By Madelyn Ritrosky
The film Fort McCoy is based on actual people and their wartime experiences at the real Fort McCoy, a World War II POW camp on American soil for German soldiers. Until this enlightening movie, I did not know Nazi prisoners were shipped to the U.S. for confinement. You learn something new every day.
Fort McCoy was shot on location at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. The filmmakers had to jump some government hurdles to do that, but that made the film all the more fascinating.
It’s more or less out in the middle of nowhere, and the film succeeds in lending the place and time a rather isolated feel.
That mirrors the feelings of the Stirn family when they move there so Frank Stirn can do his part as a barber. The family includes Frank (Eric Stoltz), his wife Ruby (Kate Connor), Ruby’s sister Anna (Lyndsy Fonseca), and the couple’s two children.
The script was written by Kate Connor, who was inspired by her own family’s amazing experiences. In the film, Connor plays her maternal grandmother, Eric Stoltz plays her grandfather, and their daughter Gertie is based on Kate’s mother, Micki Stirn Connor.
Kate Connor’s participation in this film went even further. She co-directed with Michael Worth and co-produced with Eric Stoltz.
According to Connor and her husband Andy Hirsch, who plays Jewish soldier Sam Dolnick and served as executive producer, Stoltz originally told them he was unavailable to shoot their film because of his directing schedule for the TV series Gray’s Anatomy. However, after reading Connor’s script, he was very interested. She rearranged the planned shooting schedule so Stoltz could work on Fort McCoy.
A sobering but not entirely surprising statistic was given by Hirsch when he related some of the historical facts that are woven into and integral to the film. The U.S. military brought over 425,000 German soldiers during World War II to POW camps like Fort McCoy. Yet something like 874 Jewish refugees were rescued and brought to America as Hitler instigated horrendous ways of segregating and killing Jews.
For those who enjoy romance, that’s a part of Fort McCoy as well. Not only are there intimate moments between Frank and Ruby as they deal with this new and uncommon situation, but Sam and Anna have to overcome the prejudice against Jews right at home. I think this side of the film lends a nice holistic feel, integrating the wider military and political aspects of the war into a sense of life as a whole as it was experienced then.
Also starring Seymour Cassel, Camryn Manheim, and Brendan Fehr, Fort McCoy is a great film for anyone interested in World War II, the 1940s, or a bit of a different look at the small and large effects that prejudice can have.