Tuesday, February 27, 2024

‘Six-year journey’: Victoria director debuts film on ways to remember fallen soldiers


A Victoria-based filmmaker and professor at Royal Roads University (RRU) has dedicated a large amount of his life to the act of remembrance and his latest project highlights new ways of remembering and honouring those lost to war. 

Ways We Remember War is the culmination of six-years work for Geoffrey Bird, who wrote, directed and produced this 70-minute film. 

He was able to make Ways We Remember War as part of his research work, being a professor at RRU’s School of Communication and Culture with a specialization of culture and heritage.

The film, he says, takes a look at what we do remember versus what has been lost to time and the ways in which our memories can create a narrative around the First and Second World Wars which can sometimes be confused with myth and legend. 

“This is sort of a long-seated interest that I’ve had that is now my profession, how we remember the wars,” Bird told Victoria Buzz. 

“Remembrance commemoration and what we call cultural memory.”

Bird was a guide at Vimy Ridge and has spent a lot of his adult life learning about the First and Second World Wars in which he had some family of his own take part in. 

“I had some great uncles that served in the British Army in the First World War,” said Bird. 

“One was killed and he was 17 when he was killed. My granny showed [me] the last letters that he wrote to her, that was his sister.”

“I was just a young boy at the time [she showed me the letters] and it just really resonated for me that he must have just been 15 when he joined and he just wanted to be with his brothers, but sadly he was killed.”

Bird said that memory was ever-present with him as he stood on the battlefields in France and Belgium as a tour guide and while making this film. 

Dr. Geoffrey Bird of Royal Roads University interviewing Dr. Dominiek Dendooven, Curator, in Flanders Fields Museum near Mouse Trap Farm (Geoffrey Bird)

Ways We Remember War takes a look at the very first battle Canadian soldiers took part in — some of whom were based in Victoria.

The Second Battle of Ypres was the first time Canadians found themselves on the front lines in the First World War, which was also one of the most brutal of all Canadian battles. 

“It was quite dramatic, it was on April 22nd, 1915, and the day the battle was fought, was also the first use of gas in the First World War,” Bird explained. 

“So Canada’s troop, called the Canadian Expeditionary Force, they were trained up, had arrived a month earlier and all-of-a-sudden, they were in the front line.”

He explained that the battle which was dubbed the ‘Battle of Kitcheners’ Wood,’ had the Canadian Scottish Regiment, largely from Victoria, and the 10th Battalion from southern Alberta charge the field at midnight.

According to Bird, of the 1,600 troops that went to battle that night, 1,200 were killed or injured. 

Katharine Geddes painting at Gravenstafel Ridge, near Ypres (Geoffrey Bird)

The film also takes a look at the works of art that have memorialized some sites involved in these wars, some well known and some not so much.  

All Canadians are familiar with Flanders Fields and the poem that was written in their namesake, but that might be the extent of what they know about the Belgian region and what exactly occurred there. 

“We might talk about an event that happened in the past and say, ‘hey, I’d like to go there one day,’ and what you mean is you want to travel to that spot and stand where it happened,” said Bird. 

“Often that’s the closest we get to time travel, is we go to the place where something happened. It’s often very resonant, very powerful for people to go to a battlefield and try to imagine what happened.”

Jeremy Herndl painting by the Menin Gate, along with Dr. Mark Connelly of University of Kent, and videographer Trevor Henry (Geoffrey Bird)

The film will be premiering at the Vic Theatre on Monday, November 7th, although Bird told Victoria Buzz that this screening is likely to sell out.

For those unable to attend this initial screening, the film will be shown immediately following the Remembrance Day ceremony at RRU at 11:45 a.m. in the Grant Building which is near Hatley Castle. 

Lastly, the film will play on Remembrance Day at 8:30 p.m. on Chek TV.

Following these debuts, Bird will be submitting his film to film festivals, but it will eventually be available along with several other short films he has made. 

“I’ve produced about 30 short films, but this is the longest film I’ve ever produced,” said Bird. 

“I produce these films for the public and they’re for public education.”

“Often, materials that are produced within the university stay within the university, they stay for scholars and other students and that… but I also think it’s really important that we have materials that can be for the general public.”

Bird’s other short films are available online via RRU’s War Heritage site.

Curtis Blandy

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