Now Streaming: ‘Return to Vimy’

Remarkable colour restoration in Return to Vimy shows Canada’d soldiers and the Great War in new detail
Courtesy of the NFB

By Pat Mullen

Mark Remembrance Day with a return to the site of one of Canada’s most significant wartime efforts, the fight for Vimy Ridge. The new NFB short Return to Vimy memorializes Canada’s soldiers by diving into the archive and restoring documentary footage from the battle. This animated docufiction from director Denis McCready is the first time the NFB has colourised its own classic material. [For more docs on Canada at war, read the feature Boots on the Crowned.]

Animated sequences by Claude Cloutier frame the footage with a story of remembrance as a young woman (voiced by Chala Hunter) visits the memorial at Vimy Ridge and takes an imprint of her great grandfather’s name from the monument. As she speaks to him through letters and thanks him for giving his life in the war, the animation fades to the archival material that gives her grandfather and the other fallen soldiers new life.

Canadians have only seen images from the Great War in grainy black and white, but thanks to advances in digital technology, this Criterion Collection-grade restoration by McCready and his team honours the lives of soldiers who fought at Vimy Ridge by revealing details one couldn’t see in the muted palette of the 35mm original. The restoration process involved lowering the speed of the film to make the action authentic, as opposed to the jittery hand-cracked film rate of 18 frames-per-second. Colours were added digitally and balanced by using artefacts from the war as reference points. The sound design by Oscar winner Sylvain Bellemare (Arrival) draws out the realism and veracity of the footage.

The film marks the Centennial of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and is produced by the NFB in participation with the Vimy Ridge Foundation. Readers can watch the film below thanks to the NFB:

Return to Vimy, Denis McCready, provided by the National Film Board of Canada