Film Review: Warpaths

On Friday, November 2, the Evans Theatre featured a timely historical documentary by Manitoban filmmaker and writer Graham Street and Marc George, respectively. Following a brief reception in the library, the film began. The theatre was packed.

Warpaths: Every Town had Soldiers documented the enlistment and oversees experience of three WWI soldiers from the Boissevain and Morton area of Manitoba. In an earnest, quest-like investigation, Marc George (a former Boissevain native) traced the background of the soldiers through archives and interviews of surviving relatives, attempting to follow in each soldier’s “warpath.” From flying overhead the training trenches of Camp Hughs (just outside of Brandon), to firing authentic weaponry that would have been used by the soldiers in the trenches, to a final mecca to Vimy Ridge in France, and then back to the local Manitoban grave sites, George covered both the impact of the Canadian forces at Vimy Ridge as well as the impact on the communities and relatives the soldiers left behind.

Wisely, the writers chose to focus on the personal stories of the three soldiers rather than a large overview of the events of Vimy Ridge. The film was detailed enough to satisfy a WWI buff, yet accessible for the general audience to appreciate. Beautifully filmed glimpses of the three soldiers interspersed throughout the documentary provided the film with a cinematic flavour. Unplanned surprises, such as a Hartney soldier’s name being discovered grafittied into a boarding house’s wall in Bouvigny, France, or finding the film’s two soldiers who had died to be buried side by side, helped give the documentary momentum and intrigue—an unfolding of present action to augment the otherwise methodical revealing of evidence and war photos. Most impacting was Marc’s personal connection with the relatives of the soldiers and his emotion when finally arriving at the soldier’s tombs.

A question-and-answer period following the viewing allowed issues to be raised on the film. One student commented while Vimy Ridge’s status is highly iconic in the battles fought by Canadian effort in WWI, places as these are barely known to the younger generation. George replied this was part of decision to focus on Vimy Ridge, to rekindle awareness to the most famous places, but also focus on the local component to the story. Another man criticized the production for just being another celebration of war, and that more time should have been spent on the soldier’s dialogue or examining these issues. The director replied the film was more to celebrate the life of those who served in the war and dedicated their lives, and it was his opinions of the events.

A second part is already in the making, says Graham, with filming scheduled to end next Spring. The new film will debut in the fall.

The film effectively revived history and humanized three personal accounts of WWI, succeeding in the creation of an interesting documentary and providing Manitobans, and Canadians in general, with a pride for the contribution our country made. For our generation, impacting documentaries are one of the last ways Remembrance Day can be made relevant for us. If you missed the showing at the Evans Theatre, Warpaths is being aired on MTS TV on Nov. 8. For anyone wishing to regain an appreciation for our national memorial day, it is certainly worth a watch.