Entertainment

Paul Gross' Hyena Road tells Afghan war tale

Authentically portraying the lives of the soldiers stationed in a warzone is a tall order, but it's something Paul Gross felt compelled to do with his new Afghan war film Hyena Road.

Filmmaker-star spent weeks with soldiers on base in Afghanistan

Filmmaker Paul Gross discusses his Afghanistan-set film Hyena Road, which hits home for former soldier David Macdonald. 2:52

Authentically portraying the lives of the soldiers stationed in a warzone is a tall order, but it's something Paul Gross felt compelled to do with his new war film Hyena Road.

The Afghanistan-set drama, making its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, revolves around a Canadian sniper and an intelligence officer who must navigate bomb-infested terrain as well as complex relationships with the locals.

Gross, who directs and stars in Hyena Road, spent weeks in Afghanistan getting to know soldiers, joining them on patrols "outside the wire" and filming the landscape on foot, on drives and in helicopters -- all before he was absolutely sure about making the film, which includes performances by actual serving soldiers. 

But it was evening conversations with soldiers on base that convinced him.

"I felt very moved by what our brothers and sisters, our neighbours, our fellow citizens, were asked to do over there and the extraordinary dignity and integrity with which they represented us and I don't feel their story has been particularly well told," he told CBC News.

There's still a lot of confusion about Canada's involvement in Afghanistan, says David Macdonald, an army reservist who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009. (David Macdonald/Wounded Warriors Canada)

There's still a lot of confusion about Canada's involvement in Afghanistan, according to David Macdonald, national partnerships director of armed forces support group Wounded Warriors Canada and an army reservist who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009. 

"When I came home, people were asking what I did over there. People were confused," he recalled.

"We were peace enforcing. If anything, we were rebuilding a country from the start and there was an active group there that wanted to be involved in an active conflict with us."

Conveying the complexity of Afghanistan and of modern warfare "is not necessarily something that would be depicted in your typical war movie as we know it," Macdonald acknowledged.

Though the Gross "is never going to completely understand what it's like to be a soldier on the front line with a gun in his hand... he did an excellent job" with Hyena Road, said Macdonald, among those who have screened a cut of the film.

'I felt very moved by what our brothers and sisters, our neighbours, our fellow citizens, were asked to do [in Afghanistan] and the extraordinary dignity and integrity with which they represented us,' said Hyena Road writer, director and star Paul Gross. (TIFF)

"We are very very tough sell when it comes down to plays and films and TV shows that revolve around the military, mostly because we've seen so many of the ones that are completely off the realm of reality. But I can say this... Paul did his research quite well. He was actually there. He did speak to the soldiers. He immersed himself into the life."

Gross hopes that Hyena Road can help Canadians better understand what our soldiers face in modern warzones like Afghanistan and for the film to serve as a cinematic monument to acknowledge their service. 

"I thought there was some importance to doing that and...to pay a certain degree of homage, to leave some kind of legacy, that we can say 'All right, here is what it looked like,'" he said.

"We have really shallow understanding of what it is we're asking our fellow citizens to do on our behalf. There's no reason to assume we're not going to be in another conflict relatively soon. I would like to know more going into the next one than I did going into Afghanistan."

Paul Gross and David Macdonald discuss Hyena Road in the video above. Watch Deana Sumanac-Johnson's report in the video below.

The movie hits Canadian theatres on Oct. 9. The Toronto International Film Festival continues through Sept. 20.

Can an unpopular war produce a popular film? Deana Sumanac-Johnson reports on Paul Gross' Hyena Road, debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival 2:39