Commissioned by Channel 4 for Film4

Pavel Branko - 'the doyen of Slovak film criticism', a truly amazing man with an incredible life story: (please read!)
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Pavel Branko - 'the doyen of Slovak film criticism', a truly amazing man with an incredible life story: (please read!) 

Pavel has written a wonderful review of WE WENT TO WAR after attending one of our screenings at the recent Bratislava International Film Festival. 
We are humbled to receive this incredible man's words. Thank you Pavel - what an honour!

‘A documentary that does not so much follow its characters
longitudinally through time, as much as it straddles time itself. After 40 years, director Michael Grigsby, now with co author Rebekah Tolley, returns to the same three veterans, who 40 years ago were young men made old by war and who now, in their sixties, struggle with feelings of embitterment and resignation...
...One of them, seen fishing by a river, leaves the strongest impression; apart from modern headgear, he has the look of a character straight out of Ride the High Country. We are on a wide Texas plain, with a freely held camera, lingering long enough to allow the eye to immerse itself into the unchanging nature of a country, its unchangingly conservative inhabitants and an irrevocable hierarchy of values. Indeed, these men are in no hurry (neither inwardly), in their stoic attitude toward the world (nor outwardly), facing the hectic gallop of rip-roaring megalopolis-America. The camera expresses this with long lingering shots of empty roads wending through a changeless Western landscape as if into the unknown.
The film expresses both the flow of time, and of halted time, with the use of occasional split-screen shots. In one scene we see half a frame occupied by a young man behind a steering wheel, in the other half , the same man forty years later. Four decades perfectly compressed into one frame, while beyond both car windows, the same landscape passes by, distinguished only by the separate guises of the same face, from youth to old age. Regarding this compression of time into a single split-screen frame – never have I seen this so strikingly portrayed in a film before. At other times, two shots of the same location seen from a moving car, express stagnation, since in these latter decades neither the image nor the spirit of the town has changed; with locations more reminiscent of a Wild West movie, and exteriors, which in all but a few details, appear little altered. The portraits of the three men, along with the testaments of a wife and daughter, express the filmmakers’ respect for their subjects. They also reflect the resignation, frustration and anger of these central protagonists, their feelings of an historical injustice; of the disregard for victims sacrificed to a war which history would judge senseless, but which only the daughter evaluates as a war of aggression. Here, voice is given to a real backwoods America, reluctant to move and hard to move; an America which votes en masse for the Republicans, perhaps in a vain illusion they will less interfere in, and make less attempt to change their old-world view of life.’

- Pavel Branko

WE WENT TO WAR by Michael Grigsby and Rebekah Tolley 

Rebekah Tolley
Posted: 10/04/2013 16:16 

Our journey with WE WENT TO WAR started on a rainy afternoon in London in December 2007. In between developing project ideas with Michael, I was slowly making my way through his extraordinary five decade back catalogue as one Britain's great documentary filmmakers. Today it was 'I Was a Soldier' (1970), possibly the very first sustained treatment about soldiers coming home from the frontlines of Vietnam.
This was the story of three young Texan men, exposed to the madness of war and trying to come to terms, to fit back in, to mend minds bent out of shape. 'I Was a Soldier's' staggeringly quiet but searingly powerful testaments were brutal by the very nature of their calmness. Voices struggling to form words between the long pauses, hollow silences filled only with the sounds of passing cars, sheep, dogs, everyday life. Landscapes that were 'other' than the ones in their heads.

What had happened to them in these intervening four decades? What would time have brought to the greater part of their lives lived beneath such trauma? Michael and I talked and we agreed with a simple, mutual "Yes". Four years later we had walked the long road to making WE WENT TO WAR with Dennis, David and Lamar's family.

Michael knew instinctively what to do with cinematic language. Film-making was completely natural to him and had been in his blood from the age of 14, when he made his first film as a schoolboy. He always said that as filmmakers it was up to us to take risks, " to understand the beauty of sound, the importance of stunning visuals and to understand how people have so much to give...are so sensitive, so eloquent. And we have to have the courage to respect what they have to say, what they have experienced and let them communicate that to us...because it's a magical, beautiful experience." And so it was that making We Went to War was the culmination of our shared vision..."we have a joint way of seeing the world!" he used to say to me.

Completing the journey of WE WENT TO WAR, witnessing it for the first time with an audience was extraordinary. That we had even arrived there after the long haul of trying to make the film; trying to raise the finance, or just the general madness of filmmaking. To finally be able to get to strip away all the layers and get at the heart of the story of these three families was worth everything we'd been through.

Michael always said that every film he had ever made had allowed him to understand and know himself that little bit more. The hope was always to keep on growing, because he said, "If you're not growing you're dead!"... Our ultimate hope for We Went to War, was that it would allow us all to understand a little more those men, women and families, caught up in wars across lands, religion and time who forfeit much in the name of freedom.

We Went to War is out now. Check for further info.

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