War of 1812 documentary being screened at Christ Church



By Ron Giofu


A non-profit production company will be offering a free screening of a War of 1812 documentary it believes gives a different look at the historic conflict.

“A Desert Between Us & Them: Raiders, Traitors, and Refugees in the War of 1812” will be screened at Christ Church Friday at 7:30 p.m. The screening is part of the Sails to See Festival.

The film, made by the Ontario Visual Heritage Project, is described as “a cinematic documentary that explores those stories that make the War of 1812 a ‘modern war’ by stepping back in time to experience the conflict through the eyes of the people of southwestern Ontario, who spent several years living in a war zone.”

Producer Yvonne Drebert said the two-hour film could open some eyes as to what living during that time period was like. The story is one that is “off the beaten track” and gives viewers a different look at the war.

“We hope they’ll be surprised,” said Drebert. “A lot of what we see about the War of 1812 is guys standing in line shooting muskets at each other. (The film) really focuses on what it was like for people on the ground.”

The Ontario Visual Heritage Project has been making documentaries on Ontario history for about ten years, Drebert stated, with stories they have been picking up on the War of 1812 now put together in documentary form. Drebert stated not all the stories are up in York and there are a lot of stories from Amherstburg and Sandwich. She said the company saw this film as an opportunity to put these “great stories” out there to the public.

Amherstburg has “really fabulous” stories, she stated, and “we’re happy to focus on that for a bit.”

Drebert said they received assistance from local people and places like the Park House Museum and heritage committee member John McDonald and also did research for the project at Fort Malden National Historic Site.

The film was made using a “community focused production model” which allowed for about 350 volunteers and re-enactors to participate. Auditions were held at the Park House Museum and the Baby House in Windsor.

Project director, Zach Melnick noted in a press release that there are stories in the film from throughout Southwestern Ontario – “running the gamut from the St. Clair River to Burlington” but added “what happened in Amherstburg and Sandwich really dictated how the war would play out in the rest of the province.”

“When we began our research, we knew that we wanted to cut through the veneer of romanticism that often surrounds the War of 1812,” says Melnick. “Our film imagines what it would’ve been like for you or I during the War of 1812, which was a truly brutal conflict for residents and soldiers in Upper Canada. But it’s worth remembering so that we can gain a greater understanding of our own history, as well as perhaps to better empathize with people today who are living in War Zones all over the world. In many ways, not much has changed in the last 200 years.”

Melnick added, “These stories also resonated with the re-enactment and volunteer communities who got involved in the project in a big way.”

Drebert said the feature will be broadcast on TVO Oct. 5 at 9 p.m. That coincides with the 200th anniversary of the Battle of the Thames. People will be able to purchase DVD’s at the screening as well as the documentary in a three-part series. There is also “A Desert Between Us & Them” mobile app that will be coming.

Seating for Friday evening’s screening is on a first come, first served basis.

The Amherstburg screening is part of a series that will run throughout the fall in communities throughout southwestern Ontario and is the only one currently planned in Windsor-Essex County.

The documentary project was made possible with the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Heritage Canada, TVOntario, the Sand Plains Community Development Fund, the War of 1812 South West Ontario Region, the 1812 Western Corridor Bicentennial Alliance, and the communities of southwestern Ontario.

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