LONDON – director Peter Jackson will be presenting next week in London for a documentary spectacular over the First world War, in colour and 3D, the fruit of the restoration work of colossal involving dozens of hours of archival footage in black and white.
Punctuated with interviews with veterans, the film also has a soundtrack, novel, the director has made use of experts in lip-reading to decipher the words of the soldiers, before inserting them into the film by being interpreted by actors.
“They Shall Not Grow Old” will be presented for the first time at the film Festival in London (BFI), and projected simultaneously in different rooms in the uk.
“I was flabbergasted when we finished to restore this material. I wasn’t expecting to get such a result,” said Peter Jackson to the AFP.
The project began four years ago in the office of Diane Lees, the director of the national organization of military museums in the british Imperial War Museums (IWM).
Knowing Peter Jackson, fascinated by the First world War – his great-grandfather having fought – Diane Lees, had proposed to collaborate in the commemoration of the centenary of the conflict.
“They wanted me to use their images from the archives, but in a surprising way,” recalls Jackson, oscar winner in 2004 for the final part of the trilogy “the Lord of The Rings”.
From his native New Zealand, the filmmaker has appealed to specialists of the restoration of the world to transform over 80 hours of archival images in color film 3D.
“These men have gone through hell”
The team had to face a myriad of challenges: images scratched, or missing, films having narrowed during the century or, in some cases, there were more than two times slower than the current format.
It was “very moving”, says Peter Jackson about the process of restoration. “See the faces of these men come back to life suddenly”.
The filmmaker is a 56-year-old immersed simultaneously in more than 600 hours of audio recordings of ex-combatants-carried out by the IWM over the years and by the BBC in 1964, for use as a voice-over.
The team has also recovered from the noises of artillery fire, explosions of shells and mines to enrich the soundtrack, with, at each stage, the ambition to make something original.
The end result offers a powerful insight, and unprecedented, of the First world War, showing with a luxury of details unheard-of life on the battlefields, in the trenches, up to the return of the noise of the lice that broke out at the contact of clothing burned.
“It helped me to imagine what life was like at the time of my grandfather,” said Jackson. “Being able to see what he has seen is something quite extraordinary.”
Beyond the horrors of the war emerges a more nuanced view of these men – and many of the teenagers who had pretended to be 19 years old to be able to fight, soldiers are able to endure the worst atrocities without feeling sorry about their fate.
“These guys have gone through hell, but they were not complaining”, says Peter Jackson.
This restoration work has also helped to convert tens of hours of footage to a digital format, very high definition (4K), for the benefit of the Imperial War Museums
“This is an exceptional result,” says Diane Lees, wagering that it will be used to teach otherwise the history of the war. “When you see (these images) in color, in 3D, with the voices of veterans recounting their story, it is incredibly compelling for new audiences”.
Poster for the documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old”, Peter Jackson