The Australian - - THE NATION - PHILIPPA HAWKER FILM WRITER To­mor­row in Re­view: Stephen Romei re­views They Shall Not Grow Old

Peter Jack­son, di­rec­tor of The Lord Of The Rings tril­ogy and The Hob­bit, is more than fa­mil­iar with the epic. But when he set out to make a doc­u­men­tary about World War I us­ing all the tech­no­log­i­cal re­sources at his dis­posal, he came to the re­al­i­sa­tion that spec­ta­cle was not what was re­quired.

“I thought,” he said, “this is go­ing to be an in­ti­mate film.”

His fea­ture, They Shall Not Grow Old, which is due for re­lease in Aus­tralia on Sun­day, was made in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Bri­tain’s Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum. He says he was stumped at first by the brief he re­ceived four years ago: to use the mu­seum’s ar­chive footage in a fresh and orig­i­nal way.

“I think I’ve seen all the doc­u­men­taries about the First World War from the past 20 or 30 years, and they all use the same footage. So I thought: what can you ac­tu­ally do?”

He de­cided “to use all our com­puter fire­power to re­store this footage” as a start­ing point. Af­ter work­ing for sev­eral months restor­ing three or four min­utes of film, “the one thing that struck me more than any­thing else was the faces and the hu­man­ity of these men. They sud­denly come alive as real peo­ple.”

Faces led to voices. “The film was mak­ing it­self known to me as I was go­ing through the process, and I re­alised that the only voices we should hear were the sol­diers’. No one else should speak.”

Jack­son lis­tened to 600-plus hours of au­dio ma­te­rial, in­ter­views with vet­er­ans con­ducted in the 1960s and 1970s by the BBC and the IWM, and de­cided their words would pro­vide the nar­ra­tive for an arc that takes us from the out­break of war to its af­ter­math, with­out men­tion­ing dates, names of bat­tles or strate­gies.

There were things he could do with dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy to trans­form the archival footage. With the sharper image achieved by restora­tion, he could sim­u­late cam­era move­ment, em­ploy the close-up zooms, pan and tilt.

As he lis­tened to the oral his­tory record­ings, he was sur­prised by how mat­ter-of-fact the vet­er­ans were.

“I heard 600 hours of vet­er­ans talk­ing, and only one guy broke down, and his voice cracked. No­body else had any emo­tional re­sponse.”

Spe­cial i lW WWI mag­a­zine

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