The Siege of Bastogne - Hold at All Costs

FIVARS 2023: Spotlight on The Siege of Bastogne – Hold at All Costs

Uli Futschik The Siege of Bastogne – Hold at All Costs tells the tale of last great battle of the 101st US Airborne Division in World War II during the battle of the bulge. FIVARS had a chance to speak with director Uli Futschik.

What led to the creation of this piece?

‘Hold at All Costs’ is our second VR/360 film created for the nonprofit World War II Foundation. The mission of the WWII Foundation is to educate younger generations about the war, and VR is one of their newer tools. Tim Gray, Founder and President of the WWII Foundation, has created more than 30 documentaries for public television about personal stories from World War II veterans.

The goal is to make VR/360 films in tandem with the traditional format productions. However, funding for the VR portion is still more difficult than for traditional documentaries.

The Siege of Bastogne - Hold at All Costs

What was the production process for you and your team? What did you learn?

While the steps of the process were pretty straightforward, the actions themselves were anything but trivial. The story spanned one day in our first WWII documentary, Omaha Beach. The Siege of Bastogne lasted over a month, and consequently, the stories from veterans were more involved.

Fortunately, by December 2021, COVID-19 travel restrictions were lifted, and we were able to be on location in Belgium and integrate any additional sites and information from our guide, Reg Jans.

Like any historical documentary, there is a lot of research that needs to be done before we can film our first scene. That meant reading books and articles about the Battle of the Bulge, what led to it, and the course it takes, but especially reading about the siege of Bastogne and troops defending the town. Accuracy is very important, so cross-checking historical facts is integral to me and was ongoing throughout the production.

The Siege of Bastogne - Hold at All Costs

The central part of the film is the experiences of the individual veterans. For this, I was working with 16:9 interviews recorded years earlier. Many of these veterans were part of the actual Band of Brothers. Most of the interviews covered their WWII experience and only pieces about Bastogne. The new Adobe Premiere Pro feature to transcribe the video interviews made finding the relevant parts easier.

Visually, the film combines 360 videos from the actual location augmented with archival footage, something we started to call the reverse Ken Burns effect. Before we film on-site, a crucial step is to collect as much archival footage as possible from publicly accessible archives such as the National Archives.

Our filming locations are chosen based on these almost 80-year-old films and pictures. When we arrived in Bastogne, we had a good idea of what we wanted to do. But our local guide and field producer, Reg Jans, was still indispensable with his knowledge of the lay of the land. You showed him a picture, and he not only knew where it was taken but also the whole story behind it, and maybe he even met someone who was there at that time.

Post-production started in early 2022. While editing and shaping the story about the defenders of a town encircled by German troops in WWII, I was following the news of how a city – Kyiv – almost 80 years later is slowly surrounded by the enemy. The parallels felt strange and surreal and illustrated the importance of remembering and teaching history.

The Siege of Bastogne - Hold at All Costs

How did you become an immersive media content creator and why?

My path could be more straightforward, and it contains an accidental element. I started out pursuing and finishing a Ph.D. in quantum physics. I was drawn to immersive content creation through my husband, Joergen Geerds. Shortly after graduating, Joergen and I founded our first company together, Freedom360, and started creating immersive content. That was in 2012, and I’ve been creating immersive content since. I love how 360/VR affects people differently than watching a story on a flat screen. This medium has so much power, and we only got started.

What is the VR/AR industry like in your region?

Before COVID, there were almost monthly meet-ups and an exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, these have not returned.

The Siege of Bastogne - Hold at All Costs

What do you have planned for the future?

More documentaries, but not only about WWII.

Do you think VR festivals like FIVARS are important?

FIVARS lives in a unique space, a festival only showing VR. Most festivals treat VR as an add-on and throw everything into one category. FIVARS, on the other hand, showcases the diversity of content that has evolved in the immersive field, which I appreciate.

The Siege of Bastogne - Hold at All Costs

The Siege of Bastogne – Hold at All Costs at FIVARS 2023 runs in person September 15-19th in Toronto and online through October 3rd.

The Siege of Bastogne - Hold at All Costs