Local Filmmaker Documents Uncle's Incredible WWII Story in 'Stalag Luft III'

A shot from the documentary Stalag Luft III
Deephaven filmmaker Louise Woerhle's new documentary tells the remarkable story of her uncle's time in Nazi captivity.
Shots from the film show a B-17, and the role of the bombardier (at top), which was Charles Woehrle's job during the war.

The core of Deephaven filmmaker Louise Woehrle’s work is connecting with others through storytelling. Her new film Stalag Luft III—One Man’s Story embodies her mission: “to tell stories that help us to see ourselves and others in new ways, promote healing, and connect us as human beings.”

Stalag Luft III documents the remarkable story of her uncle, U.S. Army Air Force Lt. Charles Woehrle, and his captivity in a Nazi prison camp after his B-17 Flying Fortress was shot down behind enemy lines in May 1943.

Lieutenant Charles Woehrle, at age 95, stands in front of a B-17.

Stalag Luft III stands apart from other World War II documentaries in an important way—that Woehrle’s uncle tells most of his own story. With vivid candor and elegance, Charles Woehrle chronicles his upbringing in Pine City, Minn., enlistment, combat experience, imprisonment, subsequent release and return home. Louise Woehrle felt compelled to share his gift with the world. “I grew up with really good storytellers; I want others to experience him telling stories—that’s a big part of what this film is,” she says.

Louise Woehrle directs a forced-march scene in Little Falls, Minn. 

Woehrle’s devotion to her uncle’s tale is all in the details. Nine years in the making, her film glimmers with a sense that every card was left on the table in order to highlight this important piece of history. “The story itself deserved it and my uncle deserved it,” Woehrle says. Visually, Stalag Luft III is striking, comprised of photographs from Charles Woehrle’s own collection and those of other prisoners, accented with meticulously crafted reenactment imagery to illustrate key moments in his story. Louise Woehrle underscores the suspense of her uncle’s harrowing air combat experience with reenacted imagery of his final bombing mission and emergency parachute escape, filmed with green screen and a real Boeing B-17. Luke Enyeart and Ken Chastain’s musical score powerfully punctuates the film.

Stalag Luft III stands undeniably as a landmark in Woehrle’s filmography but also as an ideological counterpart to her previous work. Beginning her career as a producer at a local production company, Woehrle eventually stepped out on her own to found Whirlygig Productions with her mission of telling stories with intrinsic themes of human spirit and resilience. With regards to Stalag Luft III, she says, “I felt a responsibility to tell the story. [My uncle] lived our history; he gives us a glimpse into a world that no one would ever know.”

Executive producer (and Wayzata resident) Jay Strommen and Woehrle at a private screening in New York City.

The film won “Best of Fest” out of 300 films at the 38th Minneapolis and St. Paul International Film Festival last year and Audience Choice Awards for Best Feature Documentary at both the 20th Port Townsend Film Festival and 39th Breckenridge Film Festival. Woehrle receives consistent thanks and praise from audience members of all ages, many of whom are veterans or family members of veterans who feel the film has given their own story a voice. “There’s a healing component to this. If we can capture that on film, it can go on and on; we can touch even more lives,” she says.