Leitrim-based film director to give a different perspective on moon landing

‘Creative documentary’ tells of Nazi rocket scientist who played key role in 1969 event

A Leitrim-based film company will mark the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing with a production that the director acknowledges will offer a different perspective to Hollywood’s take on that giant leap for mankind.

Prisoners of the Moon, a 75-minute "creative documentary" tells the story of Arthur Rudolph, who, like better-known Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, played a key role in the 1969 moon landing. The Bandit Films production, partly shot at locations around Sligo, asks whether Rudolp was a scientific hero who was badly used by the Nazi regime, or whether he was the driving force behind a V2 slave labour programme that led to the death of 20,000 prisoners of war in an underground rocket factory. It is based on a radio play by journalist Nick Snow.

In 1983 Rudolph was stripped of his American citizenship and deported for war crimes , allegedly committed in the Nazi V2 rocket factory. His past was put under the spotlight in a tribunal set up in Canada after he was arrested trying to re-enter the US. Prisoners of the Moon, featuring Tony award-winning Irish actor Jim Norton as Rudolph, is a €300,000 production being distributed internationally by Red Arrow Studios.

‘Unpalatable details’

Johnny Gogan, the director of the film, who set up Bandit Films in Leitrim 20 years ago, said the US public was unaware for a long time of the "unpalatable details" of those Nazi rocket scientists enlisted to help America win the space race.


"When I read Nick Snow's brilliantly researched play about these little-known events in Toronto, the story once again pointed to the enduring influence of World War II on the modern world," he said. "We don't want to rain on the Apollo 11 parade – those astronauts were heroes – but there were other kinds of heroism , stories of great human endurance connected with the development of rocket technology, and these stories also deserve to be told alongside all the celebrations."

Many of those who died during the construction of the V2 rockets were prisoners taken from concentration camps, some of whom were executed for attempted sabotage as they knew the rockets would be used against their own countrymen and women.

‘Faustian pact’

“This is a fascinating story that I knew nothing about and it is a story that needs to be told,” said Norton. The actor described Rudolph as a “complicated character” who came from humble beginnings and who incredibly succeeded in his ambition to make rockets for space exploration. “But there is no doubt that, at best, he made a Faustian pact in his work for the Nazis.”

The original score for the film has been written by Sligo-based Steve Wickham and is being recorded at the Glens Centre in Manorhamilton. Actor Cathy Belton, who plays lawyer Barbara Kulaska, said the story "throws a different light on the celebrations of the moon landing".

The film also stars Donal O'Kelly, Marian Quinn, Alan Devine and Marty Rea.

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland