Canadian war epic to open TIFF
TORONTO – Paul Gross’ Passchendaele, an epic about the famously tragic battle in the First World War, will open the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
The all-Canadian film, which is poised to become the signature piece of Gross’ career, was announced yesterday as the festival’s opening-night gala. This is the prestige position in Toronto’s annual extravaganza of film.
Gross, widely known as the Mountie from the TV series Due South, wrote, directed and produced Passchendaele, in which he co-stars as a Canadian soldier who returns to the Belgium front despite severe injuries from an earlier campaign. Canadian troops, as they had at Vimy Ridge, proved to be among the most heroic and effective among the Allies fighting the German Imperial Army at Passchendaele, a village near Ypres in West Flanders.
“It is rare that Canadians get to experience their own histories via the moving image, particularly on the big screen,” Piers Handling, director and CEO of the Film Festival Group, said yesterday in a statement.
“Paul Gross is an inspiring Canadian and a leader in our industry,” Cameron Bailey, filmfest co-director, said in his statement.
“By paying tribute to our nation’s heroes — including his own grandfather, an Alberta veteran of Passchendaele — Gross uses the visceral charge of movies to contribute a foundation chapter to our national history. While never ignoring the horrifying truths of this or any war, Passchendaele stands as truly epic storytelling from western Canada.”
The Calgary-born Gross, 49, comes from a family of Canadian soldiers. After his grandfather served in WWI, his father, Bob Gross, became a tank commander in the Canadian Army. While Paul was growing up, his family moved about from base to base in Canada, the U.S., England and Germany.
As an actor, Gross made his TV debut in 1985 and gradually evolved into a homegrown star who has tapped into the Canadian psyche before, including as the narrator of the 2006 mini-series, Hockey: A People’s History.
As a writer, Gross wrote for TV series and specials, including two episodes of Due South and the drama Gross Misconduct in 1993. He also wrote the script for the curling comedy Men With Brooms, which marked his directorial debut. Passchendaele is his second feature as a director.
In the new film, Gross plays an injured soldier who falls in love with a nurse, played by Caroline Dhavernas, while being nursed back to health in Calgary. When her sickly brother enlists, he feels obliged to return to the war effort to protect the youth, who is portrayed by Joe Dinicol. Gil Bellows also has a major role.
The Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypes, was fought in several stages for six months in 1917 under horrific conditions, including in water-logged trenches and over muddy fighting terrain. Paralyzed by the brutally bad decisions of the British commander, Field Marshal Douglas Haig, the Allies suffered staggering losses in the campaign, which proved to be futile in the overall war effort.
The Canadians were instrumental in what successes could be gained in the second battle of Passchendaele in late 1917. Gross’ film tells that tale literally “on the ground.” The filming took place in Alberta.
Canadian war epic to open TIFF