First Look: Netflix Documentary Series Examines WWII Hollywood

Netflix released the first trailer for their upcoming documentary series Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War, which examines five legendary filmmakers during the war years. It begins streaming March 31

Adapted from Mark Harris' best-selling book of the same name, Five Came Back is a three-part docuseries telling the story of how World War II changed Hollywood, and how the film industry changed the War, through the narrative lens of five successful directors who interrupted their careers, and risked their lives, to serve their country: John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra and George Stevens. In order to adequately guide viewers through the different personalities of the featured heroic quintet, the documentary team turned to five leading contemperary cinematic voices: Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo Del Toro, Paul Greengrass and Lawrence Kasdan. Three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep narrates the series. 

Film was an intoxicant from the early days of the silent movies,” says Spielberg in the opening moments of Five Came Back. “And early on, Hollywood realized that it had a tremendous tool or weapon for change, through cinema.” Adds Coppola, “Cinema in its purest form could be put in the service of propaganda. Hitler and his minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels understood the power of the cinema to move large populations toward your way of thinking.”

Director Laurent Bouzereau and his team compiled over 100 hours of archival and newsreel footage; watched over 40 documentaries and the five directorial subject's body of work; and studied 50 studio films as well as outtakes and raw footage from war films. Their achievement was no easy task. 

The stories in Five Came Back reverberate with meaning," said Bouzereau. "We are still living through their coda. These filmmakers, at that time, had a responsibility in that what they were putting into the world would be taken as truth. You can see a lot of echoes in what is happening today. It became clear as we were doing this series that the past was re-emerging in some ways, including the line we see that separates cinema that exists for entertainment and cinema that carries a message. And politics is more than ever a part of entertainment. I find it courageous of filmmakers then, as with artists today, to speak up for those who don’t have a platform.”

Five Came back is an Amblin Television, Scott Rudin and IACF Production, in association with Passion Pictures and Rock Paper Scissors Entertainment. 

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