| 58 min

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This feature documentary is a biography of Dr. Norman Bethune, the Canadian doctor who served with the loyalists during the Spanish Civil War and with the North Chinese Army during the Sino-Japanese War. In Spain he pioneered the world's first mobile blood-transfusion service; in China his work behind battle lines to save the wounded has made him a legendary figure.

This was the first film where Donald started playing with recreations. He had no footage to work with, so he recreated a lot of scenes. In fact, one of the operations in the film was done on a dead pig – but it looks just like stock footage.

When the film was finished, the Americans were upset about it. Foreign Affairs picked up on their displeasure and proclaimed that the film couldn't leave Canada. So John Kemeny, the man who brought Bethune to Brittain in the first place, secretly shipped it out to Dok Leipzig, where it won first prize. The film could no longer be contained, so they had to release it.

When Trudeau decided to open the lines of communication with China, he had to figure out how. So 4 years after the government tried to block the film, they got the Canadian ambassador to Stockholm to invite the Chinese ambassador to watch it. In the end, the film they tried to bury became the pretext for getting Trudeau into China.

Adam Symansky
From the playlist: Donald Brittain: Writer, filmmaker, storyteller.

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Bethune, Donald Brittain, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

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  • director
    Donald Brittain
  • producer
    Donald Brittain
    John Kemeny
  • script
    Donald Brittain
    John Kemeny
  • executive producer
    Guy Glover
  • camera
    Robert Humble
    François Séguillon
    Murray Fallen
  • sound
    George Croll
    Roger Hart
  • editing
    John Kemeny
  • sound editing
    Sidney Pearson
  • narrator
    Lister Sinclair

  • RamonaMcKean

    Norman Bethune had a phenomenal, very positive influence on China. When I'm there I can feel his spirit, still very much alive. He helped the Chinese, at one of the lowest points in their nation's history, to believe in themselves. After a ton of research, I wrote two blogs on Dr. Bethune which offer a unique spiritual kind of perspective; here is part I of the two parts: Also, to give you an idea of how Bethune's legacy continues to inspire not only the Chinese, please see this video:

    RamonaMcKean, 27 May 2015
  • clemen50

    WOW! An inspiring film, not just because it's well-crafted; it inspires you just knowing the kind of things a human being is capable of in their lifetime, if they're discerning and are dedicated. Great great biopic.

    clemen50, 13 Apr 2013
  • MacPap

    Also worth seeing: "The Barefoot Doctors of China" (inspired by Bethune).

    MacPap, 2 Sep 2012
  • MacPap

    There is also a film about the Canadians fighting in the Spanish Civil War (Los Canadienses/Los canadiens), including interviews with survivors, many of them in White Rock, B.C..

    MacPap, 2 Sep 2012
  • MacPap

    This film emphasizes the individualist & "nutter", but the best bits are taken from a documentary called "Heart of Spain" the vision of which is somewhat distorted here for ideological reasons.

    MacPap, 2 Sep 2012
  • mforsythe

    Man, Bethune was a nutter. What a great film. Also - I see Adrienne Clarkson just wrote a bio about him for Penguin:,,9780670067312,00.html

    mforsythe, 18 Jan 2010

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