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PHOTO: Pierre Dury

Between 1914 and 1918, when Canada was scarcely more than a British colony, and less than eight million people, she dispatched an army overseas of 325,000 soldiers and nurses. The chance of returning home unscathed was one of three. In short,two thirds of our army was killed or wounded, with 60,000 dead on the battlefield. A generation was annihilated.   Across the country, stories of bravery, close calls, broken hearts and patriotism have been passed down from generation to generation.

In 2005, CBC-TV and Galafilm put out a call to descendants of Canadian First World War soldiers to participate in the living history component of the Great War project. Over 6,500 Canadians applied and 150 made the final cut to take part in vivid battle recreations, and to experience what their ancestors went through in the killing grounds of Europe. Of the 150, 14 descendants were chosen for a special mission - to travel to the battlefields of England, France and Belgium where their ancestors fought and sometimes gave their lives.

In documentary style, THE GREAT WAR follows the 14 young men and women - representing a cross-section of Canada - as they voyage through time to understand their ancestors' experience as soldiers and nurses at the front. Viewers will watch as the great-grandchildren relive the horror of that time and how they are transformed by it.

THE GREAT WAR also dramatizes the poignant stories of the war's greatest heroes for Canada:  Chaplain Canon Scott (played by Michael Rudder), who had to bury his own son killed in battle and Ernest Lamarche (played by Maxime Cournoyer), who fought with the Van Doos, the only French speaking regiment in the British army.

The epic battle re-enactments of THE GREAT WAR, filmed in rural Quebec, would never have happened without the participation of the 150 descendants. As with real war, the young volunteers lived in an encampment and marched into the trenches to fight the battles their ancestors fought. Their living history experience brings to life the five major Canadian battles of the war: St. Julien, Beaumont-Hamel, Courcelette, Vimy and Passchaendale.

THE GREAT WAR is a new concept in historical storytelling. It weaves together a tapestry of perspectives, and will give audiences a deeper sense of this defining event in Canada's past.

THE GREAT WAR EXPERIENCE follows the adventures of the 150 descendants who spend two weeks in a WWI military camp during the filming of THE GREAT WAR. Living in period tents, sleeping on the ground, they are trained as soldiers - preparing to relive the battles fought by their ancestors. Director Robin McKenna was an ¨embedded filmmaker¨ in the camp, wearing a uniform, and spending her nights in a tent. Without the constraints of a camera crew, she became ¨one of the soldiers¨, gaining intimate access to situations and emotions as they happened.

THE GREAT WAR EXPERIENCE is about these young Canadians' desire to connect to the experience of their ancestors, and keep their memory alive. In the spirit of their ancestors, they endure the hardships imposed on them — sweating in wool uniforms, eating bully beef and bread, being disciplined by British officers. As they embark on this strange military adventure, they are looking for echoes of a distant past, feeling the presence of ghosts; and connecting to Canadian history in the most personal way - realizing that history belongs to them.

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