firm owned by a Jewish family that knew, yes knew, that in his life before he was a U.S. agent that Peter had served as a German soldier during World War II.
Let that sink in.
Peter made no effort to hide this past, in fact acknowledging it even in his interview. It is one of many unimaginable aspects to The Unimaginable Journey of Peter Ertel.
It is remarkable to think that this man, who had at one point represented the "incarnation of evil," became known as family to his Jewish employers.
Again, a remarkable aspect to The Unimaginable Journey of Peter Ertel.
The Unimaginable Journey of Peter Ertel is constructed of rare and archival photographs from German, Russian and British sources - many of them previously unseen before - accompanied by a story told through the voice of Ertel himself, 96-years-old yet vibrant and honest and unflinchingly emotionally riveting in its telling. There is no voice-over narration, the story is Ertel's to tell and Ertel himself tells it in a way that will leave you riveted throughout his umaginable journey.
The Unimaginable Journey of Peter Ertel has already captured the 2016 GI Film Festival Founders' Choice Award and the 2017 Cleveland International Film Festival Local Heroes Competition. It is a film that, while a largely straightforward doc, is also deserving of much, much more.
As a man, Ertel's story is rather remarkable. A well known pacifist, he was forced into the role of a foot soldier for the German army, a role he regularly rebelled against in ways that would save countless lives even as he continued to serve and, even to the point that he would receive an Iron Cross for his service. The stories themselves are deeply moving to hear, stories known to be true and stories told with great candor by Ertel himself. It is not that he is proud of these stories, so much, as he remained throughout his life deeply ashamed of his role in the German army and the innocence with which he carried out many of his actions that, while not part of the Holocaust, nonetheless played a role in the most hated military of contemporary generations.
Ertel's story is one to be experienced, a story brought powerfully to life by Cahn and one that will come to Indianapolis for screening at the 2017 Heartland Film Festival. For more information on screenings, visit the Heartland Film website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic