This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 24th April 2016
I thought I knew all about Gallipoli, and in the opening moments of this beautifully animated documentary it felt like we might be about to cover old – albeit eternally relevant – ground.
But as the stories unfold – tales in the first-person voice of those soldiers and nurses who experienced the horror and devastation first hand – you realise there is so much more to hear, learn and appreciate about that fateful military campaign one hundred and one years ago.
Local director Leanne Pooley (whose Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls documentary was a highlight of 2009) has crafted an innovative new telling of the timeless story, animating words taken directly from memoirs, diaries and letters of the men and women who sacrificed months (and in some cases, their lives) spent in squalor on those distant shores in Turkey. We get to know real personalities by their back-home professions, and this makes the contemporaneous description all the more compelling. “It was a cruel sport,” says the lad from Wellington College Rifle Club whose contribution to the effort was as a sniper; “a life for a life.” Another evokes sharing a cigarette with one of the enemy during the ceasefire that was negotiated so that fallen comrades could be cleared from the battlefield. And how many of us knew that nurses would stand on the decks of the hospital ships, watching the battles take place on shore?
With the centenary of the first Anzac Day looming, 25 April makes a timely companion piece to the Weta Workshop-created exhibition “Gallipoli: The Scale of our War” at the museum of Te Papa, and a re-watch of Peter Weir’s 1981 movie (Mel Gibson looks unbelievably young in it, but the film has not dated so much as to make you immune to its impact).
Where 25 April goes further is in illustrating the type of reflections on war that generally live in the private conscious of those who were involved. Enhanced by powerful imagery through clever illustration, these personal stories make for fascinating, affecting and necessary viewing.