Film: Indianapolis International Film Festival

First They Came For...

By Madelyn Ritrosky

Kate Chaplin, director

First They Came For... is a short film by Indianapolis filmmaker Kate Chaplin.  She was inspired by the words of Rev. Martin Niemöllor (1892 – 1984), a vocal clergyman in Nazi Germany who opposed Hitler.  He was sent to a concentration camp and freed when Allied troops arrived in 1945.   
 
It was in speeches given in 1946 that Niemöllor attacked the apathy of so many people under Hitler’s Nazi regime, in variations on a poem of sorts.  He didn’t always refer to exactly the same castigated groups, but it typically started with “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out...” 

That was followed by a repetition of those lines with the insertion of other categories of oft maligned people of that time and place – Jews, socialists, trade unionists.

The poem always ends by placing the blame – the indifference and apathy – on the speaker.  “Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me...”  This was, of course, Niemöllor’s way of pushing people to think and stand up against hate, prejudice, and injustice.

Inspired by the poem by Reverend Martin Niemoller of the same name, First They Came for... is set in a not so distant future where a nondescript regime takes away innocent people while one man struggles between standing up for what's right and saving himself. Video from uTube.

Kate Chaplin has followed in Niemöllor’s footsteps with her 6-minute film.  She says it is “set in a not so distant future where a nondescript regime takes away innocent people while one man struggles between standing up for what’s right and saving himself.”  Of course, in choosing the latter, he cannot ultimately save himself.  And that’s the metaphor. 
 
In the film, we see the man watching... watching other people who at first glance are happy in their everyday lives.  When out of nowhere the nondescript commandos swoop in and take these innocent people away, the man’s expressions and almost-moves reveal his concern.  He is considering whether to do anything – but he never does.  In the end, the swat-team soldiers come for him.

I noticed that the man is, well, a man, the soldiers are all male, and the innocent abductees are women.  And there’s a reason.  Chaplin explained, “My first two films, Laundry Day and LOSS, focused on women, but I get crap for casting a man as the main character in First They Came For...  My response is that a woman would never have let the situation go that far.  Plus I wrote the ‘victims’ as women and had them fight to the death for their freedom.”
 
When I asked how she first came across Niemöllor, she said, “On 9/11 my husband joined the Army to make a difference.  That year they had a Holocaust Remembrance service, and on the back of the program was the Neimöllor poem.  When my husband showed it to me, I fell in love with it.”   
 
In terms of filmmaking more broadly, Chaplin emphasized, “This is not a hobby for me.  Each film needs to stair-step to the next project.  My goal, through my production company, Karmic Courage Productions, is to make nurturing films that show positive and realistic female role models.  I have two young girls, so it's important to me to try to fill the void in female-empowering films.  And there need to be many more female directors!”  
 
Her current project is a fantasy feature film titled Mythic Waters.  “It's about an ex-circus strongman who carries with him a bag filled with a parasitic life-force,” she explained.  “When he comes across a charismatic water spirit who is searching for a kidnapped princess, the two go on a journey of personal strength and forgiveness.”

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