"There once was a man.
This man came into the European war.
Germany captured this man.
He wishes to return to India.
If God has mercy, he will make peace soon.
This man will go away from here."

Mall Singh's crackling words are heard as he spoke into the phonographic funnel on 11th December 1916 in the city of Wünsdorf, near Berlin.

90 years later, Mall Singh is a number on an old Shellac record in an archive - one amongst hundreds of voices of colonial soldiers of the First World War.

The recordings were produced as the result of an unique alliance between the military, the scientific community and the entertainment industry. In his experimental search "The Halfmoon Files", Philip Scheffner follows the traces of these voices to the origin of their recording. Like a memory game - which remains incomplete right until the end - he uncovers pictures and sounds that revive the ghosts of the past. His protagonists' words intersect along the concentric spirals the story follows. Those who pressed the record button on the phonographs, on photo and film cameras, were the ones to write official history.
Mall Singh and the other prisoners of war of the Halfmoon Camp disappeared from this story. Their spirits and ghostly appearances seem to play with the filmmaker, to ambush him. They pursue him on his path, to bring their voices back to their home countries.

Yet the story of these ghosts escapes the control of the narrator. And the ghosts do not disperse.

"When a person dies, he constantly roams about and becomes a ghost.
It is the soul that roames about.
The roaming soul is like air.
So a ghost is like air.
It can go everywhere."

(Bhawan Singh, Wünsdorf 1917 / 2007


Script / Director / Sound / Editing Philip Scheffner
Directors of Photography Philip Scheffner, Astrid Marschall
Translation Rubaica Jaliwala
Research India Manak Matiyani
Colour Grading Matthias Behrens
Sound Mix Kai Hoffmann
Postproduction wave-line Berlin

Research funded by Hauptstadtkulturfonds Berlin
Supported by Produktionsstipendium Werkleitz Gesellschaft Halle/Saale
Postproduktion supported by wave-line Berlin

In cooperation with
Lautarchiv der Humboldt Universität zu Berlin
Stiftung Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv

Production / World Sales 
pong film

Theatrical Distribution Germany / Austria / Switzerland
Freunde der Deutschen Kinemathek e.V.
Potsdamer Straße 2
10785 Berlin
Tel: +49 (0)30 26 95 51 50
Email: verleih(at)fdk-berlin.de



  • festivals

    World Premiere: Berlinale Berlin International Film Festival Forum 2007 
    International Premiere: FID Marseille 2007

    Other Festivals (selection):

    • Osian's Cinefan Filmfestival Delhi (Indien)
    • Perspektive - Internationales Filmfestival der Menschenrechte
    • UNDERDOX - Festival für Dokument und Experiment
    • DocBsAs Buenos Aires
    • International Independent Film Festival of Mar del Plata
    • "CINEMA VERITE" Iran International Documentary Film Festival
    • Sao Paulo International Film Festival
    • Doclisboa
    • Tage des Ethnologischen Films München
    • Duisburger Filmwoche
    • Kassel Documentary Film & Videofestival
    • IDFA International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam
    • Karachi International Film Festival
    • Tri Continental Film Festival India
    • "Retours vers le futur" - Chateuroux Filmfestival
    • Deutsches Filmfestival Israel
    • Bangkok Experimental Film Festival
    • Crossing Europe Filmfestival Linz
    • Courtisane - short film, video and new media Festival Ghent
    • Dokumentarfilmwoche Hamburg
    • Vancouver International Film Festival
  • awards

    • Prix des Mediatheques | FID Marseille 2007
    • Documentary Film Award of the Goethe Institute | Duisburger Filmwoche 2007
    • Award of the City of Duisburg | Duisburger Filmwoche 2007
    • Best Documentary | International Independent Filmfestival of Mar del Plata 2007 
    • Trofeu Cinema Rescat a la Millor Tasca de Documentació i Recerca | Memorimage Film Festival Reus 2008
  • exhibitions

    a 4-channel sound and video installation by Britta Lange & Philip Scheffner
    Project coordinator and translation: Rubaica Jaliwala

    The German version of the exhibition was shown in Berlin (Kunstraum Kreuzberg / Bethanien) in 2007/2008. The exhibition included a supporting programme of lectures (Avery Gordon, Paul Paulun, Ravi Ahuja, Britta Lange, Wolfgang Fuhrmann), a guided bus tour to Wünsdorf and the two-day symposium "The Ambivalence of Archives".
    The English version of the exhibition celebrated its premiere in India (Mumbai and Delhi) in March 2011 and included a supporting programme in cooperation with Madhusree Dutta, George Jose and Prof. Shahid Amin.

    03.12.2014 bis 30.01.2015
    Exhibition by Britta Lange & Philip Scheffner | Goethe-Institut Prag

    10.05.2014 bis 09.08.2014
    Video / sound installation | TAT, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

    Book by Britta Lange
    Die Entdeckung Deutschlands - Science Fiction als Propaganda
    Verbrecher Verlag, Broschur, 112 pages with images
    ISBN: 9783957320193

    During the First World War, the German Empire was visited by three Martians. At least that is what a now-forgotten film from 1916 portrays: "The Discovery of Germany by the Inhabitants of Mars".
    This was not only the first official wartime propaganda film for Germany and "neutral foreign countries". It is also a very early and previously uncanonised science fiction film: with news interception on Mars, voice recorder and space flight, but also with inserts reminiscent of fairy tales and love films.
    The book traces the tangle of stories that unfold in the screenplay by Jewish lawyer Richard Otto Frankfurter. Fragments from the archives complete the volume and today, almost one hundred years later, offer an insight into the connection between film and propaganda.
    "The Discovery of Germany" is published as part of the film literature series "Filit". It is edited by Rolf Aurich and Wolfgang Jacobsen and is produced in co-operation with the Deutsche Kinemathek and Verbrecher Verlag.

  • text about the film

    to be haunted | Nicole Wolf | essay published in the Berlinale Catalogue 2007

    THE HALFMOON FILES is a gift – a generous gift and an invitation. An invitation to journey to distant lands that turn out to be very close after all, to seek the unexpected, to listen to the noises of an old barrack or a landscape that gradually emerges from the fog, and to observe closely the many possible images of a voice. A film as invitation to follow ghosts and at the same time a modest but nonetheless intense call to think. In the beginning, everything seems very simple and clear, but soon we are beleaguered: by ghosts, by voices, by many stories, and finally by strategies and the power of history. In the end everything is very different than expected – and that is a good thing, too.

    On the one hand, we are in the middle of World War One and in Wünsdorf, a small city close to Berlin. Here is the “Halfmoon Camp”, a special POW camp for enemy colonial soldiers. We learn of the call to jihad as a German war strategy in 1914 and we hear of the small and bigger stories that begin with a postcard that shows a mosque and hangs in the tavern “Zum Zapfenstreich” (“Taps”) in Wünsdorf in 2006.

    In 2006, we are also in the sound archive of the Humboldt University, Berlin. But at the same time we are in the year 1914, when the idea for a sound archive of “all the peoples of the world” was born; soon the linguist Wilhelm Doegen was head of the “Royal Prussian Phonographic Commission”.

    Occasionally we are also in India. In 1892, the Sikh Mall Singh is born in the northern Indian village Ranusukhi in Ferozpur District, Punjab.

    “At four o’clock on December 11, 1916, Mall Singh speaks a brief text in his native tongue into a phonograph funnel. It all takes exactly one minute and twenty seconds.” – That is in Wünsdorf.

    The voice of the filmmaker takes us from pictorial material to sound material and usually lets us linger there awhile. At first the voice seems to speak in a reduced manner, factually, clearly, without judgment. But after awhile, what it says seems to send out vibrations and to set out a path for the listener. The dimensions of the interior architecture of the sound archive give one an inkling of the depth and wealth of an archive. Tones, voices, crackling, and rustling – beside, with, behind, or without an image – open up spaces of resonance. A recurrent sound sequence seems to stand even formally in connection with the ghosts, because here as well latency and depth are equally present.

    Who are the film’s protagonists? Mall Singh, who entered the British Army as a soldier and set foot on European soil for the first time at the age of 24? Bhawan Singh or Motilal? Kaiser Wilhelm II? Wilhelm Doegen, the “Master of the Sound Archive”? Frau Heyer, who lives on the grounds of the former POW camp and hears noises at night? Or the black shellac disc gleaming in the sun? The whiteness of an overexposed slide found in a wooden crate in 1995? Or the whip from the anthropological museum that is lost when used as a prop in a film set in the colonies? What is so remarkable about THE HALFMOON FILES is that space is made for it all.

    The individualization of every single component of the film creates many-layered conceptual spaces. All the materials are equal protagonists in considering questions and posing new questions; they are all part of the dramaturgy. That the filmmaker is implied, thus becoming material himself, and the handing over of the film dramaturgy to the material becomes a formal argumentation against the instrumentalization of Indian soldiers as extras in the war project. The colonial plan to produce knowledge by measuring, numbering, categorizing, codifying, and displaying the exotic is undermined – and not by means of a counterstatement, but by displaying historicity otherwise. The cinematic reflection on possible relationships to the archive material thus leads to a way of telling that is not intrusive and yet enlivens our relationship to the archive and its history all the more lastingly. At the same time, the looking upon India thereby becomes an encounter in which we meet each other halfway.
    This political aspect – the possibility of intervening in current thinking with the aid of the ghosts of the past – here joins the political potential of cinema. THE HALFMOON FILES accepts the cinematographic potential to produce different temporalities and expands it; history, present, and future collapse into one. Cinematic excess unfolds from the challenge posed towards the medium of film itself. The search on the way to the film does not thereby reduce the substantive, material, and sensual qualities inherent in each medium, but gives them even greater scope. The crackling of a more than 90-year-old sound recording of a striking voice enlivens an image that is as black as a shellac disc. A film scene is recapitulated and plays with our memories. The simultaneously craftsmanlike and enigmatic character of a sequence of unknown slides – portraits of Indian soldiers in World War One – stands beside calm footage of today’s Wünsdorf. A fragmentary narration, experience of history, and contemplation of life, which at the same time implies responsibility: no cut in this film is arbitrary.

    THE HALFMOON FILES also poses a challenge to the genre of the documentary film. The documentary material animates us to spin tales, and our notion of the real is pushed to expand the limits of what can be thought possible. What is political about this film lies equally in seeing, hearing, sensually experiencing, and thinking. And even without specific notes about current political strategies in the course of historiographies, we definitely notice that many places are haunted.

    Nicole Wolf is a lecturer at the Department of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths, University of London. The essay was published in the Festival catalogue of the Berlinale 2007.

  • historical background

    During the first World War the Ottoman Empire becomes Germany’s ally. Islam becomes an important strategic weapon against France, England and Russia. „Jihad“ – the holy war – becomes a part of German war strategy. In November 1914, Jihad was declared in Constantinople. Muslim soldiers from the British, French and Russian armies were called upon to change sides and to enter the war together with the Ottoman Empire and its German ally against the enemies of Islam. As part of the Jihad strategy, captured Muslim prisoners were interned with Indian and North African soldiers of the French and British armies in special camps. These so called “colonial soldiers” were instigated to uprisings against their colonial rulers. Through the endorsement of their respective religious practices, the soldiers interned in the special camps were induced to defect. On 13th July 1915, the first mosque, for the express purpose of religious practice, was inaugurated on German soil. The mosque was located on the premises of the so-called Halfmoon camp. A special camp for Muslim prisoners-of-war and colonial soldiers. As it occured, that the propaganda was rather successless, the camps however faced a growing interest of scientists. The detained "exotic" prisoners of war became objects of different scientific research projects. One such project was the recording of languages, carried out by the “Royal Prussian Phonographic Commission”. This commission was founded in 1915 and comprised of over 30 scientists from the fields of linguistics, musicology and anthropology. The aim of the commission was to systematically record the different languages and the music of all those interned in the German prisoner of war camps. Under the technical direction of Wilhelm Doegen, 1650 recordings of languages were made. The recordings form the basic stock of the Berlin Sound Archive, today located at the Humboldt-University Berlin. These recordings are the starting point for the project “THE HALFMOON FILES”.

  • fact sheet

    Country of Production: Germany
    Year of Production: 2007
    Length: 87 Minuten
    Format: Video, DigiBeta, 16:9, PAL, stereo
    Languages: English, German

    Available on DVD at Filmgalerie 451
    The film has also been included in the Goethe Institute's DVD edition and can therefore be borrowed (outside Germany) from all Goethe Institute media libraries worldwide. The Goethe Institute edition makes the film available in eight different subtitle versions.


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