Two huge artillery pieces at the moment of firing. From restored and colourized film for the new production *Return to Vimy*

Two huge artillery pieces at the moment of firing. From restored and colourised film for the new production *Return to Vimy*
Photo Credit: National Film Board

Artistic documentary: Remembering Vimy

Historical century old military films presented in a new and fascinating way.

This year marks the centennial of a number of incredible yet tragically costly Canadian victories in the First World War.

Canada had also sent photo and film units to capture images of Canadians in training and life overseas. Much of that has survived.

In this important commemorative year, the National Film Board commissioned and has just released a new work to reflect on that war. (See link below to view the short film)

Denis McCready, and independent filmmaker, is the writer, director and producer of “Return to Vimy”.  He restored, colourized, and created a new compilation of these historic films in a fascinating new blend of animation, narrative and archival film. It’s called “Return to Vimy”

Listen In the process of restoration, and new formatting meant portions of the films which had been cropped in previous versions were restored.

Filmmaker Denis McCready
Filmmaker Denis McCready © National Film Board

By 1917, Canadians had already earned great respect from Allies, and were feared by the enemy by the time a mostly Canadian assault gave the Allied forces (Entente) their first significant victory in the war, at Vimy Ridge in April.

To mark this commemorative centennial year, McCready with the NFB, began a project to recover some of these films and colourise them.

But rather than just restore the film, McCready wanted to present them in such a way as to make the soldiers and their lives, more accessible.

To do that he created a narrative that many can identify with, a young relative on a pilgrimage to discover her family’s past.

Tha animated narrative begins as a young girl retraces the history of her great grandfather who died at Vimy.
The animated narrative segment begins as a young girl retraces the history of her great-grandfather who died at Vimy. © Return to Vimy- NFB

In the process of restoration the new more modern formatting meant portions of the films which had been cropped in previous versions were restored revealing details not seen in some 100 years. Scratches and other defects were repaired, and actual WWI artefacts were used to establish colours as correctly as possible.

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Meal time. The government sent cameramen along with the troops to capture films of soldiers lives to be shown to the public...but not actual battle scenes. films were restored and colourized for this new compilation presentation, and in a unique blend of sketches and film and narrative.
Meal time. The government sent cameramen along with the troops to capture films of soldiers lives to be shown to the public…(avoiding actual battle scenes). Films were restored and colourised for this new compilation presentation, and in a unique blend of animation, archival film and narrative of a young girl’s pilgrimage to retrace the history of her great-grandfather killed in the battle. © Return to Vimy- National Film Board

But rather than mere make a compilation, McCready created a evocative narrative to the short film employing animation of images  which then blend into the actual footage.

Return to Vimy a unique blend of some graphics melding into the actual period film footage.
Return to Vimy a unique blend of some animation melding into the actual period film footage. © Return to Vimy- NFB

The narrative takes the form of a young girl on a pilgrimage to the magnificent Canadian memorial at Vimy.

She has her great-grandfather’s diary in which he had made sketches of the sights witnessed leading up to the battle to take the ridge.

The impressive and moving Canadian war memorial at Vimy France. The mostly Canadian battle gave the Allies their first major success in the terrible war .
The impressive and moving Canadian war memorial at Vimy France. The mostly Canadian battle gave the Allies their first major success in the terrible war . © wiki commons

It is a truly  fascinating way to keep alive the memory of the sacrifices made by so many in that war, especially evocative on the eve of Remembrance Day, and with the approaching centennial of the Armistice in 1918.

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