The World War II home-front drama “Silent Night In Algona” is in pre-production with the feature film to be shot in late fall.
Inspired by actual events, it has been in development for several years by Collective Development Incorporated of Lansing, Michigan, and the Donald R. Tietz Charitable Foundation of Algona.
According to a press release, Algona will be home base for production, but some unnamed locales in other area communities will become film sets that will transform building interiors, exteriors and streets and showcase farms, fields, woods, the Des Moines River and more. Audiences will be taken back to fall 1944 as the story unfolds from September to Christmas Eve.
“This is a story of perseverance, survival, family, faith and hope,” said director Anthony Hornus, also an award-winning writer, actor, producer, and former journalist. “It’s a story about the people and a moment in their lives during turbulent, uncertain times – small-scale human endurance and daily life in the face of large-scale global upheaval. These scenarios played out in every community – large and small – in America during WWII.”
In Kossuth County during WWII, 2,500 men and 100 women served in the armed forces, either in the European or Pacific theaters, according to published Camp Algona POW Museum data. One hundred thirteen men from Kossuth County were killed and 29 were held prisoner in Axis stalags.
A March 9 Summit-Tribune story featured ties between the Algona WWII POW camps and Forest City. Also, Hornus did confirm that some scenes for his latest movie will be filmed in Wesley, which borders Hancock County, and casting calls will be made for background players/extras. He said extras often drive in from great distances for filming he has done across the country. He said everyone's names will go in the final credits and on-set meals will be served as well.
"Tell your readers to raid their grandpa's and grandma's, or great grandparents' closets and join us in 1944 north-central Iowa," Hornus said. "We film November 1 through 21 and Algona is home base."
Forest City's new Armed Forces Historical Center of North Iowa is a museum dedicated to displaying military service artifacts as well as the stories of veterans from all service branches, especially those from northern Iowa.
The center is housed in a World War II vintage barracks building, which was in Algona during the timeframe of the movie. It was transformed and is located on the south side of Forest City. Two other WWII barracks from Algona have taken up residence there as well.
In 1943, a prisoner of war camp with over 70 buildings was built near Algona. It had capacity for more than 3,000, many that were sent out to farms and factories in the Midwest to alleviate the labor shortage caused by the war.
“Probably not many people in North Iowa even know about POWs being housed in World War II barracks in Algona for about a three-month period in 1943,” said AFHCNI executive director Dave Kingland. “About 10,000 went through there. Those German POWs had it good with three meals a day, a warm place to sleep, and nobody shooting at them.”
Hornus' new film will bring new attention to WWII-era northern Iowa. After the war, the Algona barracks buildings became surplus, so three of them were shipped to Forest City to temporarily house returning WW II soldiers. Later, they became dormitories and classrooms for Waldorf College.
Several years ago, all three barracks buildings were moved to Heritage Park, 1225 Highway 69 in Forest City, with one being renovated to house the new veterans museum.
This new movie production will bring the museum backdrop to life on the big screen.
“Our story is a character study,” explained Hornus. “It goes inside the varied dynamics of a small Iowa farming community during WWII in an area mirroring the entire country. Times where no one really escapes the turmoil, sacrifice, emotion, pain and suffering that war always brings with it.”
Hornus explained further: “And when the U.S. Army decides to construct a German POW camp in Algona’s midst, bringing in German prisoners – Nazis – the very men who were killing, maiming and holding captive their sons, brothers, husbands and friends, not everyone, justifiably, is pleased.”
For DJ Perry, CEO of Collective Development Inc., and an award-winning actor, producer, and screenwriter, “Silent Night In Algona” has been on his development slate since he finished the script several years ago and after meeting Algona entrepreneur and philanthropist Donald R. Tietz.
Tietz was a young boy growing up on a family farm in Algona during WWII.
“I’ve learned that despite what we want, sometimes a story has its own time to be told,” Perry said. “The film was set to go last September, but the pandemic hit and it simply wasn’t feasible. But now is the time for the world to see and hear the story about the German POWs who came to Algona during WWII.”
While not a documentary – but rather a narrative historical drama – Perry, Hornus, the other company producers, cast and crew coming on board the project have been painstakingly working to make certain the film is accurate in its entire depiction.
Casting for the film has been ongoing for six months and continues. All seven of the main German POW characters have been cast. All are German natives and bilingual actors, one a very well-known international name.
Among the other lead cast there are some very well-known actors already on-board. Others are in talks. Those announcements, which have started, will be made on the “Silent Night In Algona” Facebook page as they are solidified.
Perry and Hornus explained that while extras will be sought, they will not accept at this time any inquiries on their website or social media pages. Public calls will be well publicized and interested persons will be given a specified email address to contact.
“We’re going to tell a wonderful story that is as relevant today as it was 77 years ago," Hornus said. "How human beings – even mortal enemies – share far more similarities than differences.”
The Kossuth County Advance contributed information and photos for this story.