Friday, November 8, 2013

At Least History Television Remembers

Talking to a group of smart Grade Sixers recently I was surprised more than half did not know what countries we were fighting in World War II.
Any knowledge of the Korean Conflict? Forget it!
So I'd like to salute History Television which has two exceptional new documentaries on this weekend to help us all get up to scratch with Canada's military history.
First up there's the matchless documentary Sector Sarajevo which tells the story brilliantly of the experiences of Canadian soldiers during one critical month in the besieged Yugoslavian town and how they coped at the time and how they are faring today.
Toronto film makers Barry Stevens and David York have made one one of the best Canadian TV documentaries of the year. It touches all the bases in its examination of the unique role the Canadians played smack dab in the middle of a civil war.
The Canadian contingent was sent by the United Nations in July 1992 to deliver much needed food and medical supplies without which thousands of people would surely have starved to death.
Their existence in between two combatants is well explained. Stevens and York get eye witness accounts from both sides as well as the reminiscences of the Canadians who were fired at during their daily humanitarian operations.
Commentary from the Canadian head, major general Lewis Mackenzie quite succinctly documents how he managed to get his troops through harrowing experiences --both sides feared the Canadians were running guns to the others.
Canadian troops were restricted by "Chapter 6" which forbade them from firing unless fired upon. About the rules MacKenzie jokes "I rewrote" them --he calls his regulations "Chapter Six and-a-half" because the Canadians could not help but get involved.
Through TV newsreels we see the anguish of one bunch of civilians cowering behind trees as snipers shoot away at them and the heroic efforts of one Canadian soldier who crawls from his vehicle to rescue a woman shot in the hip.
We then hear from that woman today as well as her savior. TV doesn't get any better than this in terms of human drama
Much of the terrific texture of the story comes from BBC journalist Martin Bell who takes us through the episodes where both sides hammered at each other with the Canadian stuck in the middle.
Watching pregnant women get hid and small children gunned down did affect some soldiers. One interviewed today says when he left the military he lost his family and became homeless as he fought back from those images of violence.
I can't think of a better film to demonstrate what Remembrance Day is all about. With great skill  Stevens and York expertly stitch together the past and present in a seamless story of what war can do over decades to the survivors.
Wait! There's more!
I'm just as excited about 28 Heroes, another new Canadian documentary on History the very next night.
Once again the subject is an unknown battle that involved Canadian forces.
In this case the date is November 2, 1951, and finds our army in the Korean conflict and fighting bitterly along the 38th parallel against an incoming attack from the Communist Chinese.
Called the Jamestown front, it was formerly occupied by the Chinese who realize there are only 28 Canadians that night defending a ridge that seems vulnerable.
Two Canadian veterans Lt. Ed Mastronardi and Pte. Pete Butler give their reminiscences of the 2nd platoon. But what is astounding is  film maker Paul Kilback discovered a Chinese survivor Li Yinjun the Communist company commander who vigorously recounts the other side in great detail.
As Mastronardi says he remembers hearing the cry "Canada boy, tonight you die!"
But exactly the opposite happened. Hundreds of Chinese perished but only one Canadian soldier died.
And the key moments of the battle are brilliantly recreated using CGI techniques as well as extras for both sides.
It's as thrilling as watching any Hollywood war movie --but in this case it's all true!
You probably never heard of the battle for "Song-gok Spur" but you won't be able to turn away.
The battle summed up all the fighting qualities of the Canadian boys An ambitious production with superb special effects from Max MacDonald , here is another of TV's best of the year.
MY RATING: ****.

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