When the warship HMS Belfast fired the shot that launched the D-Day landings, it was carrying an unlikely passenger – Hollywood film director George Stevens. With Allied forces set to storm the Normandy beaches of Nazi-occupied France, Stevens was on-board making a unique 16 millimetre colour film journal.
He had made his name in the 1930s, directing the likes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in ‘Swing Time’ (1936) and Cary Grant in ‘Gunga Din’ (1939). But in 1942, after seeing Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda movies, Stevens enlisted. General Dwight Eisenhower assigned him to head up the combat motion-picture coverage, a unit covering the war in black-and-white 35 millimetre film for newsreels and military archives.
But while documenting the Allied forces’ advance towards Berlin, he took with him a 16 millimetre camera and boxes of Kodachrome film on which he would shoot a personal visual diary of the war.
The film canisters of the war were developed back in the US, but Stevens stored them and for decades they went untouched.