WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN FILMS
A heroic and ingenious father organizes an escape for his family from East Germany to the West via a homemade hot air balloon. Based on a true story. [Dir: Delbert Mann/ John Hurt, Jane Alexander, Beau Bridges/ 107 min/ Family, Action-Adventure/ Escape from Socialism, Creator as Hero]
Incredible as it may seem, four adults and four children actually did float across the heavily guarded East German border in a balloon stitched together from pieces of sheet and nylon in 1979. That might seem a desperate measure, but by this time escape by land had been made nearly impossible. Miles of barbed wire, watchtowers, mines, and self-firing weapons blocked every opening to the free world. The film portrays the details of this amazing flight as well as the unhappy and dangerous existence under socialism that made it necessary.
At the center of this story are two East German families, the Strelzyks and the Wetzels. Under socialism, they live modestly despite hard work; they are subject to surveillance and supervision from the local block captain; they are afraid to speak their true feelings to others; their children must endure propaganda exercises at school and upon graduation from high school are drafted for service to the state; and, of course, they can’t travel without permission. Naturally, both families want to escape all this and get to the West, but it’s risky. If caught trying to escape, they might be killed or imprisoned.
However, Mr. Strelzyk is hell-bent on finding a way out, and has the idea of floating across the border in a balloon, a crazy idea to be sure, but the two families together may have just the right skills between them to pull it off. There’s something of the creator-as-hero theme here, as Mr. Strelzyk (a contractor) and Mr. Wetzel (a mechanic) must use all their skills to design and build the air-heating mechanism, instrumentation, and balloon all from scratch. Their first attempt at escaping in the balloon is a failure. Worse yet, the police find evidence of the attempt and start investigating. After that, it’s a race to the finish, as the two families must hurriedly arrange to try again before the police can track them down.
This entertaining and upbeat Disney film has a lot going for it. The story is inspiring. Music and timing of events are used effectively to build suspense. And John Hurt is particularly good in the leading role, as Mr. Strelzyk. This film would be a terrific introduction for kids to the concept of emigration controls.
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