The core element for all of us involved in the making of Lest We Forget What was discovery. Given the real estate the Anzac legend occupies in Australia’s national identity we wanted to look at the past taking a fresh perspective and provoking debate without falling into the conventional ‘for’ or ‘against’ camps. This led us on an extraordinary global journey back and forth through time and back and forth across the political divide. Along the way the things we uncovered were quite startling.
This process of discovery began in our campaign to identify a new young female presenter who could embark on an emotional, intellectual and physical quest to unpack the mythologies versus the realities of ANZACs in the First World War. We wanted a young woman, because – to be perfectly frank – you don’t see a huge number of young women on our screens helming history documentaries. We had an extraordinary response to our call out and it was inspiring to see that there were so many smart and articulate young women drawn to the project. So if any broadcaster says in the future there just isn’t the talent pool out there – may Zeus strike them down.
In the end 27 year old Kate Aubusson was the absolute stand out for us. Kate is a passionate, hard working, brilliant, big-hearted individual and we were drawn to her verve and enthusiasm for the subject. Kate listens, thinks deeply and is utterly open and fearless. Kate can establish a rapport with anyone from scholars, to school kids, to soldiers. She’s just the kind of person you want to send on an arduous quest. Facing head-on the juggernaut velocity that is the 100th commemorations and climbing the gigantic edifice of the Anzac Spirit to get a glimpse of the unvarnished past is not for the fainthearted.
Filming took place over 11 months with the principle dates being the 6 months between Anzac Day 25th April at Gallipoli and Remembrance Day 11th November 2014 at the Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium. We started at the deep end, heading to Anzac Cove for the 2014 Anzac Day Commemorations. In order to get coverage of the entire event from Istanbul to the Gallipoli and the dawn service – involved us shooting for 32 continuous hours. Even after we eventually downed tools and all headed back to Eceabat to collapse, Kate kept going. In her hotel room she switched on her handycam and kept filming her impressions of the experience.
Our principle locations for filming were basically those that physically chart the principle theatres of battle of ANZACs over the course of the War – Gallipoli 1915 and the Western Front – 1916,17,18 (over 700 km that runs through France and Belgium). We also filmed in Canberra – at the Australian War Memorial – the epicentre of the way Australians remember War, and the Royal Military College – Duntroon, where young officer cadets are trained for future military engagement based on the lessons of the past. My favourite location was the secluded Milson Island on the Hawkesbury river NSW which has the ruins of a quarantine camp that some of our over 60,000 WW1 soldiers who returned with VD were sent. It’s a haunting and weirdly other-worldy place – an island of lost history.
Filmmakers love to tell stories about how brutally hard filming is when you’re on 95% outdoor locations in winter – freezing cold, rain, noisy dogs, cats, sheep, pigs, goats, trucks, tractors – but when you’re making a documentary about WW1, one’s momentary discomfort all seems a bit meaningless as you schlep back to the hotel for a hot shower from some Western Front battlefield filled with hundreds of thousands of bodies.
The fact is for all of us – for the most part, this was an incredible voyage – we met incredibly generous people from all over the world who helped us see a new vision for the past – a better a story for who we are as Australians – which is far more intriguing, surprising and awe inspiring.
There were two babies born over the duration of production and one death. Baby Grace Crawley was born less than 12 hours after her Father Rhys did an interview with Kate, and baby Solomon Speed, born to our composer Benjamin right at the moment that all the music was being finalised. The latter occurred tragically on our very last shoot day in February 2015. We were filming at the beautiful Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park – a monument built by the people of NSW for the tens of thousands of young men who never returned – when we noticed that a young man seemed to be in trouble about 100 metres away. We downed tools and went to help. I have an image of ambulances screaming through the park with Lucas our Cine giving directions, Dylan the producer consoling the young mans companion with Kate kneeling by his body giving him CPR, alas to no avail – quite a team and quite the Angel of Verdun (the real one). It seemed strangely apt that our film so steeped in the unvarnished reality of the dead should end in such a manner.