Chris Spurgin, Dane Rogers, Darian Haynes, Emily Wood, Gavin Rulon, Lisa Kaake, Michael Z. Williamson, Pierre L. Watson, Scott Ganyo
"First They Came For" Review
Having been familiar with previous creative efforts by writer/director Kate Chaplin, "First They Came For..." was one of my more anticipated shorts for the 2009 Indianapolis International Film Festival. Unfortunately, expectation and reality collided with not so pleasant results as the six-minute short lacked the power, intensity and emotional resonance of the Martin Niemoller poem upon which it is based.
For those unfamiliar with Niemoller's work, it is essentially is a call to action and advocacy on behalf of others before it is too late and you are left without anyone to advocate for you. It is a simple, powerful and thought-provoking writing and it is clear that Chaplin is trying to capture its essence with a script slightly varied from Niemoller's original words and ideas.
The film involves four scenarios; 1) A scene in which "they" come for the Jews and a man stands idly by and does nothing, 2) A scene in which "they" come for gays and the same man stands idly by, 3) A scene in which "they" come for the Muslims and, yet again, the man stands idly by and, finally, 4) A scene in which "they" come for the man and, of course, there is nobody left to stand for him.
While the idea for the short is certainly admirable, the final result is disappointing and startingly ineffective. While it seems that "they" represent an undefined regime, Chaplin has given the regime a Communist symbol and, by starting off with the Jews, inevitably evoked a Nazi era feeling. This is immediately followed by what feels like a scene set in America when a pair of lesbian parents are swept off a sidewalk while caring for their children.
The film, which was filmed in Central Indiana, may very well play a tad better to audiences not familiar with the shooting locations and more able to surrender the the ideas Chaplin is trying to present.
"Acting" isn't really required, however, the only scene that truly gave off the poem's sense of heightened drama was that involving the lesbian couple. The other scenes felt staged and devoid of the anxiety and panic necessary to bring Niemoller's words sufficiently to life.
Cinematography is generally fine with a few interesting shots that reveal the film's potential to have really made a powerful statement, though the film's production design feels a touch cartoonish at times.