Canadian soldier Nick Homeniuk was part of the Allied force that pushed back the Germans in the final days of World War II. He ultimately spent an additional year overseas after the armistice before returning home. His experiences there left him permanently shaken.
“My grandfather was a truck driver, and he towed an artillery piece that was insanely loud,” Nelson filmmaker Noah Gaffran told the Star. “He lost almost all of his hearing. The war really traumatized him, and he barely ever spoke about it. My mom didn’t know about most of the stuff he went through until she started looking it up years later.”
Along with his mother, Gaffran traveled to France last year to film a documentary about his grandfather’s life. And now, 70 years after the war’s end, he’s participating in another project meant to honour Homeniuk: along with four other teenagers and under the direction of Amy Bohigian, he will film the upcoming production of Liberation Days at the Capitol Theatre from March 3 to 6.
“It’s cool to have such a personal connection to a project,” said Gaffran. The film will incorporate interviews with the cast and behind-the-scenes footage, as well as the entire show. It will later be distributed to local schools and worked into the curriculum.
Homeniuk’s real-life experiences closely mirror those of the fictional character Alex King, who will be played by Eli Geddis. As Dutch citizens struggled to survive in their destroyed country, many starving to death, they also found plenty of opportunities for love.
The play tells the story of Alex’s romance with Emma, played by Lindsay Clague. It’s a passion project for Capitol Theatre executive director Stephanie Fischer, who received funding to commemorate the war. This is the first Capitol-produced show, other than the annual pantomime and summer youth theatre productions, since she took the position three years ago.
Fischer chose Calgarian playwright David Van Belle’s play, written in 2014, because it captured the impact of the war while also incorporating a love story.
“It was a totally different sort of battle,” said Gaffran. “Rather than bombing suddenly they were sending in food by the planeload because in the Netherlands they were starving to death. In Germany they called 1946 Year Zero because they had zero. They had to start over.”
The full team working on this project consists of L.V. Rogers and Wildflower students Gaffran, Sebastian Bodine, Dani Snell, Aydin Long and Graeme Sherman, who range in age from 14 to 16. The quintet are all graduates of Bohigian’s summer film camp, and are looking forward to the opportunity to hone their skills.
Gaffran’s not the only one with a personal connection to the subject. Iodine’s grandfather Edmund Bodine was in the American air force, fighting in Japan.
“I’ve heard a lot about the Japanese side of things, so now hearing and learning about this side of the war is really fascinating,” Bodine said, noting Edmund also served as a lawyer during the war crime tribunals.
The filmmakers were quick to point out that not only has war touched their families, it’s also going on elsewhere in the world at this very moment.
Snell told the Star her family has seen war firsthand.
“My dad’s a missionary and he’s going to some of the places ISIS has been. He’s going to see all the devastation and poverty from the war. I think it’s really terrifying. People live in war zones all the time. And it’s hard to live a normal life when there are bullets flying around.”
And film is a great medium to drive that point home, according to Long, who especially admires Paul Thomas Anderson’s film The Master.
“After World War II there were a lot of mental effects. To see that sort of tragedy, those awful things, then to come back to a society that wasn’t torn apart is so hard. The main character realizes that adjusting to normal life is impossible for him.”
He wants to explore similar themes through his work.
“Filmmaking is really special to me, and having it here in Nelson, because it’s so small, it just seems weird that we’ve got this amazing group of people all working together.”
Their goal is to remind people of the long-term consequences of violent conflict.
“War is a big part of people’s every day,” said Sherman, the interviewer for the behind-the-scenes aspect of the project. “In my class last year we did a lot of research on Rwanda and the genocide there. Lots of soldiers came back traumatized but not physically wounded, so they couldn’t get the treatment they needed.”
And that’s nothing compared to the devastation of World War II, he believes. For Bodine, the lesson is simple.
“They come back and realize nobody wins in war. Everybody loses.”