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Home-grown pair sure to be a hit

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Sure to be among the highlights of the Bermuda Documentary Film Festival are two home-grown films: ‘In the Hour of Victory’ by Lucinda Spurling and ‘Haiti Village Health’ by Robert Zuill. Both films are to make their debut amid a selection of award-winning international documentaries scheduled to screen next week.

When Lucinda Spurling first considered making a film about a book of Bermudian war letters, she thought she wouldn’t be able to make a full-length movie on the topic — by the end of the project she was struggling to condense it all.

Ms Spurling serves as co-director of ‘In The Hour of Victory’ with Andrew Kirkpatrick. Her previous films include ‘The Lion and the Mouse’ and ‘Rare Bird’.

This latest film is based on the book ‘In the Hour of Victory’ by former Police Commissioner Senator Jonathan Smith.

It is the story of Mr Smith’s grandfather, Major Anthony (Toby) Smith, who fought for the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps (BVRC) — a forerunner of today’s Bermuda Regiment — and the Lincolnshire Regiment. He was killed in action in Holland on October 14, 1944. The book is based on his original 300 letters, cards and telegrams and includes additional research conducted by Sen Smith.

“I thought it was a fascinating story, but I didn’t think I could sustain more than 30 minutes,” said Ms Spurling. “That was before I read all the letters. Because so much happened we had to give it the proper context and it ended up doubling in length. I was thinking 60 minutes and it turned into 80 minutes in length.”

The title ‘In the Hour of Victory’ was taken from one of the condolence of letters that was sent to Major Smith’s family after his death. A fellow soldier wrote, “ ... it seems so sad he was killed in the hour of his company’s victory”.

“I think it is poignant because he served for four years and was instructor in England for many of those years and was desperate to see action,” said Ms Spurling. “He did go to Europe to experience combat. He died when they were advancing towards Germany, at a point in his life when he was making plans with his wife, Faith, and family about what they were going to do after the war. Throughout the story, there is a tension between his responsibility for his family and his sense of duty and responsibility to the greater cause.”

Ms Spurling said they expect interest in the film to be wider than just Bermuda, and they intend to send the film to international film festivals and broadcast channels in the United States. They will also produce a DVD and plan to hold another screening on April 27, once Bermuda Docs is completed.

“I think people will be really moved,” she said. “We have been working on it for the last year. When we saw it put together it almost brought us to tears. It is really moving. You can really identify with it. It really takes you back into that time because he was very articulate and very emotional.”

One of her challenges during the production of the film was that she had a baby during the making of it. Her daughter, Eva, was born in December. Little Eva plays the Smiths’ youngest son, Winston, who was born after Major Smith left for England.

“Andrew Kirkpatrick who works with me, had to take a huge amount of responsibility,” she said. “However, I was surprised by how much I have been able to do with Eva. Luckily, all the recreations were silent so I could have the baby on set. I have a lot of family support.”

Another challenge was that much of the storyline takes place out of Bermuda, so palm trees in the background were not going to work. Part of the film was shot on the Yorkshire moors in England.

“The Bermuda Regiment was very kind to us,” she said. “We did do a lot of filming at Warwick Camp, but we couldn’t do everything in Bermuda. He died in Holland. Any time you make a film with recreations it is a challenge and you end up calling in every favour that you have with friends and relatives and strangers. It is a huge team effort.”

‘In The Hour of Victory’ will screen next Saturday, April 21 at 7pm at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration. The April 27 screening also takes place at the BUEI, at 8pm.

Filmmaker Robert Zuill believes that so many people in Haiti are stricken by dire poverty that small improvements can make a big difference.

One such “small” change might be the Haiti Village Health programme sent up in Baslimbe, Haiti by King Edward VII Memorial Emergency doctor Tiffany Keenan. Since its inception, the programme has helped thousands of people living in rural Baslimbe and the surrounding environs. Bermudians have donated more than $30,000 to the project, which works to improve general healthcare, sanitation and hygiene and control disease in the area.

Last year, Mr Zuill travelled to Baslimbe, to make his 17-minute short film called ‘Haiti Village Health’. Mr Zuill has worked for CNN and in American public broadcasting. He has made several other similar films including one for a Kabul water project.

“Haiti was pretty much what I thought it would be,” said Mr Zuill. “Baslimbe is a very rudimentary sort of place. It is very simple. There is not a lot of electricity. We lived in communal dorms. Getting there was complicated. It is easy enough getting to Port Au Prince but getting from there up to the North was complicated. Port Au Prince was still in bad shape when I was there, after suffering an earthquake in 2010. Then going to the north you take a plane and then you have to drive to a river to go the rest of the way because the road is so bad to get up to Baslimbe.”

He said one of the biggest challenges to making the film was finding the time to edit it, especially since he was renovating his house at the time.

“I enjoyed doing the whole thing though,” he said. “For me the rewards were that the images were so beautiful. I hope that the video will actually make a difference.”

Dr Keenan will be available for a question-and-answer session after the film. ‘Haiti Village Health’ will screen at the BUEI on Friday, April 21 at 2pm, before the showing of ‘The Island President’.

Useful website: www.robertzuill.com .

Dr Tiffany Keenan talks to a Haitian mother and child in Robert Zuill's film 'Haiti Village Health'.
Haitians in Robert Zuill's film 'Haiti Village Health'.
Ben Beasley portraying Major Anthony 'Toby' Smith with son Anthony played by Benjamin Floyd in the film 'In The Hour of Victory'.
Ben Dier portrays a bank teller with Catherine Hay as Faith Smith in 'In The Hour of Victory'.
Catherine Hay portrays Faith Smith.
Films that strike a chord

Whatever the topic, the biannual Bermuda Docs always tries to present films that will resonate with the community.

This year is no different, according to organiser Duncan Hall.

The festival starts next week and will feature several award-winning international documentaries and two new local films.

“The common thread that runs through all the Bermuda Docs festivals is that I look for films that have quality, variety and some relevance to Bermuda,” said Mr Hall. “There is the obvious local connection to Bermuda-made films such as ‘In The Hour of Victory’ by Lucinda Spurling and the short film, ‘Haiti Village Health’, directed by Robert Zuill. There is also a connection in a film called ‘Semper Fi: Always Faithful’ that is about Camp Le Jeune in North Carolina where many Bermudians have done their overseas training with the Bermuda Regiment since 1981.”

‘Semper Fi: Always Faithful’ director Rachel Libert and Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger will host a question and answer period after the film.

Master Sgt Ensminger spent 24 years teaching new recruits with the United States Marine Corps.

But after the death of his nine-year-old daughter, Janey, from a rare type of leukaemia, he uncovered one of the largest toxic water contamination incidents in United States history. The film was shortlisted for a 2012 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Mr Hall said he probably enjoyed watching ‘Under African Skies’ the best because it is about singer Paul Simon — and he’s a big fan. This film is about Mr Simon’s return to South Africa for a 25-year reunion with the people who helped him to make his album ‘Graceland’.

“I am of an age where I remember when that album ‘Graceland’ came out,” Mr Hall said. “So I am excited about it. All the films in the line-up though are terrific.”

Other offerings will be Sundance Film Festival award winner ‘Chasing Ice’, and ‘The Island President’. Both films take different perspectives on climate change, and will be delivered as companion films. Also shown will be ‘Robert Mugabe: What Happened?’, football film ‘The Four-Year Plan’, dance film ‘First Position’, mixed martial arts film ‘Fightville’ and ‘Mrs Carey’s Concert’.

Bermuda Docs runs April 20, 21 and 22 in the TradeWinds Auditorium of the Bermuda Underwater Exploration. Tickets are $15 and go on sale tomorrow.

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Published April 11, 2012 at 2:00 am (Updated April 11, 2012 at 9:30 am)

Home-grown pair sure to be a hit

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