Screening “Restrepo” marked a significant moment in MIFF’s history. The film won the Grand Jury Prize for US Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, and tells the story of a US platoon stationed back country in Afghanistan. Since the Canadian Army was very active in Afghanistan at the time, Producer Michael Anderson immediately saw the relevance of the film for a Canadian audience. Anderson was concerned that Canadian troops were serving and dying in Afghanistan and no one in Canada had any real appreciation of what they did. “I think that’s wrong,” he said at the time, seeing the film as an opportunity to both satisfy MIFF’s mandate to show award-winning films from around the world and, at the same time, screen something of particular relevance to the Meaford audience.
Since Canada had been a major part of operations in Afghanistan it was appropriate to reach out to our neighbours at the Land Force Central Area Training Centre and invite members of our armed forces who had served there to review the film and compare their experiences with those of the U.S. troops featured in the documentary.
It took a lot of work. Michael met several times with the base commander and other officers to talk about the idea. Special screenings of the film were held at Meaford Hall and in one of the classrooms on the base, and then the conversations began. The troops, more used to keeping their stories and emotions to themselves, eventually opened up and in the end two of them were asked to appear on stage at MIFF.
What a night! Meaford Hall became a virtual army outpost. The parking lot was filled with armored personnel carriers, jeeps, and trucks. Inside soldiers displayed weapons, demonstrated the kinds of packs they have to wear in the field and offered a host of other interactive displays. There were a lot of questions and they answered them all. “We decided we were going to go all the way and really emphasize the military aspects of what’s going on there and give the Canadian army a real opportunity to be part of it,” Anderson said at the time. The Canadian Base Operators and Canada Catering also combined to cater that night’s party.
The theatre was packed as usual but this time numerous uniforms dotted the audience, including that of Training Centre Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Darryl Mills (who has since been posted elsewhere). Standing proudly in full dress the Colonel spoke to the audience about how important the town and the base are to each other, and how events like this help foster that relationship.
A fitting touch to the evening came when young film makers attending Meaford’s “MYFilm Studio” screened their documentary about the training centre, the product of 2 weeks work often spent long into the night with the troops on exercises.
Finally the event was capped off with the feature interview that had been so long in the making. Captain Aaron Corey and Sergeant Dave Thompson had already proven their bravery in Afghanistan but to talk openly about it all in the hopes that Canadians would have a better understanding of how they served was a brave act indeed. We thank them and the officers and staff of the Land Force Central Area Training Centre for helping to make it all possible.
As an aside, keep an eye out for “The Tank Range Project” a play that premiered at Meaford Hall recently. It documents the controversial clash between the sacrifices demanded of local land owners and the needs of soldiers fighting abroad that surrounded the creation of the Base during World War Two.