British Columbia

A love for drive-in movie theatres creates larger than life Remembrance Day event

A love for drive-in move theatres inspired a Victoria artist to create a larger-than-life Remembrance Day event. Images of veterans from the First World War to the Canadian mission in Afghanistan will be projected on the south tower of a Victoria cathedral.

Photographs of nurses and soldiers will be projected onto the tower of a Victoria cathedral

The 20-minute projection show will be accompanied by the readings of war poets. (John Azar)

A Remembrance Day event in Victoria is using the grandeur of the drive-in movie theatre screen to honour veterans. 

Starting Friday, images of veterans from the First World War to the Afghanistan mission will be projected onto the south tower of Christ Church Cathedral in an event called Remembrance Illuminated. 

Cathedral parishioner and filmmaker Michael Utgaard was originally inspired to create the event by a history of military service in his family and a love for visual story telling. 

Watching movies in the dark

 "In the Middle Ages the church told their stories through stained glass and the light," Utgaard said. "And then, in the past 100 years, sitting in the dark watching movies.

"And when I grew up as a kid, one of my really enjoyable experiences was going to the drive-in theaters at night, because everything was so big and so expansive outside and everything."

An image of the first contingent of nursing sisters from Victoria will be projected onto the cathedral tower. (John Azar)

Utgaard adds that he has always been emotionally connected to Remembrance Day because of the military service by family members like his grandfather. 

"He volunteered for the expeditionary force. He was only five feet four inches tall, so he was a perfect candidate for being a sapper."

Utgaard says that after returning home, his grandfather spent 10 years in veterans hospitals but ultimately succumbed to illnesses connected to spending three months in wet trenches. 

Something we always thought about

The veterans in Utgaard's family also include a father in the air corps, one uncle in the infantry and another in the submarine service. 

"So yes, it's something we always thought a lot about," Utgaard said.

Photographic curator for Remembrance Illuminated John Azar describes this victim of shell shock as a 'broken man.' (John Azar)

Utgaard initially started a conversation with fellow parishioner and former Victoria Coun. Chris Coleman about the larger-than-life visual project. 

Coleman says Remembrance Day events involving projections have been done at the Ottawa Peace Tower, but he knows of no similar event in Western Canada. 

A gift to the community

"It's become a format that allows narratives to carry on," Coleman said, "We're really good at bringing people together when we share stories."

Coleman describes the event as a gift to the community and an opportunity to respect and revere the service and the sacrifice.

The photographs that will be projected on the tower have been curated by parishioner John Azar, a volunteer with the Canadian Scottish Regimental Museum. 

"I thought the best thing to do was to bring people visually through the history of the sacrifice and service of Canadians from the First [World] War right through to the present." 

Piper James Richardson received the Victoria Cross for his service during the First World War, but he disappeared after an attempt to retrieve his pipes from the battlefields of the Somme in France. (John Azar)

Azar admits he did run into challenges, because the tower is vertical and many of the historic photos are horizontal. 

"Trying to get an image of a ship that fits on the vertical is a little bit difficult," Azar said, "But we focus as much as possible on people." 

The photos that will be projected include groups of nurses who served in the First World War, soldiers in the grips of shell shock and community meetings in Afhganistan. 

Putting awe into the projections

Azar says the drive-in movie theatre effect is a key part of the whole experience. 

"You know the first experience of seeing a big screen as a child. It just gives it a greater-than-life element and puts some awe into the projections."

"In this sense, they give a greater understanding, because you're seeing the faces and the conditions so much more like larger than life. The impact is just that much greater." 

The Remembrance Illuminated events runs Nov. 8 to 11 at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria. 

Three parishioners of Christ Church Cathedral, Chris Coleman, Michael Utgaard and John Azar came together to create the Remembrance Illuminated event. (CBC/Jean Paetkau)


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