World War One movie to open Toronto film festival

Tue Jun 17, 2008 4:16pm EDT
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TORONTO (Reuters) - A story based on the bloody trench warfare of World War One will open this year's Toronto International Film Festival, giving a somber and Canadian theme to the opening festivities.

Organizers said on Tuesday that "Passchendaele," starring and directed by Paul Gross, tells the story of an injured Canadian soldier who returns to the battlefields of Ypres after his brother signs up to fight.

Gross's own grandfather was a veteran of the war.

"It's quite a stirring film," said Cameron Bailey, co-director of the festival. "There's much of the film that's a pastoral romance, and then you go into the hell of the trenches of World War One. It's a big, sweeping, epic movie."

More than 15,000 Canadian soldiers were killed or wounded in the 1917 battle of Passchendaele, fighting in conditions that became synonymous with the worst days of a gruesome war of attrition.

Heavy rain turned the entire battlefield into a quagmire, and the Canadians fought from one shell crater to another under heavy fire. After the battle, nine soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross, Canada's most coveted military medal.

The Toronto Film Festival, which rivals Venice and Cannes as the biggest in the world, traditionally opens with a Canadian film. The festival runs from September 4 to September 13

(Reporting by Janet Guttsman; Editing by Peter Galloway)