I run a group on Facebook here promoting the learning of the Anders Army history through projects concerned with Wojtek the Soldier Bear.
One of the uses of this group is to distribute information about Wojtek related initiatives, cultural events and the like. I first heard about Animal Monday at an event in the Scottish Parliament at the beginning of 2010 over 2 years ago. Since then Animal Monday have made a film Wojtek – The Bear that went to war. Details of what to do if you want to organise a showing, or see it, are in this interview I did by e-mail with Will Hood. Many thanks to him for his time.
You can visit the film page here http://www.facebook.com/WojtekTheBearThatWentToWar
1. Where did the idea of a film about Wojtek come from ?
The film maker Pinny Grylls and I had worked on a film about a sheep that crossed the line separating man from beast (Peter & Ben – 2009 Invisible films) And she had heard about the story from a friend whilst at a funeral. Being a subject that we both are fascinated by we planned to make the film together – but due to the huge amount of research and development that was needed, spanning over two years, by the time we had got backing to go in to production, she was unable to commit the time that the project needed.
2. When you first heard the story of Wojtek what was your reaction, did you believe it
I’m not sure i really did believe it at first – but i was very aware that other people really did believe it – and that was the most interesting thing from a film making perspective. I still find it amazing quite how much of an influence this bear had on the people i met during the making of this film. They believed in him and that is very touching.
3 what is/are your favorite Wojtek story/ies/?
There are many stories i like – the getting entangled in the underwear story (as told in Lasocki’s – soldier bear book) – and the bear attending plays and falling asleep and farting in Berwick (as told in Aileen’s Orr’s recent book ) are favourites. But i absolutely love the hole story/ legend of him carrying the shells at Cassino. Its such a pivotal part of his army career and made so much appealing to the imagination by the lack of photo evidence. Our film features an interview with John Clarke MBE of the black watch who saw Wojtek perform this legendary act and his eyes nearly pop out of his head as he tells the story – it’s still very exciting for him 60 years after the event.
4. Some people react negatively to the idea of an animal being used in war. What would you say to those people
This animal is different and was there by his own volition – he believed he was a man. This was not a case of animal cruelty.
5. what is the launch schedule for your film. What languages are planned. and who should anyone contact if they want to help get the film into another language
The film shall broadcast on terrestrial channels around Europe at the end of the year. Presently this includes Britain, Israel, Germany and Poland. But we are hoping more countries in and outside the EU will wish to broadcast it. Anyone interested in the film who wishes to contact the creators should go to www.animalmonday.co.uk – or to find out more info about the story you can visit the soon to be live website www.Wojtekfilm.com
6. if someone wants to arrange a viewing of the film in there school or cultural centre, who should they approach and how much does it cost?
7. The story of Wojtek is connected with terrible suffering and tragedy. Do you think the focus on Wojtek is appropriate in this context
Yes… The story of Wojtek is connected with terrible suffering and tragedy – but it is also a story of enduring human spirit, hope and perseverance and i think that it is totally appropriate that his story is celebrated for this reason. All of the Polish veterans that i talked to were devoid of self pity or martyrdom concerning what had happened to their people/ country during the 2nd world war and i believe that the story of the bear then and now is a way to describe their journey from Russia through the middle east, Italy and Scotland in a way that doesn’t portray them as victims. This seems important to me as they are all very strong and proud individuals that have survived a very profound time in our shared history.
8. If someone reading this is considering a “Wojtek” project in their school, would you encourage them to go for a drama, like in Ely, painting like in Poland or singing like in Italy or Scotland.
I would encourage creative expression of all persuasion – i do think however it propagating the Wojtek story further (ie. if you become the storyteller – through your project) it is important to get the information right and to treat the real people involved with the respect due to them.
9., Have you met people during the making of the film who might be interested in doing further “wojtek” related projects to help spread the word about the bear and this forgotten history.
Not that aren’t already engaged in projects already – ie. Aileen Orr or Krystyna Ivell
10. how much does it cost to make a film like this, and how it funded?
The film was made on a very modest budget and involved a lot of late nights with a small team of people who really believed that this was a story worth sharing with a greater audience. It was funded in part by by BBC Scotland, PISF, MDR – and produced by AnimalMonday and Braidemade films
11. Is there anything else you think people should know before going off to see the film?
No bears were harmed in the making of this film and in fact one even received a donut