Film festival gets heavy hitters

Published on MAJ Conway Bown (author)

Location(s): Australian War Memorial, Campbell ACT

Topic(s): Australian Defence Force Academy

Darkest Hour (photo: Jack English)
Darkest Hour

More than 200 short and long films were screened at the Australian War Memorial and the Australian Defence Force Academy recently as part of the Veterans’ Film Festival.

The judging culminated in the award of Red Poppy trophies to a number of films from around the world.

The Festival is the brainchild of Tom Pappas and has been growing in strength over the past few years.

“It originated as a short film competition  about homelessness in 2013,” Mr Pappas said.

“One of the themes for the film-makers was veterans. One quarter of the 220 films entered were made about veterans, and all the prize winners were about veterans, including some from Iran and Lebanon.

“The winning entry was the true story of an Australian peacekeeper who deployed to Somalia, and how his service affected him and caused him to become homeless. It has been turned into a feature film.

“We had such an amazing response from the audience it gave birth to the Veterans’ Film Festival.”

Vice Chief of Defence, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs said Australian Defence Force representatives attended the festival last year as an observer, and after speaking with Mr Pappas believed that if it remained a single-venue event it could not expand.

“We have entered into an agreement toprovide support such as using the Academy as avenue to expand the festival’s footprint,” Vice Admiral Griggs said.

“We would like to see it grow, and there is enough content in the festival for it to be a true multi-venue event in Canberra.”

Mr Pappas said entries came from all over the world, with a significant number from Iran.

“We have the broadest perspectives on which films we’ll accept. While we want them to be provocative, we don’t want them to cause significant offence,” he said.

The Australian debut of the feature-length movie, Darkest Hour, about the difficult first weeks of Churchill’s prime ministership when Britain stood alone against Hitler, was given to the Festival. Not due for release until January, it was a coup and movie-goers, who were treated to the exclusive viewing.

Vice Admiral Griggs said the most emotionally confronting was the Australian movie Miro about an Aboriginal man who enlisted during the Second World War. He returned to find his family taken and the respect shown to him as a soldier vanish in 1945 Australia.

“It was very powerful,” Vice Admiral Griggs said.

“In light of what we’re trying to achieve with Indigenous members of the Australian Defence Force, it’s a great reminder of some of the more painful elements of our story in the past.”

Darkest Hour recounts the days of 1940 when annihilation of Britain’s armed forces seemed imminent.

While the British Army was trapped at Dunkirk, Parliament bickered and sought a new leader, forcing Prime Minister Chamberlain to step aside and hand over the poisoned chalice of Britain’s highest office to Winston Churchill.

The movie recounts the four weeks of Churchill’s tenuous hold on his position as he tried to manage Britain’s affairs, all the while fending off attacks by his political enemies and trying to win the support of parliament, and of the King, who held little trust in him.

Gary Oldman plays the rotund statesman, whose command of the English language has been the subject of much study. His speeches have gone down in history as some of the finest examples of inspirational oratory in a time when radio was the only means of near real-time communication.

The movie shows the difficult military decisions Churchill had to make, such as asking a brigade of soldiers besieged at Calais to sacrifice themselves in the hope of evacuating thousands more from Dunkirk.

In the meantime, he had to try to negotiate the supply of military equipment from the US, thwarted by that nation’s desire to remain neutral.

“People in Canberra will enjoy the movie for its political skulduggery, but it shows a little about the political decision-making of committing people to combat. That was the lens through which I was looking at this film,” Vice Admiral Griggs said.

“Churchill is such a polarising figure – he’s a love-him-or-hate-him character – but the film shows that really hard decisions must be made at times … and Churchill’s Calais decision is a classic example.”

Churchill is famous for the predominant use of words of English origin in his speeches. The final speech to the House of Commons in the movie – his famous ‘we shall fight them on the beaches’ speech – is probably the most reiterated.

It inspired the observation by Ed Murrow that he “mobilised the English language and sent it into battle”.

Darkest Hour is intelligent – and sometimes humorous – providing an insight into a tumultuous time and one of its most critical figures.

It’s released in Australia in January.