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HISTORY

German-born Jewish filmmaker Marcel Ophüls was the son of director Max Ophüls. As noted in a 30 Aug 1987 NYT article, the Ophüls family spent much of the 1930’s fleeing the Nazi regime, first moving to France in 1933 and then immigrating to the U.S. at the end of 1941, when Marcel Ophüls was fourteen years old. Before Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie, Ophüls was best known for his documentaries about WWII and related war crimes, The Sorrow and the Pity (1969) and The Memory of Justice (1976, see entry).
       According to Ophüls’s program notes for a 20 Sep 2008 AMPAS screening of Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie, the project began in 1983, as an article for The Nation. At that time, Nikolaus “Klaus” Barbie, a former Nazi SS captain, had been extradited from Bolivia to Lyon, France, where he was charged with crimes against humanity. While Barbie awaited trial, Ophüls’s longtime friend and editor of The Nation, Victor Navasky, recruited him to cover the proceedings. He also arranged a publishing deal with Doubleday so Ophüls could develop his article into a book. The contract landed Ophüls with a large advance and he relocated to Paris, France, believing the Barbie trial would soon be underway. As Ophüls continued to wait, he was contacted by executive producer John S. Friedman, a journalist who was hoping to break into filmmaking. When Ophüls declined to work on Friedman’s unsolicited script, Friedman pitched a film about the upcoming Barbie trial. Despite Ophüls’s professional ... More Less

German-born Jewish filmmaker Marcel Ophüls was the son of director Max Ophüls. As noted in a 30 Aug 1987 NYT article, the Ophüls family spent much of the 1930’s fleeing the Nazi regime, first moving to France in 1933 and then immigrating to the U.S. at the end of 1941, when Marcel Ophüls was fourteen years old. Before Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie, Ophüls was best known for his documentaries about WWII and related war crimes, The Sorrow and the Pity (1969) and The Memory of Justice (1976, see entry).
       According to Ophüls’s program notes for a 20 Sep 2008 AMPAS screening of Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie, the project began in 1983, as an article for The Nation. At that time, Nikolaus “Klaus” Barbie, a former Nazi SS captain, had been extradited from Bolivia to Lyon, France, where he was charged with crimes against humanity. While Barbie awaited trial, Ophüls’s longtime friend and editor of The Nation, Victor Navasky, recruited him to cover the proceedings. He also arranged a publishing deal with Doubleday so Ophüls could develop his article into a book. The contract landed Ophüls with a large advance and he relocated to Paris, France, believing the Barbie trial would soon be underway. As Ophüls continued to wait, he was contacted by executive producer John S. Friedman, a journalist who was hoping to break into filmmaking. When Ophüls declined to work on Friedman’s unsolicited script, Friedman pitched a film about the upcoming Barbie trial. Despite Ophüls’s professional investment in the subject, he warned Friedman against the project. He believed it would be impossible to make a documentary about Barbie because few people were willing to talk about the war criminal. Ophüls explained that Barbie was a controversial subject because he was sheltered by various governments after the war, including the U.S. He added that France’s postponement of the Barbie trial was indicative of a general aversion toward discourse about the Holocaust, particularly for nations that wished to conceal their involvement.
       However, Ophüls agreed to make the documentary if Friedman could raise funds. After approximately one month, the filmmakers had enough money to support a ten-day shoot in La Paz, Bolivia, where Barbie had been protected in exile with the help of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Ophüls began work as promised, but continued to believe the project would fail. According to Ophüls’s program notes, he initially used the production as a stopgap to finance research for his book while awaiting Barbie’s arraignment. Still, the trial was delayed two years after production on Hotel Terminus began, as stated in a 30 Aug 1987 NYT article. France was reportedly interested in letting Barbie “linger toward a ‘biological solution’ – a natural death in jail – rather than risk the embarrassing new revelations his trial might bring about the nation’s wartime conduct.” Ophüls’s book was never published.
       In Bolivia, dictator Hugo Banzer was unwilling to participate in the production, and Barbie’s former friends, neighbors, and associates followed suit. Ophüls reported that anti-Semitism was “almost universal” in Bolivia at that time, and people generally defended Barbie, claiming that he was acting out of duty in wartime Germany. While travelling back to Paris, Ophüls lost contact information for the few people in Latin America willing to be interviewed when his briefcase disappeared on an airline owned by Hugo Banzer. In addition, Ophüls was hit in the head by an unknown attacker during an extended stopover in Brazil, and was rushed back to France for hospitalization.
       Despite the setbacks, Friedman continued to secure funding for the documentary, and Ophüls moved production to the U.S. He interviewed former secret agents who worked with Klaus Barbie in post-war Germany, when the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) hired him as an expert on Communism. According to Ophüls, the men were cooperative because President Ronald Reagan’s administration had already publicized the U.S. role in sheltering Barbie. The government justified its actions as Cold War strategy.
       Returning to France, Ophüls interviewed people who were scheduled to testify against Barbie. Ophüls began to edit the film while awaiting Barbie’s hearings, but found himself at a standstill. As stated in his program notes, Ophüls planned to use the trial as the centerpiece of the documentary, with scenes in Bolivia and Germany as flashbacks. It was therefore impossible to complete production with the trial in limbo. Referring to his youth in France, and identifying himself as a Frenchman, Ophüls beileved it was unethical to finish the film and reach “final judgment” about Barbie until, “a jury of my peers and compatriots reached a final verdict.” Ophüls continued production in Germany, but the project was met with disinterest.
       Barbie’s trial began on 11 May 1987. According to Ophüls, the documentary’s $1 million budget was depleted by that time. French law prohibited Ophüls from filming in the courtroom and Barbie was granted permission to be excused from the proceedings, making it impossible for Ophüls to film the stories of Barbie’s victims or his reaction to their testimonies. Images of Barbie in the documentary are limited to a few news clips from French television.
       As noted in the 30 Aug 1987 NYT, Ophüls compiled over 100 hours of footage during production, and filmed in twelve countries with local crews. He explained that the abundance of material reflected his spontaneous approach to interviews, in which he would continue filming over long periods of time to capture a few glimpses of “nuances and ironic disjunctions.” Noting that his father, Max Ophüls, encouraged him to prioritize quantity over quality when it came to filmmaking, Marcel Ophüls stated: “All my discoveries must occur during the shooting in order for the viewer to share my own sense of surprise.”
       Despite efforts to include the French government in the production, the film was financed entirely by U.S. investors. A 21 May 1986 Var article, which stated that post-production was still underway, reported John S. Friedman established Memory Pictures to fund the documentary. The company was formed in association with executive producer Hamilton Fish, who worked with Victor Navasky to revitalize The Nation. According to Var, Ophüls’s contract for the film stipulated a duration of no longer than two hours. However, the released version of Hotel Terminus: The Life of Klaus Barbie extended to nearly five hours. A 6 Oct 1988 LAHExam article reported that the film took five years to complete and added Woody Allen as one of the film’s backers.
       The documentary made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on 10 May 1988, where it won the International Federation of Film Critics’ (FIPRESCI) Prize. Hotel Terminus: The Life of Klaus Barbie received an Academy Award for Best Documentary (Feature). More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 1988
p. 4, 16.
LAHExam
6 Oct 1988.
---
Los Angeles Times
26 Oct 1988
p. 1.
New York Times
30 Aug 1987
p. 38, 46, 48.
New York Times
6 Oct 1988
p. 25.
Variety
21 May 1986.
---
Variety
25 May 1988
p. 19.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Asst dir (Germany)
Asst dir (France)
Asst dir (U.S.)
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
MUSIC
PRODUCTION MISC
Documentarian
Documentarian
DETAILS
Release Date:
9 October 1988
Premiere Information:
World premiere at Cannes Film Festival: 10 May 1988
New York Film Festival opening: 6 October 1988
New York opening: 9 October 1988
Los Angeles opening: 26 October 1988
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
267
Country:
United States
Languages:
French, German, Spanish, English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Archival footage and interviews illustrate the life story, war crimes, exile, and eventual trial of Nikolaus “Klaus” Barbie, a WWII Nazi SS-Hauptsturmführer (captain) who was known as the “Butcher of Lyon” for torturing prisoners at the Beaux Arts Hotel Terminus, the former Gestapo headquarters in Lyon, France. The documentary also examines the ways in which Barbie was sheltered after the war by foreign powers including Bolivian dictator Hugo Banzer and the U.S. government’s Counter Intelligence ... +


Archival footage and interviews illustrate the life story, war crimes, exile, and eventual trial of Nikolaus “Klaus” Barbie, a WWII Nazi SS-Hauptsturmführer (captain) who was known as the “Butcher of Lyon” for torturing prisoners at the Beaux Arts Hotel Terminus, the former Gestapo headquarters in Lyon, France. The documentary also examines the ways in which Barbie was sheltered after the war by foreign powers including Bolivian dictator Hugo Banzer and the U.S. government’s Counter Intelligence Corps. +

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

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.