Erik Nelson Wants to Preserve the Past With ‘The Cold Blue’ World War II Documentary

Erik Nelson describes his documentary “The Cold Blue” as “the garage band of movies” — he didn’t have the large team or crew other documentary contenders have.

“The Cold Blue” is a World War II documentary that looks at raids and B-17 bombing missions that took place during the war. Nelson’s team looked at 34 reels of 16mm footage from William Wyler’s “The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress,” poring over them for 15 hours.

The footage was without sound, so Nelson not only restored it to stunning quality, but he also tracked down eight of the existing B-17 planes, flew up in them and captured the sound. The end result is an immersive and modern documentary.

As a film historian, Nelson also sought out veterans who flew the B-17s.

“Wyler covered the bomb runs, the briefings, and I knew what we had,” Nelson said of the footage. “I wanted to ask what it sounded like, what it felt like and what it was like to do that.” Once he had his audio interviews, Nelson edited and wove the interviews into the restored picture footage.

David C. Hughes was the sound editor on “The Cold Blue.” He brought sound equipment from The Skywalker Ranch and spent four days recording the sounds of the B-17 planes. Later on, one of the planes the team had worked on crashed, and shortly after, a veteran that Nelson interiewed passed away.

Popular on Variety

“The veterans aren’t going to be here much longer. They are in great shape, but we still have to remember that. I felt an obligation (in making this) to preserve the past. It’s important to do so,” Nelson explained.

In addition to preserving the past, Nelson also wanted to let the storytelling do its work. “I was very conscious and wanted to create a time machine. So, you hear the voices of the veterans. You realize they were there. You’ve never seen the footage like this before. I wanted to be pure to the concept. There were no narration and no imposition from the director,” he said.

Specific details like how the men craved eggs for breakfast and what it was like to be on that bombing run are part of how Nelson preserved the past. The documentary pays tribute to the extraordinary filmmaking talents of Wyler, who also directed “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “Roman Holiday,” and “Ben-Hur,” and to his DP, who was killed during the bomb runs. The documentary serves as a chance to revisit Wyler’s restored footage in a new and modern way, with voiceovers from people who were there.

More Film

  • Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness

    'Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness': Film Review

    Imagine a high-ratings, high-stakes game show that trivializes a convict’s life-or-death fate for public consumption. As wild as it sounds, a version of this reality TV entertainment apparently really exists in modern-day Iran, where writer-director Massoud Bakhshi’s “Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness” is set, and where a wildly popular edition of it has been airing [...]

  • Les Miserables movie France 2019

    Ladj Ly's 'Les Miserables' Tops Lumières Awards, Roman Polanski Wins Director Prize

    Ladj Ly’s Oscar-nominated drama “Les Miserables” won best film, male newcomer and script at the Lumières Awards, the French prizes given by Paris-based members of the foreign press. This 25th edition of the awards was presided over by French actress Isabelle Huppert. The searing police violence drama previously won the jury prize at Cannes, and [...]

  • Hillary Clinton - Sundance

    Hillary Clinton Gets Candid About Feminism, Beyonce and 'Little Women' (EXCLUSIVE)

    One of the breakout projects at this year’s Sundance Film Festival is “Hillary,” a four-hour docu-series about Hillary Clinton. The former first lady, Secretary of State and first woman presidential nominee from a major political party sat down for 35 hours of interviews with director Nanette Burstein, who also poured through exclusive footage from the [...]

  • Steven Garza appears in Boys State

    Apple and A24 Partner to Buy Documentary 'Boys State' Out of Sundance

    Apple and A24 have partnered to buy the Sundance documentary “Boys State,” Variety has confirmed. The sale, for $10 million, represents one of the biggest pacts ever for a non-fiction film. “Boys State,” a political coming-of-age story, follows annual rite of passage in which a thousand teenage boys from across Texas come together to build [...]

  • Sandy Powell Costume Design The Irishman

    Mayes C. Rubeo, Sandy Powell Lead Below-the-Line Surge in Women Oscar Noms

    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was quick to point out on Jan. 13 as the Oscar nominations were announced, that “A record 62 women were nominated, almost one-third of this year’s nominees.” Twenty of those below-the-line nominations were for women and minorities, including Sandy Powell, who secured her 15th nomination for “The [...]

  • Saoirse Ronan Awards Season Fashion

    Saoirse Ronan's Stylist Elizabeth Saltzman Creates 'Strong, Feminine Woman'

    Elizabeth Saltzman wanted Saoirse Ronan’s “Little Women” press tour looks to reflect her character: “A strong, feminine woman with a little masculinity mixed in.” In designing a Golden Globes dress, Saltzman spoke about Ronan with the Celine team. “We talked about Saoirse being effortless, sensual and cool — and not trying too hard,” she says. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content