SANDY — BYUtv’s 2017 holiday film “Instrument of War” shares the message that the way we face trials and adversity is what makes all the difference in the end.
“When the sun comes up, it’s going to make all the difference how we’ve gotten through this journey,” said producer Russ Kendall in a Q&A following the film’s Utah premiere on Nov. 1 at Jordan Commons Megaplex Theatres.
Inspired by true events, “Instrument of War” tells the story of U.S. B-24 bomber pilot Clair Cline, who after being captured when his plane is shot down in northern Germany, builds a violin by hand in a prisoner-of-war camp.
As the prisoners endure day after day in the cold and miserable camp, Cline’s violin helps to keep hope alive, uniting the men and proving that music has the power to soften even the hardest of hearts.
“Music in many ways brings us together and transcends whatever situations we’re in,” director Adam Thomas Anderegg told the Deseret News. “It’s a universal language.”
The war movie is a unique holiday offering, but shares holiday themes of the dawn of redeeming grace, humankind coming together and peace on earth, the filmmakers said.
“Other POWs had written home about and had written in their journals about this POW that had played Christmas carols on his homemade violin in the camp and how much joy — how much peace, solace, respite from the war that it brought them,” Kendall said. “Those carols brought that spirit of the holidays, of Christmas, of what Christ brings.”
Cinematographer Wesley Johnson said he felt a tremendous responsibility to the story after reading the script, knowing it was written based on true accounts.
“Knowing that it’s somebody’s life, it really makes you take it very seriously and very soberly,” Johnson said.
Though Cline died in 2010, the filmmakers worked closely with his family throughout the process of creating the movie.
“The really beautiful part of this is Clair has passed along the love of music,” Kendall said. “His son Roger plays bass in the Chicago Philharmonic, his … granddaughter plays viola in the National Symphony in D.C. (and) her brother plays the cello in the Arkansas Philharmonic.”
Like many World War II veterans, Cline didn’t talk much about his war experiences throughout his life. The filmmakers only knew he made a violin as a POW in the Stalag Luft I camp while he was there from February 1944 to April 1945.
“We did have a lot of accounts from other prisoners, and by making composite characters, you got glimpses into what would have happened most likely, and in some cases, the only things that could have happened,” Anderegg said.
Johnson told the Deseret News he thinks the film’s focus on the essence of what it’s like to be in a POW camp on a personal level is what makes it unique from other war movies.
“It’s so emotionally driven and character driven as opposed to relying on sensationalism, which I think is super easy to do with a war film,” Johnson said.
“Instrument of War” aims to show the humanity on both sides of the war, with both U.S. and German multidimensional characters.
“There was a pretty extended conversation about not making this ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ because we have similar characters,” Anderegg said. “We wanted to be very careful about making things authentic, so that it felt very human and humane, even from the German side.”
The film was shot over a period of 26 days this March and April in Lithuania, a “very cold and a great place to work,” Anderegg said.
“Bad weather makes for good photography, and it is a hellacious experience on the day when you’re shooting it and putting it in the can, but man, if it doesn’t just make everything just render so beautifully on the screen,” Johnson said.
Much of the crew, including the craftspeople who helped with the wardrobe and set design, were Lithuanians. All of the English-speaking cast members are British actors, Anderegg said, though most speak in American accents in the film.
The movie has already been shown at film festivals and to cast members in London and has been well received across the board, according to BYU Broadcasting Managing Director Michael Dunn. The Utah premiere of the film was also a success, ending in a standing ovation for the filmmakers.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to be here and to have you resonate with it and feel like it was a ‘see the good in the world’ kind of experience,” Anderegg said. “That’s what we set out to do.”
“Instrument of War” will air on BYUtv at 6 p.m. MT on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23.