Land of Mine: What You Need to Know about Denmark’s Oscar Nominee

Land of Mine is Denmark’s nominee for the 2017 Best Foreign Language Oscar

The Geneva Convention of 1929 forbids forcing Prisoners of War to carry out hard labor or dangerous work. However, there is evidence that British and Danish commands deliberately changed the wording of the text from “prisoners of war” to “voluntarily surrendered enemy personnel” in order to sidestep the rules of the convention. Many of the German soldiers ordered to defuse more than two million mines along the Danish coastline were mere boys – only 15-18 years of age.   To this day, the events surrounding the demining of the Danish beaches are considered taboo in not only modern Danish history, but also European post-war history. The five-month demining process claimed more human lives than the entire length of German occupation in Denmark.

The idea of using German prisoners of war to carry out the dangerous demining task came from British command, but was carried out with no objections from the Danish administration. The Danish Brigade was in charge of supervising  the operation.

Historical facts:

From 1942 to 1944 Nazi Germany built the so-called Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion from Great Britain – an extensive system of coastal defense and fortifications along the coast of continental Europe and Scandinavia. Landmines were planted along great swathes of the West Coast of Denmark. There where more landmines per square meter on the Danish west coast than any other location along the entire European coast. Hitler was convinced that the Allied invasion would come via the Danish west coast since it is the shortest route to Berlin.

After the capitulation of Nazi Germany, the British liberation forces offered the Danish government the opportunity to enlist German POWs to defuse mines along the length of the Danish Western coastline.

The German POWs were neither educated nor equipped for this task and many belonged to the so-called Volkssturm, a national militia set up by Hitler towards the end of the war to conscript those not already serving for the German forces.  Many were very young or old.  The youngest were 13 years old.

To force German POWs to defuse mines was a violation of the 1929 Convention relating to the Treatment of Prisoners of War prior to the amendment to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. By calling the German POWs ‘voluntarily surrendered enemy personnel’ British and Danish commands bypassed the rules of the Convention.

The work began on Saturday, May, 5 1945 and was completed on Thursday, October 1945.

According to historian Thomas Tram Pedersen, the exact number of the losses will never be known due to the chaos of the first months of peace. There are discrepancies between the Danish and German records.

After the war more than 2,000 German POW’s were forced to remove over 1.5 million landmines from the west coast of Denmark.

The relationship between the German POWs and the local population was poor – the prize for five years of occupation under Nazi rule. There was no proper accommodation provided and food was constantly scarce.

In 64 countries around the world, there are an estimated 110 million undetonated landmines still lodged in the ground.

Since 1975, landmines have killed or maimed more than one million people.

On average, 20 people die every day due to landmine blasts.

Even with training, mine disposal experts expect that for every 5,000 mines cleared, one worker will be killed and two workers will be injured by accidental explosions.

The only way to deactivate a landmine is by individual removal at a cost of US$ 300– 1000 per mine according to the United Nations.

Shooting the film

“We were focused on two practical paths throughout our development of the entire production framework. We wanted to make sure the film could be realized in a credible fashion, but at the same time, avoid most of the cumbersome production issues of a period film. This was something we took into consideration from the very beginning. Our approach was to use as few locations as possible, thus avoiding the big challenges regarding the historical setting,” explains producer Mikael Rieks.

The producers worked with the Oksbøl camp (NATO) under the Danish armed forces, where the events historically took place. “They were all completely on board and very positive about the project. From the get-go, we had nothing, but fantastic support for the story,” says Mikael Rieks about their collaboration with the Royal Danish Army.  In their extensive research of the history of the west coast of Denmark, the location scouts only found a few possible locations – in an area with only few holiday homes and no wildlife preservation. Adding to this challenge was the fact that the beaches on the west coast are littered with old, worn-down German concrete bunkers and ‘pillboxes’, most of which have keeled over or are half submerged under water.

In addition, the producers spoke to several mine-clearing businesses around Europe. The Skallingen peninsula had in recent years undergone a complete sweep for mines. This operation was carried out by a Danish demining company, which proved very helpful in creating replica mines as well as providing a lot of military and technical equipment from the period such as minesweepers, military trucks, and jeeps.

The VFX were a combination of SFX and CGI, which required a great deal of preparation, also on location – explosions and stunts were fully storyboarded to ensure the team made the right choices. The fact that the production was working out of the Oksbøl Camp was an advantage in this regard. Thanks to their access to army experts on explosives and mines, combined with the achievements of visual effects team, stunt coordinators and CGI consultants, Land of Mine has a natural and authentic feel.

For a large part of the film, the spoken language is German. This was a challenging aspect relating to many facets of the production. Sound and editing were just two of these aspects. Director Martin Zandvliet took some advanced German lessons every week during preproduction. A vocal coach supervised the dialogue in German, but also the dialects of the boys. “It was important for the story that the boys did not come from the same region in Germany. The differences in dialect/local tongue was especially important for Sebastian and Helmut who incidentally both came from Hamburg but spoke in character very differently because one had a rich family background and the other came from a working class family,” explains German producer Malte Grunert.

The film was shot in six weeks. For most of the shoot, the story was told using a handheld steady camera.