Boer War Page 45

Program Elements

Film Making Behind the Scenes: Program Elements - To try to make their television programs more interesting for the viewer, the best filmmakers are constantly trying to create new elements and approaches in storytelling. Below - for those interested in the creative decisions one makes in putting together a history documentary - we lay out the various elements or "building-blocks" we used to bring our program to life and explain why we use them as we do.

Creating a Documentary Style for:

"The Great Anglo-Boer War: the Canadian Experience"

An important innovation in the making of history documentaries was our introduction of the "expert-as-host" technique - all our experts break convention by looking into the lens and talking directly to the viewers - which we believe is the most powerful form of television communication as demonstrated by farmer Susan Botha.

Susan Botha: The Power of the "Expert-as-Host"

Susan Botha, Demonstrating the Power of our "Expert as Host" Technique: Speaking directly into the camera lens to the viewer, Susan explains common relics from the Anglo-Boer War she found on her farm, where the Battle of Enslin was fought in Nov. 1899: "a horseshoe nail, very big, but the British used very big horses," "a shell, bent on the end, which the soldiers did, probably to store powder to make a fire when it was cold and rainy", a bolt "probably used by the artillery on the hill up there", and a tin "with lines to show it was vacuum packed for the soldiers and probably had bully beef inside, or plum."

The documentary was put together by also using a creative mix of the following:


Experts: We decided on judiciously edited contributions from "subject experts" to show us the main historic sites associated with the Anglo-Boer War.

But we decided to change the way experts have been used in other history documentaries. Through our "interactive module" technique, our experts would be turned into presenters. Unlike the experts in other history documentaries, our experts had to get out of the chair, out of the house, and go to locations, and act! Just the usual standing or sitting outside, and talking to an off-camera interviewer was not allowed either. Our experts would have to perform in "site demonstrations" - and they would all have to do it, directly to the camera!

Our program features 15 expert presenters in 104 performances at 83 different locations.

Rare Photo: Photos of the British dead after Spion Kop, in January 1900, so shocked the British Empire that Lord Roberts sought to find and destroy all the negatives. But it proved impossible because Kodak had put the camera into every man's hand and war photos flooded the market place.

Black & White Photos: Because the Anglo-Boer War took place in the days before television and motion pictures, the black and white photo is a major element used to bring the documentary to life.

The Kodak 1A Folding Camera had been invented in the 1890s, replacing the earlier heavy box cameras that only expert photographers had been able to use. Now hundreds of these light-weight and portable Kodaks went to war in South Africa in the back packs of ordinary soldiers. The Anglo-Boer War became the most photographed war in history.

Rare Film: The Anglo-Boer War was the first war ever covered by the newly-invented motion picture camera. This rare image is a frame from the first battlefield footage ever shot and shows the shattered British army retreating across the Tugela River from "An Acre of Massacre" at Spion Kop.

Motion Pictures: The movie camera had just been invented and several motion picture teams were in South Africa making the first movies of an army at war ever taken. The movie cameras were huge and heavy and took so long to unload and set up that the photographers were always slow to catch up with the army and too late for most of the action.

As a result, these images are extremely rare and of poor quality, and so can only be used as spicing for the black and white photos and colour lithos.

Rare Antique Print: This huge and fabulous colour print of a Canadian soldier of Canada's First Contingent returning safely home was published in the Toronto Globe at Christmas 1900.

Colour Prints, Lithos, & Sheet Music: Colour prints of battles and celebrities of the War were prized possessions in many homes. In the 1890s colour printing became widely and cheaply available for the first time, and the Anglo-Boer War became a rich source for subject matter for colour pictures.

In addition to using rare antique colour prints, we use original copies of the actual sheet music that was played on pianos all over the British Empire during the Boer War.

Because so much colour print material has disappeared in the past 100 years, very little is used normally in history television programs. It is just too hard to locate. So most history programs have opted to entirely ignore the "colour record of history," as if it never existed at all.

By deliberate and dogged perseverance over the past three years, our research has unearthed a wealth of antique colour print material from the Anglo-Boer War era, of which some 200 original items are used to illustrate our show. Our program features, we believe, an unprecedented use of antique colour print material in a history documentary.

Historical Memorabilia: The Great Anglo-Boer War also produced a blizzard of memorabilia - unmatched by any war before or since - to accompany the huge patriotic fervour as the masses throughout the Empire sent their sons to war.

Rare Antique Mug: We use this large and fabulous mug featuring General Sir Redvers Buller VC - a favourite of the Canadians - to take the place of a traditional black and white photo.

To try to give our audience an intimate feel for the decorative arts that the war brought into Victorian homes, we decided to use antique memorabilia to illustrate the story whenever it was appropriate.

Traditionally, when a picture of someone like "General Buller" has been called for in a program, a photo in black and white is used. By using antique memorabilia we are able to give our audiences a double bonus. Instead of a black and white, we can show viewers a magnificent colour picture of him on a plate or jug, as well as a view of a rare Victorian antique, all within the same time and space. And because it is three dimensional we can also rotate it for a more dynamic and interesting presentation.

So we spiced up the picture record of our program with rare antique busts, trivets, doorstops, plates, mugs, jugs, statues, stevengraphs, medals, lantern slides, silks, tobacco cards, etc. most of which will be an eye-opener to our viewers but which were, of course, well known to one and all during the Anglo-Boer War era.

Our program features the most historical memorabilia ever used to illustrate a history documentary, some 500 original items all dating from 1900.

As well as learning history through lush colour pictorials, the viewers - who, courtesy of the Antiques Roadshow, are all interested collectors of one thing or another - will get an unprecedented exposure to the rare collectables that Victorian and Edwardian Britain produced to celebrate the heroes and events of the Anglo-Boer War.

Original Letters for the Canadian Perspective: Our dogged research for this documentary uncovered numerous, never before published, letters of Canadian soldiers who served in the Anglo-Boer War. Especially prized are the 20 letters of Trooper Otto Moody (left) which we located from an antique seller who found them in a shed in Montana and which were on the verge of being sent off to collectors in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and the US. We were able to repatriate them to Canada and select powerful and poignant passages from Otto's observations during the last stages of the war.

An excerpt (above) notes the melancholy end of a young Boer that was found "wearing a Canadian uniform."

Rare Canadian Locations: At Belmont, high on top of a remote rocky kopje, we found the names scratched by lonely Canadian volunteer soldiers from Montreal, St. John, and Quebec.

Locations: To add to the pictorial record we decided to seek out the historic locations in South Africa where the story unfolded and where the heroic tales, and tragic events, actually took place. Since most Canadians will never get to see South Africa, let alone the battlefields of the Anglo-Boer War, we decided that taking the television camera to South Africa was the ideal way to bring back the images so that people would get a better feel for the actual places where Canadians fought and died.

Our program features, we believe, an unprecedented number of real historic locations in a history documentary, 83 of which ended up in the program.

Re-enactors: We decided to use Boer War re-enactors sparingly to spice up certain sequences. We believe that in history documentaries, it is always better to use the real historical pictorial record whenever possible, and to down play the "Hollywood" approach which replaces real history with play acting, and substitutes feigned emotion for real life tragedy.

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000