Netflix has enlisted the help of some of the latter-20th century cinematic masters for its new docuseries “Five Came Back.”
Adapted from writer Mark Harris’ book “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War,” the three-part docuseries will feature interviews with Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Greengrass, and Lawrence Kasdan. Meryl Streep narrates the series, which explores how directors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens helped mobilize and shaping the consciousness of a divided America that was reluctant to enter World War II. For “Five Came Back,” director Laurent Bouzereau and his team gathered over 100 hours of archival and newsreel footage; watched over 40 documentaries and training films directed and produced by the five directors during the war; and studied 50 studio films and over 30 hours of outtakes and raw footage from their war films.
The series will premiere on March 31 on the streaming service.
“Film was an intoxicant from the early days of the silent movies,” Spielberg says in the opening moments of the series. “And early on, Hollywood realized that it had a tremendous tool or weapon for change, through cinema.” Coppola adds, “Cinema in its purest form could be put in the service of propaganda. Hitler and his minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels understood the power of the cinema to move large populations toward your way of thinking.”
“It’s the hardest thing to convey to young, contemporary audiences – even if you understand it intellectually, you don’t understand viscerally that you had to wait a really, really long time for news,” writer Harris said. “We’re in a context now where we have five different ways of knowing what is making news this morning. But you’re truly in another universe when you’re talking about the 1940s. There were newspapers and radio, but visually, the movies were the only way people could see the war.”
In conjunction with the launch of “Five Came Back,” Netflix will also present 13 documentaries discussed in the series, including Ford’s “The Battle of Midway,” Wyler’s “The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress,” Huston’s “Report from the Aleutians,” Capra’s “The Battle of Russia,’ Stevens’ “Nazi Concentration Camps,” and Stuart Heisler’s “The Negro Soldier.”
Directed by Bouzereau and written by Harris, “Five Came Back” is an Amblin Television, Scott Rudin and IACF Production in association with Passion Pictures and Rock Paper Scissors Entertainment. The series is executive produced by Spielberg, Scott Rudin, Barry Diller, Angus Wall, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, Eli Bush, Jason Sack, Linda Carlson, Jason Sterman, Ben Cotner, Adam Del Deo and Lisa Nishimura. Producers are Bouzereau and John Battsek.
Watch the trailer for “Five Came Back” above or on YouTube.