An exclusive interview with Filmmaker/Editor/Writer Michael Sellers about his newly released documentary Return to Hardwick. Here are the details from the filmmaker himself explaining the project. Previews are shown nationally and in England. Follow them to a city near you. Interviewed by Charley Valera, author of My Father’s War: Memories from Our Honored WWII Soldiers.
The 93rd Bomb Group was arguably the most decorated, most traveled and most effective B-24 bomb group of WWII. Helping to cripple Hitler’s Europe from the air, they executed some of the most daring bombing raids of the war. Along with the group’s rich history, sons, daughters and grandchildren travel to England and explore the 93rd’s long forgotten airbase – Hardwick Aerodrome 104.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Return to Hardwick?
I’ve been a part of the 93rd Bomb Group as a third generation member for about 15 years now. My interest in the beginning was going to annual reunions with my grandfather here in the states and abroad in England. My grandfather, John L Sullivan, was a bombardier and navigator in the 93rd. The group is a registered non-profit organization and they adhere to their by-laws by promoting projects that further the group’s mission to remember it’s legacy and educate future generations. The idea for the documentary came up a few years ago at a reunion in Connecticut. A trip was being planned to visit the 93rd’s air base in England, Hardwick Aerodrome 104. Everyone thought it would be a great idea to document the trip. With my experience and professional work in TV and film, I also proposed the idea of telling the history of the 93rd using photos and films we have in the 93rd’s archive.
Q: Tell us about all the roles you had to play in this project to keep it with your vision of the finished product?
I can’t say I wanted to take on many roles in this project just due to the time commitment. I have a family in New York City where I live and work. I also help run a production company in the city producing television projects for Discovery Networks. Normal life is very busy, but for some reason I find it tough to turn down projects that I’m passionate about. In the end, I took on the roles of producer, director and editor. We also have had a few volunteers from the 93rd organization to help produce.
Q: Tell us some details about the film? Style, length, cast and crew, filming locations?
I’m a big fan of the filmmaker Ken Burns so it was a fact that I was going to put into practice some of the techniques he has pioneered. I have watched The War a few times now (yes, all 14 hours) and the way he weaves in personal stories with the history of the war is amazing. I wanted to do that for Return to Hardwick. I was lucky enough to become friends with a few second generation members taking the trip Hardwick airfield. Part of the job is just getting to know people and soon enough you start finding out about their connections. They have taken this trip to find out more about what their father, uncle or mother did during the war and you just have to have your camera in the right spot.
Q: How long a period of time was this project in the making?
The group proposed the idea for the for the documentary in 2013. In 2015 some initial funds were approved, and we filmed a group of 30 people visiting Hardwick airfield. Throughout 2016, 2017 and 2018 I continued to shoot and edit the film on a part time bases. Each year I’d got a little done and brought it to a reunion so the group could see the progress.
Q: What were some of the difficulties you didn’t foresee in making this?
One of the biggest difficulties was financing. From the start, the group wanted this to be a “world class” documentary. These are big words to place on a project that has no major movie studio behind it – or any studio for that matter. However, I liked the challenge of taking the 93rd’s rich history and using that to our advantage. The 93rd accomplished a lot during the war. It was the first B-24 unit to arrive in England, the most deployments by any bomb group away from their airfield, the most decorated including two medals of honor, the most missions of any bomb group in the 8th Air Force and on top of all that they appeared on the front cover of Life Magazine. These accomplishments I knew could be used to wake up an audience and get them exciting about this group and the people that still show up today to support it.
Q: Can you tell us something about the cast and any of their connections to Hardwick?
Three second generation members of the 93rd are followed in the film. It was important to not only tell the history of the group during the war but to tell the stories of the veterans and their families too. John Marx had an uncle that died in a crash on take-off at Hardwick. He’s been going back to the airfield over the last 30 years to discover new insights about his uncle and cause of the crash. George Jung’s father served in the 93rd as a navigator, returned home safe but died when George was 15 years old. George never got the chance to talk to his father about the war and uses this trip as an opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps. And finally, Gail Mailloux’s parent’s met at Hardwick and starts to discover new details about their marriage that she never knew.
Q: Michael Cudlitz from Band of Brothers has done the narration, how did he become involved?
Michael Cudlitz got involved with Return to Hardwick with a classic “who you know” scenario. A second generation member in the 93rd had a friend who had a friend. In the end, someone got in touch with Michael and told him about the project. He loved the story of the 93rd and asked how he could help.
Q: When you think of Return to Hardwick, what stands out in your mind about the experience?
The thing I think most about this project is the support we have gotten from the veterans and their families. Without the tight “family” bond that the 93rd has developed over the years this project would not have been made.
Q: What are you hoping your audiences feel when they leave the theater?
I want audiences to leave the theater feeling a little more educated about the war. I also hope that it might spark something to dig into their past and find out if they have connections to family members that might have contributed to a greater cause.
Q: What are your top WWII Movies?
One of my favorite films is The Bridge on the River Kwai. Alec Guinness’ performance was one of the best in cinematic history. Another favorite is A Bridge Too Far. That film is so big and grand it almost outshines all the famous British and American actors in the film. I feel that it’s almost a requisite to mention Saving Private Ryan. I saw the film opening weekend and like everyone else was amazed at the groundbreaking detail in the opening D-Day sequence.
Q: How can we follow your film’s success?
The best way to keep in touch with me and the film is by going to the film’s website www.hardwickfilm.com. Also please visit the Facebook page (search for Return To Hardwick) and follow us on there. We are currently screening the film at museums and film festivals around the country.
Return to Hardwick IMDB- https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5596256/
Return to Hardwick Trailer- https://www.worldwars.com/trailer-return-hardwick-2019-home-93rd-bomb-group/
Return to Hardwick on Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/hardwickdoc