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The Halfmoon Files

GER 2007, 87 min

In the city of Wünsdorf near Berlin Scheffner follows the traces of the past. The starting point are voice recordings of colonial soldiers that were recorded there during the First World War. A film on the complex relationships between politics, colonialism, science and media.


“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 folllows. 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.


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Language: German, English, Subtitles: German

Awards and Festivals

- Goethe Institute Documentary Film Award at Duisburger Filmwoche 2007
- Film Award of the City of Duisburg at Duisburger Filmwoche 2007
- Best Documentary at the International Independent Filmfestival of Mar del Plata 2007 (Argentina)
- Prix des Mediathèques at the Festival International du Documentaire Marseille 2007
- Award for Best Documentation & Research, Memorimage Festival, Reus (Spain)

Additional Texts

Historical background of the film: 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 HumboldtUniversity Berlin. These recordings are the starting point for the project THE HALFMOON FILES.


Screenplay, Director, Sound und Editor
Philip Scheffner
Director of Photography​
Philip Scheffner, Astrid Marschall
Rubaica Jaliwala
Research India​
Manak Matyani
Sound Mix​
Kai Hoffmann
Produced by
World Premiere
Berlin International Film Festival (Forum) 2007 
International Premiere
FID Marseille 2007


20-page booklet
THE HALFMOON FILES: German, English (partly original version with subtitles) | DAY OF THE SPARROW: German, English (partly original version with subtitles)
THE HALFMOON FILES: German, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese | DAY OF THE SPARROW: German, English, French
Country code
PAL Colour
187 min | THE HALFMOON FILES (D 2007, 87 min) | DAY OF THE SPARROW (D 2010, 100 min)
Aspect ratio
Sound format
no age restriction