The Best WWI Films You’ll See This Remembrance Day

Films

Did you know that the NFB has produced several distinguished films about the First World War? In this post, I’ll highlight four acclaimed WWI films you need to discover.

Return to Vimy (2017)

Newly released on NFB.ca, Denis McCready’s Return to Vimy is a stunning reworking of the NFB’s archives from the First World War. In a compact nine minutes, the film tells the touching story of a young woman’s pilgrimage to Vimy to honour her great-grandfather, who fought in the legendary Battle of Vimy Ridge. The most amazing aspect of this film is striking archival footage from the First World War that has been painstakingly restored and colourized. The result is a remarkable film with incredible detail that has never before been seen.

Return to Vimy, Denis McCready, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Fields of Sacrifice (1963)

When the Department of Veterans Affairs approached the NFB to make a film about the fallen Canadian soldiers of the First and Second World Wars, nobody was quite sure how to proceed. Filmmaker Donald Brittain, who had just finished working on the Canada at War series, was assigned to the project. Convinced that just showing cemeteries would be counterproductive, Brittain filmed the sites of famous battles as they appeared in the present day (the early 1960s), showing how people living there had moved on and were enjoying their lives—though the sacrifices made by Canadians on the battlefields were not forgotten. Ypres, Arras, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and Beaumont-Hamel are just some of the battlegrounds featured in the film, which premiered in Ottawa in October 1963 (with WWI veteran Governor General Georges Vanier in attendance) and went on to play in theatres across Canada for the next two years! It was also broadcast on the entire CBC network on Remembrance Day in 1965. Fields of Sacrifice is a beautiful homage to the 100,000 Canadians killed in the two world wars, narrated by Douglas Rain (the voice of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey) and featuring some striking cinematography by Eugene Boyko.

Fields of Sacrifice, Donald Brittain, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

John McCrae’s War: In Flanders Fields (1998)

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row.” These are the first lines to the famous poem by Canadian doctor Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, written while he served during the First World War. This fascinating documentary tells his life story and explains what led to the writing of the poem. It also recounts how the poppy became the symbol of fallen soldiers. McCrae was a veteran of the Boer War but decided to enlist in the army at the age of 42 in order to serve Canada once again, this time as a physician. Sadly, he died of pneumonia at the military hospital where he served in 1918. The film also highlights the first gas attack in the history of warfare and the Second Battle of Ypres, where 100,000 men died in combat that was described by McCrae as “17 days of Hades.” A great homage to a forgotten Canadian hero.

John McCrae's War: In Flanders Fields, Robert Duncan, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Front Lines (2008)

This film tells the story of WWI through the letters and diaries of five Canadian soldiers and one nurse, including future Governor General Georges Vanier, who lost a leg in the conflict. Distinguished actors Paul Gross and Colm Feore are among those who voice the letters and diaries, accompanied by dramatic archival footage and photographs of the soldiers at war. A heartfelt tribute to these brave men and women.

Front Lines, Claude Guilmain, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Want more?

Don’t miss other NFB films on the First World War such as Georges P. Vanier: Soldier, Diplomat, Governor General, on the life of this great man; And We Knew How to Dance: Women in World War I, a tribute to women on the Home Front; and Remembrance, in which Paul Gross talks about what inspired him to make his feature film Passchendaele.

May their sacrifices never be forgotten.