Filming Day Two

The day began with a short drive down the banks of the river Drava, under the railway, then up the hill to a rather battered set of warehouses set behind a car park, the site of Stalag XVIIID, where my father was a prisoner of war from 1941 to 1944. The day’s shoot is to be made up of Monty officially meeting me on camera, and exploring the old camp, then traveling out to Ožbalt to follow in my father’s footsteps up the hill to freedom.

In a battered corner of Maribor

What had occurred to me the previous day was reinforced today. Due to setup times and all the reshoots, there is no real opportunity for fresh expression. For consistency, I found that I must decide which version of myself to present to the camera and stick with it. It was odd being conscious of this at the place where my father played his great impersonation of himself as the friendly colonial.

Once Monty and I had shaken hands on camera, and I had done my broadest Aussie g’day, we moved on the deeply disturbing task of entering the former Russian POW compound. The warehouses that held the Commonwealth POWs are in use, full of modern commercial activity. Not so where the Russians were held. Monty led me out of the warm spring sun into an icebox of despair that filled two levels. What had been built at the end of the nineteenth century as a simple almost elegant Hapsburg customs bond store on a railway siding; became for nine months after July 1941 a compacted hell for more than five thousand Russian POWs who were deliberately starved to death in the building by the German army. The spirit of the place is dark, hungry and angry; an awful place, we filmed very quietly and left as soon as we could.

The brooding warehouse of deliberate starvation

Ožbalt was a much happier place to be, in the country, high above the Drava river, in the sun, surrounded by nature and birdsong. Monty and I scrambled up the railway embankment and a hundred yards beyond up, the steep slope; replicating the first dash away from the work site. Then it was a more considered walk up the hill towards Lovrenc na Pohorju. The distance to Lovrenc was ten kilometres, and we were going to walk five for the cameras. Ožbalt and Lovrenc both sit at about 450 metres above sea level. The summit of the hill between the two settlement is 950 metres, so it was a steady, steep, winding walk. I was grateful for any stops to film scenery, particularly after my right foot sank deep into a deep drift of leaves between two rocks scraping my shin ( a moment of reality television I am sure will make the final cut).

The partisan view of the work site
Monty Halls climbing out of Ožbalt
A moment to appreciate local flora
The sound of running water followed us as we climbed
Close to the summit, worth the climb

We reached the top of the hill after about two and a half hours, stepping out of the woods into a great meadow, with a view down to Lovrenc. Drone shoots were setup and shot, then Monty and I officially said goodbye for the cameras. Then we all walked down towards Lovrenc (harder on my knees than climbing), being picked up by the van halfway down, just past dusk. We then travelled in darkness through the hills to a hostel, unpacked into our dormitories and sat down to a fabulous traditional Pohorje meal of mushroom soup followed by a variety of meats and grains followed by strudels. I slept well

Filming Day One

I got to meet Monty Halls and the crew the previous evening, in the “main square” Maribor. The city has a couple of plazas that I thought could qualify, so of course, I went to the incorrect one first. Having been introduced to a bunch of young men and women who all seemed terrifyingly competent, I watched two soon to be familiar ceremonies: timetable herding and gear packing. Both services must be completed with the proper invocations, or they have no value and must be performed again until done correctly.

The Hotel City Maribor is a perfect place to begin a film shoot, simple understated, great breakfast, a mittel Europ bourgeoise launch pad to the hills across the river. It also represented a bookend, we began in hotel class accommodation and ended with it in Metlika. The pattern set in Maribor continued throughout the shoot. A late night meal and conversation in the bar, little enough sleep, an early breakfast, in the crew van by 7 am for a 7:15 departure, after appropriate offerings to the herding and packing deities.

Outside Maribor railway station

Maribor railway station is an early sixties white modernist edition, replacing the one bombed in WWII. The antique locomotive out front may well have been the one that took my father out to his point of escape in August 1944. The plan was that Monty and I talk on camera while on the train journey out to the getaway site at Ožbalt. That journey would not be long enough for multiple camera setups and all the other rituals of filming. So we were going on a round trip on a different line through the countryside, before catching the train to Ožbalt.

View from the “conversation” train ride…
Handsome goods shed, halfway through the “conversation.”
Once we had returned to Maribor and on the real train to Ožbalt, things got a little odd. The locals on the “conversation” train had displayed no real interest in this bunch of English folk filling their commute with expensive camera gear. Most of the Ožbalt commuters were the same. However there was a tall, long haired English speaking local, dressed as an urban cowboy, he was drawn to the cameras, nothing would get in his way. I was not part of these shots so I could watch with bemusement as Monty, watching his limited time on the train trickle away, ever so politely convince the Slovene Ranger that his services were not required today. Monty finished his piece to camera with a minute to spare.
Ozbalt station, high above the Drava River

Ožbalt now has a hydroelectric turbine station, built in the 1960s as its focus. In my father’s time, this was a forestry stop, on a railway running alongside a fast alpine river in a narrow, steep valley. The work performed by the prisoners was to maintain this track, vital to the supply of the German’s southern Russian Front.

Monty and I were filmed arriving. Then there were long periods of scenic shots of how steep and lonely Ožbalt’s location is. The tedium was broken by the lighting of a roman candle in honour of the sound recordist Stuart Wareing’s birthday. It looked a little forlorn, but I had pointed out earlier in the day that the hotel would probably not appreciate it being lit in their dining room (I can be such a spoilsport).

Once all the scenic shots were complete, we packed ourselves into the van and headed to Lovrenc na Pohorju around the other side of the hill from Ožbalt. This was the place where my father met the Partisans, where he danced and drank with them, where he persuaded them to rescue his mates.

Partisan party central in Lovrenc

We drove through town looking for the AliBaba bar, an improbably named hub for local excitement. There Monty and I were going to toast my father and the partisans with slivovic. We did eventually, but we had to negotiate with another Slovene Ranger first.

Lovrenc dandelions next to AliBaba Bar
A toast to Australian – Slovene friendship

We then drove up the hill to catch the golden hour for final pieces to camera before returning to Maribor and the last sleep in a hotel bed for a few days…

Lovrenc cemetery above the town
One of the several churches in Lovrenc
Lovrenc orchard in the golden hour