A playlist by Albert Ohayon
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.
From the playlist : World War I Armistice
From the playlist : Donald Brittain: Writer, filmmaker, storyteller.
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.