Director Q&A

Mat Hames

When did you decide you wanted to be a film maker?

I grew up in Arlington, Texas. For ten years, I studied theater, acting and directing at the Creative Arts Theater School in Arlington. CATS was a very nurturing creative environment - the teachers there all helped to build self confidence for all kinds of creative pursuits. As a kid, I really focused on creative stuff at the total exclusion of everything else. As I got older I started writing all the time, stories, poetry, whatever. I loved theater but gradually film and writing had a greater emotional impact on me.

How did you get involved in the film?

The short version is, in the early summer of 2004, Ramona and David approached me based on the recommendation of Wilson Waggoner. I read Airey Neave's "Saturday at MI-9" which gave a good overview of several escape lines, and I also read Rendez-Vous 127 by Ann Brusselmans. I became totally passionate about the film and knew I wanted to do it. Ramona and David's determination and their willingness to make sacrifices to see the film made, and their patience in making sure it was done right - that was also a big motivator.

What was it about the people in the resistance that interested you?

I would say their moral courage.

Did you edit the film?

I was the main editor on the film and I had help from Ginny Patrick and other assistant editors.

How did you do the visual effects with the photographs?

We had very limited amount of footage to show what Brussels was like while Bill was there. David Grosvenor found an archival source in Belgium with these great, atmospheric black and white pictures. I wanted to use them but didn't want it to be too flat. After I saw the Kid Stays in the Picture, I thought it would be cool to do something similar. So I worked with Erik Lauritzen, a really great motion graphic artist here in Austin, on taking the hundreds of photos we had to work with and developing 3D sequences out of them, with a camera moving around. We used Photoshop and AfterEffects. Erik did the bulk of those sequences, especially the more complex animations, and Ginny Patrick and I did some of them at Alpheus.

What is your passion for this material?

I think what drew me to the story initially was Bill Grosvenor. He went through something I will never be able to fully grasp - dropping by parachute into essentially a war zone where people were trying to kill or capture him - and then spending 7 months hiding in houses around Belgium, never sure exactly who he could trust - but trusting them anyway. And when Bill was captured, he had a harrowing, horrible time in the Nazi Prison of St. Gilles. And today, Bill is just the most easy-going, friendly, laid back personality I've ever seen. It seems like nothing can really bother him. He is so happy and content with his life, it's just inspiring.

Why doesn't the world know more about the Belgian Resistance?

I think it's partially because they were not trying to make themselves known. They just did the right thing because it came naturally to them, not out of a desire to distinguish themselves from others or to call attention to themselves. They didn't really do a big PR campaign to make their exploits known to the rest of the world. Also there was also a lot of chaos in Belgium in the aftermath of the war, and there probably wasn't time to sit around and tell stories.

Was there a common thread in all of their stories?

They went through something we haven't experienced in the United States since the Civil War, which is a war on their own soil. The war was all around them. And through that experience they went through, I think they are kind of all similar in that they are so content with what they have. The fact that many of them went through these amazing things, yet they focus more on the everyday, good things in life. Things like gardening. Simple things. I know that sounds odd but I think they have it figured out.

You're a little young, why are World War II stories important to you?

Well I think this is important, first of all, because we're losing these people - they're slipping away from us. Very soon all we're going to have left is their stories. That to me is a very sad prospect and I hope that by preserving their stories, what they experienced can be preserved and we can learn from them. I think it's much easier to understand current events if you can put them into the context of the last 100 years at least. History repeats itself. Yes, it's a cliché but clichés got to be clichés because they're true.

Did Bill like the film?

As far as I can tell, Bill really likes the film. His son David tells me he's watched it a few times. I don't know how strange it must be to see a movie that someone has made, and being able to compare it to the memories inside your own head. That must be really odd. But yes I think Bill likes it.

Is there a highlight for you in this whole experience?

Showing the film in Brussels to the people who fought in the resistance. Having Michou Dumon squeeze my hand and say "verite". And showing the film to Bill Grosvenor in Abilene with all his friends and family.