By Keith Haviland
** This article was originally published in 2018 **
The major part of my career has been focused on the raw power of modern technology, and its potential in changing lives and businesses. However, around four years ago I decided to follow a long-held dream to make films, and have been privileged to produce and help produce major, independent documentaries such as “The Last Man on the Moon”, a biography of astronaut and moonwalker Gene Cernan, “Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo” and “Dying Laughing” – a study of the art, science and psychology of stand-up.
The latest of these grand projects is “Spitfire”, an idea born out of the passion of its directors David Fairhead and Ant Palmer, its production team and the artistry of John Dibbs, an extraordinarily skilled air-to-air photographer. Although several years in the making, Spitfire became a way of celebrating #RAF100 – the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force.
The film is a story about a beautiful and highly successful engineering masterpiece, which was also 100% intended as a weapon of war. The film covers this combination of light and darkness head-on. It follows the development of the aircraft, reveals that the elliptical wing was a German innovation, and looks at the combat role of Spitfires through the Battle of Britain, the air-war over Europe, Malta and D-Day. There is a short segment on the tipping of V1 cruise missiles.
Image: Mary Ellis – star of our film and last of the female Spitfire pilots, who passed away shortly after the film’s premiere at age 101.
But what shines through above all that, and contradicts some of the mythology of the Second World War, are the interviews with those that flew and now cherish the plane. We were privileged to interview the last of “The Few”, who still possess that generations’ sense of “grace and gallantry” to quote one of the modern interviewees.
We also interviewed two inspirational and practical women who delivered aircraft – since they were not allowed to fly in combat – and another women who helped direct aircraft during the darkest and most violent days of the Battle of Britain.
Spitfires were flown by many nationalities under the banner of the RAF, and we were lucky enough to obtain interviews with Polish and Norwegian pilots.
As a result, the film is more diverse and perhaps more modern than many expect.
Alas, a few of our stars have already passed on. We were fortunate to record some of their last words, and hope our film is a fitting memorial.
Image: our tribute to Geoffrey Wellum, star of our film, and Battle of Britain fighter pilot.
Any independent film represents a long journey, and the process is never easy. However, the film was completed, found its market, and made its mark with film critics. The Telegraph review said:
It captures the tactile pleasure of the plane’s design, lingering on a hand as it grazes the edge of a wing. Newsreels and grainy but gripping gun-camera footage are intercut with sumptuous new film (shot with flair by John Dibbs) of some of the few remaining Spitfires in the air. It’s the pin-sharp memories of the people who flew them, however, that give this film its broader purpose and appeal.
So, without stretching the point too much, the film talks about many of the points beloved of the Linkedin universe -it is about technical innovation, the power of a mission, leadership and the commitment of key individuals. It opens a window on an extraordinary period of history, through the memories of those that were there. It puts current troubles firmly into perspective. (And for that, and many reasons, congratulations to its directors David Fairhead and Ant Palmer, air-to-air maestro John Dibbs, producers Gareth Dodds and Steve Milne and the rest of the team).
Narrated by Charles Dance, the film had its premiere in July, with the main event hosted by Carol Vorderman in front of an RAF audience, as a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the RAF.
Through its distributor Altitude, the premiere was screened across 220 cinemas in the UK. It is now available in the UK and the US online and on DVD.
Spitfire is produced by Elliptical Wing Productions, and it is presented by British Film Company with Haviland Digital and Mark Stewart Productions. Producers are Gareth Dodds, John Dibbs, Steve Milne, David Fairhead and Ant Palmer. Exec producers are Trevor Beattie, Keith Haviland, Christian Eisenbeiss, Mark Stewart and Patrick Mills.
Keith Haviland is a film producer and CEO of Haviland Digital. He is also a business and technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape business and culture.