Ten years after World War II, the lone survivor of a war crime goes Nazi-hunting in South America with one particular target in mind.
What could possibly go wrong?
If you like thrills, adventures and a healthy dose of plot twists, you might want to check out “Condor’s Nest.”
It opened Friday in selected theaters and on online streaming sites.
And it has a local connection.
It’s the brainchild of filmmaker Phil Blattenberger, who lived in Smithsburg as a youngster. He still has relatives in the area and comes back to visit from time to time.
It’s a long way from Smithsburg to the sometimes exotic locales in Blattenberger’s films, but “it was a kid’s dream growing up around that area, sort of rural America,” he recently told Herald-Mail Media, “bicycling around in cornfields and having a good time. But just a hop, skip and jump away from bigger areas if you had to go do something cool.”
They’re “fond memories,” he said. “I’ve been back a few times, checking out the old neighborhoods.”
He’s lived in lots of places since then — Minnesota, Colorado, New York, Ohio, Iowa — but has been settled in North Carolina for “about half my life,” he said, and holds bachelor’s degrees in history and anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a master’s degree in cultural anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte — “completely unrelated to film.”
But it was his graduate work that led to his first feature film, “Point Man,” set in Vietnam in the days after the Tet Offensive and, back in the states, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
He was doing some work in Vietnam for his master’s degree “and ended up writing a screenplay while I was there that I was gonna produce during the summer as a side project before I started teaching college,” Blattenberger said.
“We ended up filming in Cambodia and Vietnam, and I delayed the teaching position for a semester,” Blattenberger said. “And the film got picked up by Sony, and that set the stage to do ‘Condor’s Nest.'”
It was “really a wonderful accident, and now it’s set the stage to be a career thing,” he said. “A couple of happy accidents and (I’m) just kind of taking advantage of it and absolutely love what we’re doing.”
Both films — and the upcoming “Without Consequence,” set during the Cold War — riff from real historical events, though by his own admission “take some liberties” with historical record.
“To be honest, it’s not even necessarily that pulling from history has an inspiration so much as it is I just, regardless of the historical aspect, I love period pieces,” Blattenberger said.
“One of the wonderful things about cinema is that you, as an audience member, get to be immersed into a world that you otherwise would never get to experience. I wasn’t around for World War II, but I get to watch a movie where there’s a crashed B-17 in a field with a French farmhouse and a German colonel walkin’ up; I get to experience that. Same thing with Vietnam; same thing with the Cold War.
“Whether it’s the costuming or whether it’s the various pastiches that were kind of displayed in the characterizations and the mannerisms of speech, there’s just so many visceral elements of the world that you get to immerse an audience in and expose them to,” Blattenberger said. “Honestly, that’s one of the most fun parts of making a movie to me, both in terms of the hands-on aspect of creating and designing it, and then actually separating myself, detaching from that experience, and actually watching it as a viewer.”
So why a story about Nazis in South America?
Because it’s a font of largely untapped material.
“Historically, something like 10,000 Nazis fled Germany after Hitler’s fall and set up shop in South America,” he said, and since then, “The Boys from Brazil” (1978) and “Operation Finale” (2018) have dealt with that.
“We’re talking 70 years since this all went on and there’s two movies … It hasn’t been touched on in a way that ‘Condor’s Nest’ touches on it.
“I think that was a tapestry that presented itself as something that would be fun to do some drawng on, and we drew it right up.”
Is it history? Is it fantasy? Yes. Sort of.
Period pieces that take liberties with historical fact go all the way back to Shakespeare and beyond — but have in some cases stirred controversy, as in recent objections to “The Crown,” a popular Netflix series dealing with the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Two former British prime ministers and acclaimed actress Judi Dench called out inaccuracies in the series, with Dench insisting Netflix should warn viewers that “The Crown” is a fictionalized account of events.
While “Condor’s Nest” certainly blurs the lines between fact and fiction, Blattenberger said he takes the real history into account.
“You’ve obviously got to take a look at your consumer base and make sure you’re not taking things too far,” he said. “Obviously this movie is for general audiences, but you obviously have a heavy contingent of people who are really into history and World War II who tend to make up a big chunk of your grassroots consumer base. And you want to make sure that you get the movie right for them.
“But at the same time, anytime you watch a movie, theres some sense of a suspension of disbelief when you go into it.”
And the fact that “Condor’s Nest” is advertised as an action film rather than a biopic reveals that it isn’t real history, he said.
“I don’t think anybody’s gonna be thrown for a loop or anything,” he said. “We’re sort of presenting an alternate reality — a fan-fiction reality, if you will, of one minor aspect of World War II and sort of building one of the twists of the movie off of it.
“Other than that, totally accurate.”
“Condor’s Nest” is “a broadly accessible movie” with a target audience of “literally everyone,” Blattenberg said.
“People who like war movies will like it because it has elements of war at the beginning, but it’s not a war movie. I think people who are into Indiana Jones-esque adventures will enjoy it because you have this geographical romp across the broad topography of South America.
“I think people who are into smart, sort of plot-driven movies where you have the twists and turns and then the turncoat thriller elements are absolutely going to love it … I don’t think there’s anybody in the world except maybe Nazis who are gonna hate this movie, and we’re OK with that.”
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Former resident’s new film has thrills, adventure and lots of twists
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