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Fields of Sacrifice

Fields of Sacrifice

                                Fields of Sacrifice
| 38 min

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This 1964 documentary returns to the battlefields where over 100,000 Canadian soldiers lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars. The film also visits cemeteries where servicemen are buried. Filmed from Hong Kong to Sicily, this documentary is designed to show Canadians places they have reason to know but may not be able to visit. Produced for the Canadian Department of Veteran Affairs by the renowned documentary filmmaker Donald Brittain.

When the Department of Veterans Affairs approached the NFB to make a film about the Canadian war dead of the First and Second World Wars, nobody was quite sure how to proceed. Filmmaker Donald Brittain, who had just finished working on the Canada at War series, was assigned to the project. Convinced that just showing cemeteries would be counterproductive, Brittain filmed the sites of famous battles as they appeared in the 1960s, with people having moved on and enjoying their lives. Yet the sacrifices made by Canadians on the battlefields are not forgotten by the people of these countries. Shot on 35 mm, the film would premiere in Ottawa in October 1963 with Governor General Georges Vanier present and play theatrically for the next two years. It would also be broadcast on Remembrance Day 1965 on the full CBC network.

Albert Ohayon
From the playlist: World War I Armistice (Ages 12-14)

By the time this film was made, Donald had been at the Film Board for several years. He'd started out as a production manager and then made several films that were purely utilitarian. He also did a few little dramas about racism that displayed social conscience, but they weren't very good. In fact, he thought he was on the verge of being fired.

Then he was hired to write the Canada at War series, and he kind of redeemed himself… except that from then on he was regarded as a writer. Then along came the project about war graves – another sponsored film that nobody wanted – and they gave it to Donald. Who knows what Brittain was thinking when he took it on, but drinking his way through Europe was probably uppermost in his mind. In fact, there are outtakes from this film of him drinking in several taverns that are hilarious.

But this was the film where Donald first showed off his poetic ability. The relationship between words and images, the irony he depicts by juxtaposing images, the cinematography – it's all there. This film is most memorable because it's clearly the film where Donald discovered his own unique style of narration.

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

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Fields of Sacrifice, Donald Brittain, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

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  • director
    Donald Brittain
  • producer
    Donald Brittain
  • script
    Donald Brittain
  • executive producer
    Peter Jones
  • photography
    Eugene Boyko
  • editing
    Rex Tasker
  • re-recording
    Ron Alexander
    Roger Lamoureux
  • narrator
    Douglas Rain
  • music
    Eldon Rathburn

  • PaulGoodwin

    Donald Brittain is under-represented in the pantheon of Canadian cultural history. His astonishing understanding of presentation within this film and all of his other efforts, especially of the sublime expression of what Canadians fought for and who Canadians are and what we believe in is remarkably unparalleled. To see the post-war joy on the faces of the French on their beaches and the solemn understanding of the Dutch children recognising their freedom is fantastic and without affectation or calculation. We live in a very special country populated by brave, strong, and reasonable people, and should we never forget that fact and that history.

    PaulGoodwin, 8 Aug 2014
  • lornaneufeld

    Absolutely important to show Canadian kids in their teens in history classes. I visited Vimy in 1957 when I was fifteen and it influenced my life greatly. We also visited Dachau at that time. I was horrified at what I saw. Both visits gave me a great sense of value of my country and what a free society really means. Looking at the graves of so many young men makes you hate war and see the unlessness of it. This is such a sensitive film to reach youth who question our values and want to know where what we believe comes from.

    lornaneufeld, 23 Jun 2014
  • Bro. John

    This is without a doubt one on the finest films ever produced honoring the fallen in the two great wars. Beautifully conceived and filmed it will stand for generations as the finest tribute to those Canadians, indeed all who paid the ultimate price, that others may live in freedom. I am profoundly grateful to NFB for airing this masterpiece again. Bro. John

    Bro. John, 14 Nov 2013
  • swedane

    I so remember the many German bunkers along the beaches of the Danish West-coast. I'm sure they're still there!

    swedane, 10 Nov 2012
  • leeinq

    Nice to see this again after many years. What I really noticed this time was the use of the sound track to enhance the feel. Today we often see docs use actors or animation to re-enact aspects, but seem to me that sound can do the job very well.

    leeinq, 29 Sep 2011