World War II and the Fallen: an extraordinary new documentary by Neil Halloran

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Early in our trip to Krakow we found ourselves seated beside an Irish couple at a restaurant. They'd returned that day from Auschwitz and Birkenau. They were insisting that we travel there as well. I was conflicted.

Tell me why I have to go, I said, after expressing concerns about presenting myself as a tourist in a place where so much horror happened.

You go for the sheer immensity, the husband told me. You go because you have to.

And so we did—taking a two-hour bus ride from Krakow through the countryside and toward the camps. We arrived at the end of a day, most tourists gone. And then: The sheer immensity of it. 1.3 million interned. Only 200,000 survived. The shoes. The hair. The suitcases. The faces. The camp land that went on beyond possible seeing. The sheer immensity.

In the midst of our travels we received word from a visionary documentary filmmaker—Neil Halloran—about the release of a new project long in the making that puts some of this into context. Yesterday my husband and I sat with these eighteen or so minutes in perfect silence, watching. This is extraordinary material—World War II quantified and then contextualized. A reminder about the hope that still exists, even in this torn-up world of ours. And a spectacular use of numbers. In fact, I've never seen numbers used to such tremendous storytelling effect.

Here are Neil's words about the film itself. I highly recommend it as visual art and historical message:

Today I am launching the website <>  after many years in the making, and I would be so very delighted if you gave it a look.

The Fallen of World War II is a short animated data-driven documentary about war and peace. The film explores the harrowing statistics of World War II and sizes up its numbers to other wars in history, including recent conflicts. It's a dark portrayal of the war, but hang in there, because it's also very much a film about peace.

The documentary is unusual in the way it blends data visualization with filmmaking. It was created almost entirely with custom software so that the visuals could be closely choreographed with the underlying data. The sound design and original score were composed by my brilliant collaborator Andy Dollerson - so wear headphones! As a web-based film, it features interactive segments that allow viewers to pause and dig into the data visualizations that are rendered live on screen.


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