Night Crossing (1982)

PG | 107 mins | Adventure, Drama | 5 February 1982

Director:

Delbert Mann

Writer:

John McGreevey

Producer:

Tom Leetch

Cinematographer:

Tony Imi

Production Designer:

Rolf Zehetbauer

Production Company:

Walt Disney Productions
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HISTORY

Opening credits are preceded by newsreel footage depicting the conditions of East Germany under Communist rule in the late 1970s.
       End credits are preceded with the following epilogue: “The Strelzyk and Wetzel families now live in West Germany. Peter owns an electrical supply store. Günter has realized his dream of becoming an auto mechanic. And the children are free to reach for the sky…without the help of a balloon.” End credits also note that the picture was “Filmed on location at Bavaria Studios Munich, Germany.”
       As reported in a 28 Nov 1979 LAT article, the wife of Walt Disney Productions producer Tom Leetch discovered a 17 Sep 1978 front page newspaper story in The Times (London), reporting the real-life balloon escape of the Strelzyk and Wetzel families from East Germany the previous day. After Leetch showed the clipping to Disney’s vice president of production and executive producer, Ron Miller, Eva Redfern of the studio’s office in London, England, contacted the two families to discuss the possibility creating a film about them. Less than a month later, Redfern met with Peter Strelzyk at the Hotel Atlantic in Hamburg, Germany. Although the families received five offers from other filmmakers, they accepted Disney’s terms—a $5,000 six-month story option and $50,000 if the studio moved ahead with development—because they remembered watching Disney films through illicit television signals in their home in East Germany; in addition, they hoped the film would educate people when it was eventually shown in their home country. The week of 19 Nov 1979, the Strelzyks and the Wetzels traveled to Los Angeles, CA, where they recorded twenty hours of interviews for Leetch, associate producer Marc ...

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Opening credits are preceded by newsreel footage depicting the conditions of East Germany under Communist rule in the late 1970s.
       End credits are preceded with the following epilogue: “The Strelzyk and Wetzel families now live in West Germany. Peter owns an electrical supply store. Günter has realized his dream of becoming an auto mechanic. And the children are free to reach for the sky…without the help of a balloon.” End credits also note that the picture was “Filmed on location at Bavaria Studios Munich, Germany.”
       As reported in a 28 Nov 1979 LAT article, the wife of Walt Disney Productions producer Tom Leetch discovered a 17 Sep 1978 front page newspaper story in The Times (London), reporting the real-life balloon escape of the Strelzyk and Wetzel families from East Germany the previous day. After Leetch showed the clipping to Disney’s vice president of production and executive producer, Ron Miller, Eva Redfern of the studio’s office in London, England, contacted the two families to discuss the possibility creating a film about them. Less than a month later, Redfern met with Peter Strelzyk at the Hotel Atlantic in Hamburg, Germany. Although the families received five offers from other filmmakers, they accepted Disney’s terms—a $5,000 six-month story option and $50,000 if the studio moved ahead with development—because they remembered watching Disney films through illicit television signals in their home in East Germany; in addition, they hoped the film would educate people when it was eventually shown in their home country. The week of 19 Nov 1979, the Strelzyks and the Wetzels traveled to Los Angeles, CA, where they recorded twenty hours of interviews for Leetch, associate producer Marc Stirdivant, and writer John McGreevey. At this time, the film was referred to by an unofficial working title, The Balloon Movie.
       On 25 Apr 1980, DV reported that actor David Soul arranged to meet with Disney executives to be considered for starring role in the film, which had been named The Last Flight to Freedom. A 3 Sep 1980 HR brief announcing the involvement of director Delbert Mann also indicated that the title had been twice changed, from Wind to the West to Night Crossing.
       According to a 25 Feb 1981 Var article, filming was scheduled to begin 1 Sep 1980 in Munich, Germany, but an eight-week Screen Actors Guild (SAG) strike delayed production until 27 Oct 1980. Production notes in AMPAS library files listed the German cities of Landsberg, Mühltal, Harthausen, and Munich among the filming locations. In the town of Eulenschwang, the production team recreated a $300,000, half-mile section of the border between East and West Germany. Near Lake Constance in Friedrichschafen, Germany, filmmakers transplanted 300 pine trees, 150 cubic yards of soil, and 6,000 square yards of black plastic to transform a large fair exhibition hall into a contained forest set. The construction project took two weeks and cost $150,000. Additional interior filming took place at Munich’s Bavaria Studios. Glendale, CA’s Balloon Ventures, Inc., owner, Gary Cerveny, created seven balloons for the picture, six of which were authentic recreations of the Strelzyk and Wetzel’s actual balloon, with material and technical changes made to appease Federal Aeronautic Administration regulations. The remaining balloon was a smaller utility aircraft used for preliminary tests and aerial photography. One balloon reportedly required 12,453 square feet of material. The 25 Feb 1981 Var reported that unexpected snowfall caused delays during the final week of filming, and production completed the week of 18 Jan 1981, at least a week behind and over budget. The final cost was estimated at more than $10 million.
       Although domestic release was originally scheduled for Christmas 1981, a 29 Dec 1981 DV item announced that the U.S. opening had been rescheduled for 5 Feb 1982 in 600 theaters, prior to which Disney would host its first-ever press junket in mid-Jan 1982, including a preview of the film and interview sessions with the cast. Positive test screenings had reportedly been held in Seattle, WA, and White Plains, NY, and a 29 Jan 1982 Albuquerque Journal advertisement indicated that the film was also shown in Albuquerque, NM. On 16 Feb 1982, DV and HR stated that Night Crossing had its European premiere in Hamburg 11 Feb 1982, followed by another premiere in Berlin, Germany, 12 Feb 1982, which took place just before the Berlin International Film Festival (BIFF). The articles reported that BIFF director Moritz de Hadeln refused to admit the picture as the festival’s opening feature for fear of offending East Germany. Despite protests from the film’s German distributor, Twentieth Century-Fox, and German newspaperman Axel Springer, de Hadeln defended the film’s quality but still refused its inclusion for “artistic reasons.”
       The picture was released in Germany under the title With the Wind to the West; the 21 Jan 1982 DV scheduled its North German opening in sixty theaters before later expanding to 200 South German theaters and opening in the U.S. 5 Feb 1982.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
PERSONAL & COMPANY INDEX CREDITS
HISTORY CREDITS
CREDIT TYPE
CREDIT
General (mod):
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Albuquerque Journal
29 Jan 1982
---
Daily Variety
25 Apr 1980
---
Daily Variety
29 Dec 1981
---
Daily Variety
21 Jan 1982
---
Daily Variety
16 Feb 1982
p. 19
Hollywood Reporter
3 Sep 1980
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Dec 1981
p. 2
Hollywood Reporter
16 Feb 1982
---
Los Angeles Times
28 Nov 1979
Section IV, p. 12
Los Angeles Times
5 Feb 1982
p. 1
New York Times
5 Feb 1982
Section C, p. 12
The Times (London)
17 Sep 1978
---
Variety
25 Feb 1981
---
Variety
30 Dec 1981
p. 16
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Walt Disney Productions Presents
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution Co., Inc.
from Walt Disney Productions
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
2d unit dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Aerial photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATOR
Prop buyer
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Cost master
Cost mistress
SOUND
Sd mixer
Ben F. Hendricks
Sd eff
[Sd rec]
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
MAKEUP
Makeup & hairstylist
Makeup & hairstylist
STAND INS
Balloon stunt coord
Balloon crew chief
Stunt balloonist
Stunt balloonist
Stunt balloonist
Stunt balloonist
Stunt balloonist
Stunt balloonist
Stunt balloonist
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
The Balloon Movie
The Last Flight to Freedom
Wind to the West
With the Wind to the West
Release Date:
5 February 1982
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 5 Feb 1982
Production Date:
27 Oct 1980--mid Jan 1981 in Germany
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Walt Disney Productions
18 May 1982
PA137151
Physical Properties:
Sound
Recorded on Dolby Stereo™
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
107
MPAA Rating:
PG
Countries:
Germany (West), United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26476
SYNOPSIS

In Poessneck, East Germany, on 4 April 1978, teenager Lukas Keller is excused from school to stand on the street gathering signatures for the East German Democratic Republic. He runs into his father, Josef Keller, and his father’s friends, Peter Strelzyk and Günter Wetzel, who quietly disapprove of the government forcing the boy into activism. While the three men drink in a pub, they discuss Lukas’s inevitable army enlistment upon graduating high school. Peter picks up his son, Frank Strelzyk, from school, and his wife, Doris Strelzyk, from the market, urging the boy to keep his anti-government sentiments private. They arrive home and greet their younger son, Fitscher Strelzyk, and Doris’s mother. Just as the dusk curfew approaches, Lukas takes his girl friend home, and instead of immediately returning to his own home, steals a bulldozer and attempts to cross the border into West Germany. The vehicle demolishes a watchtower, but an automatic machine gun shoots him dead. The next afternoon, an officer of the East German Secret Service, Staatssicherheitsdienst (SSD), informs the Keller family of Lukas’ death while they picnic with the Strelzyks and the Wetzels. Peter begs Doris to let them flee the country before Frank attempts to copy Lukas and ends up getting killed. A few months later, Peter and Günter plan to run away in a homemade hot air balloon, but their wives laugh at the idea. The two men withdraw their savings in order to buy thousands of yards of fabric, which they claim will be used in constructing tents for a camping club. As Günter sews, his wife, Petra Wetzel, worries that the neighbors are becoming suspicious. Peter builds a burner, but discovers ...

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In Poessneck, East Germany, on 4 April 1978, teenager Lukas Keller is excused from school to stand on the street gathering signatures for the East German Democratic Republic. He runs into his father, Josef Keller, and his father’s friends, Peter Strelzyk and Günter Wetzel, who quietly disapprove of the government forcing the boy into activism. While the three men drink in a pub, they discuss Lukas’s inevitable army enlistment upon graduating high school. Peter picks up his son, Frank Strelzyk, from school, and his wife, Doris Strelzyk, from the market, urging the boy to keep his anti-government sentiments private. They arrive home and greet their younger son, Fitscher Strelzyk, and Doris’s mother. Just as the dusk curfew approaches, Lukas takes his girl friend home, and instead of immediately returning to his own home, steals a bulldozer and attempts to cross the border into West Germany. The vehicle demolishes a watchtower, but an automatic machine gun shoots him dead. The next afternoon, an officer of the East German Secret Service, Staatssicherheitsdienst (SSD), informs the Keller family of Lukas’ death while they picnic with the Strelzyks and the Wetzels. Peter begs Doris to let them flee the country before Frank attempts to copy Lukas and ends up getting killed. A few months later, Peter and Günter plan to run away in a homemade hot air balloon, but their wives laugh at the idea. The two men withdraw their savings in order to buy thousands of yards of fabric, which they claim will be used in constructing tents for a camping club. As Günter sews, his wife, Petra Wetzel, worries that the neighbors are becoming suspicious. Peter builds a burner, but discovers it is too weak to provide sufficient inflation for the balloon. One day, Josef returns from his grief-driven isolation and tells Peter he must cut off all contact with the Strelzyk and Wetzel families in order to protect them. Although Peter’s work on the burner progresses, by December 1978, Petra becomes anxious with fear and convinces Günter to back out of the plan. Günter agrees to stop speaking to the Strelzyks as Peter moves ahead with preparations. The following April, Peter, his wife, and his children successfully inflate the balloon in a secluded field. On the night of 3 July 1979, the Strelzyks say goodbye to Doris’s mother and attempt to escape. After a few minutes in the air, the gas tank fails, and the balloon crashes in the woods. Hoping to have cleared the border, the family falls out of the basket, and the balloon floats away. However, Peter realizes they have landed within the border zone, and they quietly sneak away, clean up the launch site, and return home. In the morning, border patrolmen confiscate the deflated balloon and the SSD begins an investigation to discover its origin. Later that day, Peter breaks into tears about failing to lead his family to safety, but the children encourage him to try again. On 11 July 1979, Peter visits the Wetzels to borrow Günter’s trailer so he can rebuild and transport the balloon. Meanwhile, at SSD headquarters, lead investigator Major Koerner anticipates the would-be escapees will make another attempt. Günter convinces Petra to let him help Peter’s efforts, and the two families race to finish constructing the balloon before the police can catch them. The fabric store owner who sold Peter and Günter the original cloth describes the men to Major Koerner, while a second store owner becomes suspicious of Peter’s request for more material and telephones the authorities. Peter sneaks away before the SSD arrive, and as a result, the family members take turns buying batches of fabric to continue sewing. On 15 September 1979, Major Koerner discovers a bottle of blood pressure medication near the crash site, which Doris dropped in the woods the night of the escape. After the town pharmacist gives Major Koerner a list of names of people who use the medicine, the SSD spend the entire day investigating each patient. Minutes after the Strelzyks and Wetzels leave with the balloon in tow, Major Koerner arrives at the Wetzels’ home and speaks with their suspicious neighbor, who confirms their scheming. As the eight family members climb into the basket and lift off the ground into the night sky, the balloon catches fire and damages the fabric. Meanwhile, Major Koerner tracks their trajectory from a helicopter, but loses sight of them when the hot air burner goes out. The balloon slowly descends, and the families land in a forest. As the women and children hide among the trees, Peter and Günter find a police officer, who confirms they are in West Germany. Sending up a signal flare, the Strelzyk and Wetzel families embrace and rejoice in their success.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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