Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Remembering On History

I'm wondering how much Canadians remember these days.
As a test I asked several kids on my Toronto street what they knew about Remembrance Day and I sadly drew a blank.
So I'd like to suggest you sit down with your kids and watch several outstanding new Canadian made documentaries that vividly conjure up the realities of World War II.
First up there's the challenging new series War Story which in its first two hours examines the reality of Bomber Command. It premieres Thursday November 8 at 8 p.m.
And immediately following there's another superb Canadian documentary The Real Inglorious Basterds which looks at the exploits of several OSS recruits who served behind enemy lines --specifically in Nazi held Australia.
War Story's first two episodes are bound to provoke controversy and may indeed even be as controversial as the TV program The Valour And The Horror.
I feel the producers of War Story got to the Canadian veterans just in time --in the early 1940s many were still teenagers who'd enthusiastically volunteered and became part of Bomber Command determined to take the war to the Germans.
The reminiscences of these survivors who are now extremely old men make this a vivid and compelling story --they tell of the hugely dangerous night time sorties made over Germany and all the difficulties these bombing missions entailed.
Flying by night without lights of any kind made for harrowing tales of bombers crashing into each other. Once over German cities they were the lumbering targets of German search lights and artillery.
And there also was the question of bombing civilians. Or were there any civilians in a country that so eagerly supported Nazi war plans?
These veterans have complete recall of the events. They remember the comrades who did not return. They remember the devastation of Nazi bombers over London during the Blitz.
For months Britain had stood alone but by 1942 Bomber Command under the direction of Air Marshall Sir Arthur Harris began a strategic campaign of bombing British cities. How much this affected German morale is unclear. The Canadian pilots talk about watching as  huge fires engulfed whole city blocks. And we go through what a strategic bombing sortie meant and how the crews were told not to expect to return to their bases.
Of the 125,000 who served in Bomber Command 55,000 were killed --nearly 10,000 were Canadians --it took 30 sorties to complete an operational tour.
But the experiences of German civilians are also documented with interviews  --the stories they tell are equally harrowing giving the first two hours of War Story a particular poignancy.
Barry Stevens is the director-executive producer who has done an outstanding job in finding archival materials and interviewing the Canadian veterans. In war both sides were victims.
Then at 9 comes The Real Inglorious Basterds which looks at one particular OSS operation during the war.
This one starts off rather light heartedly --two young refugees from the evils of Naziism Fred Mayer and Hans Wijnberg (from Germany and Austria) decide to emlist in the U.S. army and go to boot camp for special intelligence services.
At a former Washington country club they become best buddies and seem perfectly matched for intelligence work --Fred is determined to avenge his family who died in the camps and befriends the younger Hans.
They are despatched to German controlled Austria--parachuting out to land on a ice flow --their job is to monitor the railway traffic through Innsbruck where the Nazis are shipping munitions and tanks to the Italian front.
Director Min Sook Lee and producer Ed Barreveld (for Storline Entertainment)  expertly interweave archival material, new interviews with Wijnberg and Meyer and dramatic reconstructions to create a true story more compelling than any Hollywood movie.
Mayer survived capture and torture and even tried to negotiate with the Nazi head of Tyrol about his surrender at war's end.
The story only works because Hans and Fred (pictured above) are at hand to offer their reminiscences and Fred even goes back to the actual sites but sadly Hans passed on a day after filming his last interview.
The Real Inglorious Basterds shows how with the help from an Austrian (Wehrmacht deserter Franz weber) they were able to make a significant contribution to defeating the Nazis.
MY RATING: ****.
MY RATING: ****.

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