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New Film Follows Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Final Chapter

Gary Blount, psychiatrist-turned-producer, has created a remarkable new film about the last days of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a Nazi concentration camp, told through the eyes of a British broadcast team.

Question: You have just produced a film about influential theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer after years of studying his work. What has kept you so interested in Bonhoeffer?

Answer: Since first hearing the story more than 50 years ago, I’ve never hit a roadblock or detour.  (That is, once I got used to my Christian hero being a chain smoker.)

As with all of my heroes, I’ve constantly tried in one way or another to relate to Bonhoeffer, and I suppose this has gotten a bit easier as I’ve become acquainted with a few members of his family in Germany and England.

From the beginning, I’ve loved his hard-core faith and courage, but I confess I’ve also been increasingly wowed by his good taste:  Bechstein piano, Audi (okay DKW), and pet Saint Bernard.  And it was easy to relate to his need to move back in with his parents and his willingness to accept an adult allowance.  Dare I mention his eagerness to marry a girl half his age who was possibly smarter than he was  and a lot better looking?

You work as a psychiatrist in Minnesota. Do you have a particular interest in theology? Does your expertise in psychiatry give you particular insights into Bonhoeffer and his still-discussed ideas?

It seems to me there is a kinship between theology and psychiatry.  Many people seem convinced that neither one requires a degree or even specialized study.

Seriously, I love theological insights and, in fact, really look forward to hearing them occasionally from the pulpit.

You know, Bonhoeffer said some harsh things about mental health treatment, but some of his actions in prison reveal a more open stance.  For instance, recently I read that when he would learn from a fellow inmate in Tegel that a family member might benefit from a psychiatric consultation either to address a condition or simply mitigate what otherwise might seem to be a hopeless forensic situation, Bonhoeffer would find a way to refer the person to his father, the recently retired psychiatrist Karl Bonhoeffer.  I would put that in the practical theology column.

I recall a legendary professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota who would tell his residents and students:  “With this new patient, I don’t care who does the physical exam; I’ll do the history.”  That’s what I want to continue doing — focus on the dynamic story.

What is your film Come Before Winter about?

Our story is about the final chapter in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and what must have been the aching for deliverance by the Allies, who were rapidly closing in.  We felt our time frame might extract something of the essence of his life and the perspective which he seemed to seek — “the view from below.”  This view now includes more uncertainty, wartime cruelty, and vengeance.

Bonhoeffer had long been an outspoken foe of Hitler, and we chose to tell the story with the help of a couple of other anti-Nazis: seriously broken vessels Sefton Delmer and Otto John.  The latter has been called “the living link” between Bonhoeffer’s last days and the storyteller in England.

For the rest of the post…

Martin DoblmeierQ. Why did you make this film?

A: Doblmeier

I was so taken with Bonhoeffer’s story in high school that within a few weeks I found myself involved in social programs at school, visiting the sick and volunteering for soup kitchen detail. Then, a number of years ago I was introduced to Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer’s great biographer and best friend. Eberhard was central to the world coming to know and understand Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his passing in 2000 left a great gap that can never be filled.  Since we began production in 1998 a number of other people who appear in the film have passed away as well, so BONHOEFFER becomes their last testament to their friend and mentor, Dietrich.

Q. Is BONHOEFFER a history film or a religion film?

A: Doblmeier

I tried to give the film a rich historical background, especially regarding the rise of the Nazis and the capitulation of the German Church. But for me it is first a story of faith.  The heart of the story is this young, brilliant theologian trying to understand what is the will of God in the midst of a world torn apart by anger and hate.  Through his own writings in books and letters, and through the eye-witness accounts of his family and closest friends, you can feel Bonhoeffer’s struggle to understand what God is calling him to do.  He seems to be always questioning himself and his constant prayer is that he will have the inner strength to do what is asked of him.

Q. Why did Bonhoeffer recognize the evils of national socialism earlier than most other Germans?

For the rest of the interview…

May 2020


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