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‘Dunkirk’: ‘Prison Labor’ Was Used to Build Some of the Sets, According to the World War II Drama’s Companion Book

"I hope the producers know," says a man involved.


Here’s something you probably hadn’t heard about “Dunkirk”: Prison labor was used to make some of the fenders seen on ships in Christopher Nolan’s World War II drama, one of the summer’s most successful films. This was first noted by Mike Elk, who posted a passage from Joshua Levine’s book “Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture” on Twitter last night.

“The amount of work needed led to some interesting collaborations,” reads a passage from page 327 of the book, which features quotes from set decorator Gary Fettis. “‘The big fenders on the ships, they use giant rubber balls nowadays, but back then they were made out of rope, woven in thick hemp. We had to make about ten of them.’ They found a Dunkirk man who had re-rigged a ship for a local museum. ‘He knew how to weave these bumpers. And he employed prison labour to make them. First-time offenders, kids, they weren’t hard-core criminals. I hope the producers know,’ Gary [Fettis] adds, ‘because we saved a lot of money that way.’”

That last bit from Fettis — “I hope the producers know, because we saved a lot of money that way” — is perhaps the most important, as it indicates that this may have occurred without Nolan and the other filmmakers’ knowledge.


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