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the value of Living History and Historical reenactment

8/10
Author: Andre Raymond from Canada
18 April 2012

The McKenna brothers have long worked with groups of historical re- en-actors as a support for their documentaries (from the war of 1812 to World War II) and here for the Great War.

Here, in a twist they use living history, defined as an interaction between observers and history through tools, dress and placing them inside situations in order to bring greater understanding of the events. Descendants of the soldiers and nurses who gave their all in World War I are brought along and share their insights as they live through some of the experiences of their grand sires.

Dramatic re-enactments, professional actors and amateurs all mixed together with documentary narration and a few photographs make for an interesting mix. Some new insights. A good companion piece for the Paul Gross narrated "Far from Home - Canada and the Great War".

I read on one of the discussion groups that the film's weakness is the overly emotional reactions of some of these amateur re-en-actors. I thought they were quite sincere and brave in sharing their emotions to the camera. Stepping into history, living in a muddy trench for three days with little or no sleep after going through a rough boot camp, would tend to make most people vulnerable and yes, even weepy.

I saw a news report a few years ago about how they did the same thing with a bunch of high school students in Ontario for a remembrance day week-end, and the students were deeply affected by it. They had Canadian soldiers and historians help out as technical advisers, they dug a section of trench for the kids to live in, and set off fireworks and flares all night and raided the trench to keep them awake and on their toes.

This documentary is similar, but on a larger scale, given that is is all done on location.

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