ARTS & CULTURE
By Diana Newton
Just outside of Wilson, N.C., a Cessna pilot glanced out at a grassy field below and saw what looked like an old WWII airplane on the ground. Thinking he must be mistaken, he circled back and buzzed the field at a low altitude for a closer look.
It turns out that the pilot was both right and wrong. What he saw was indeed an 85-foot B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. But the field was serving as a film production set for the action thriller Condor’s Nest, and the plane he saw was a detailed replica. The film opened Jan. 27 in limited theatrical release and streaming nationwide.
In its opening scene, an American flight crew has just crash-landed in France near enemy lines. They are quickly discovered and executed by a platoon of patrolling Nazis, led by the sadistic Colonel Bach (Arnold Vosloo). The story quickly departs from the WWII era to 10 years later, when the only surviving member of that downed flight crew, Will Spalding (Jacob Keohane), has traveled to South America to track down and exact revenge on Bach. In the course of his search, Will discovers a secret Nazi headquarters known as the “Condor’s Nest.”
While it is set against the backdrop of World War II, Condor’s Nest is not really a predictable war movie, according to the film’s director, producer and writer, Phil Blattenberger, producer Dan Black and producer/lead actor Jacob Keohane. The trio teamed up in their Greensboro base to talk about the movie in an interview with The Local Reporter (TLR).
Condor’s Nest is primarily driven by the internal conflicts within Will, who embodies a veteran with PTSD trying to make sense of his losses. While he is involved in plenty of action and gunfire, Blattenberger sees Will as “closer to an anti-hero, a reluctant, unskilled hunter who’s driven less by competency than by guilt and rage.” Producer Black concurs, describing Will’s journey as one of attempted self-healing.
“It’s a Nazi ass-kicking movie with an ’80s pastiche, and that’s inherently entertaining. But it is also an intelligent movie with a lot of subtext,” Blattenberger adds. For example, while the Nazi characters are realistically ruthless, the audience also discovers the complexity of their internal rationalizations, which are driven by a sense of duty and purpose. Producer Black cast veteran actors Arnold Vosloo and Michael Ironside, who both have heavyweight experience playing villains, to bring that depth to their roles as Nazi commander and Soviet spy, respectively.
Keohane says that he was drawn to the lead role of Will by the strength of Blattenberger’s script. Since development and production were delayed during the COVID-19 shutdown period, it did provide what Keohane experienced as “a wonderful opportunity as an actor to get on the same page with the writer and the director so that you can do your best to fully encapsulate what was intended with the character.” He adds that he did tons of preparation because he needed to reveal much of the character’s inner turmoil “behind the eyes” since Will is an introverted, haunted guy.
A same-page experience with an N.C. connection
That same-page experience owes in part to a hometown connection. Blattenberger and Black were college roommates at UNC-Greensboro, where they discovered their mutual passion for film. Keohane, first entered the partnership when he auditioned and secured a leading role for their previous film, the Vietnam-era Point Man (2017)—winner of Best Film at the 2018 Sydney Indie Film Festival.
Black recently lived in Chapel Hill and hopes to return, but for now he is committed to the great partnership this trio enjoys. Blattenberger describes their collaboration as “a marriage of what I bring to the table as a writer, what Jacob brings to the table as an actor, and what Dan brings organizationally and understanding casting and the acting side of it.” Keohane subsequently signed on as a producer as well as actor for Condor’s Nest.
Their passion, coupled with the additional time provided by pandemic delays, allowed them to create profound authenticity in both sets and locations. Blattenberger notes Condor’s Nest is the first independent film in all of cinematic history to construct and feature that full-scale replica of the B-17 Flying Fortress used in World War II. In its day, the real bomber bristled with machine guns, and according to General Carl Spaatz, the American air commander in Europe, “Without the B-17 we may have lost the war.”
The replica of the Flying Fortress used in Condor’s Nest is a historically accurate behemoth that took almost three years to recreate and is accurate down to the centimeter, according to Blattenberger. In that same grassy field, the art department also created a French stone farmhouse from which Will first witnesses Colonel Bach questioning his crew mates one by one.
While North Carolina doubled for France in Condor’s Nest, the production team also used locations in Nevada, Texas and Peru to stand in for South America. After Hitler’s defeat in World War II, over 10,000 Nazis fled Germany to avoid capture and prosecution. Their fugitive flight ranged across Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay.
Drawing from this historical fact, the story follows Will’s rampaging journey through authentic colonial streets, the Plaza de Armas in Asunción, and the Altiplano deserts of Bolivia. In hunting for Colonel Bach, Will’s story takes on imaginative twists and complexities that yield far more than he bargained for.
The filmmakers not only call North Carolina home, but see it as a great place for moviemaking. The state’s diverse landscapes, tax incentives, and the availability of great acting talent and film crews will continue to serve their creative energy as self-described “Hollywood outsiders.”
Blattenberger clocked almost 10,000 exhausting hours creating Condor’s Nest, but he is already on to his next project with his production partner Black. “We’re still striving to make better and better films, and we’re fortunate to be able to jump into this next film we’re working on with an even bigger team and more backing.
So, the overarching lesson is 10,000 hours is the minimum but—as Blattenberger framed it—“it’s gotta be a good 10,000 hours.”
Diana Newton is a coach, facilitator, filmmaker, writer, artist, yoga teacher and general Renaissance woman. Her documentary film The Ties That Bind, is available for streaming on UNC-TV. She lives in Carrboro and is a UNC alum.