Exposing War Myths
Pre-production is set to begin on ‘The 34th Battalion’, an ANZAC film following the last division formed during World War One.
The father and son creative duo at the helm are co-writers Ian and Luke Sparkes (pictured), with the latter set to direct. Ian (who was nominated for an AFI Award for Costume Design on Beneath Hill 60) explained that their aim was to address the idea that all was quiet on the Western front for diggers.
"This has been my entire life actually," Ian says, "dedicated to researching and developing stories about the ANZACs. We decided to look at the 34th Battalion because it was part of the third division, the last division recruited. We wanted to get rid of some of the myths, such as everybody joined up for adventure. This division was formed after Gallipoli so they knew about the death rates."
When FilmInk asks how the film will stand compared to other Australian movies dealing with war, classics like Gallipoli, or modern productions like Kokoda or Beneath Hill 60, Ian suggests Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers. "We haven't seen the Western Front as a feature film," Ian asserts. "Very rarely even in the world scene, that's why our worldwide distributors have grabbed it."
US company, Camelot Entertainment, was particularly interested in the Sparkes' enthusiasm, evident in Luke following in his father's footsteps. "We've compiled the 34th Battalion diaries, over many years," Luke says. "Back in the eighties, and early nineties when Ian started writing this film, he was able to see World War One veterans before they passed away, hold their hand, and hear their stories. It's a nice framing device, the battalion diaries as Jonathan Brown [the lead character] writes it. We have a nice bookend of the film, but also a narration of Jonathan writing the diaries during the film. So we don't have to do a retrospective of what the war is like, but really use their words, and what they thought at the time."
The Sparkes describe the prospective production as an action film without glorifying war. It will follow the Battalion from its formation in Maitland, New South Wales, to three major pitched battles. "There's Messines, the classic 'over the top' of the trenches," Luke recounts, "and the Battle of Passchendaele, the horrendous battle where the 34th were the lead Battalion, leading the whole brigade into the mud and flush around the enemy kill boxes. The third major battle was Villers-Bretonneux, where you're out in the green grass plains, trying to protect the French village."
Some of the stories The 34th Battalion follows are the two Paige boys, Lorrie and Val, who came from Dungog. "They both joined up together, with the older brother always looking after the younger brother all the way through. We've taken other true characters, like Clarence Jeffries. He was the Victoria Cross winner, and was 22 years old leading a company of men. Essentially three or four different stories really became Jonathan," Ian explains.
In negotiation to play these roles is an impressive Australian cast including Vince Colosimo (The Wog Boy, Face to Face), Nick Farnell (Balibo), Henry Nixon, Andrew Lees, Ashley Zuckerman (who all featured in The Pacific), Khan Chittenden (Underbelly Razor) and Claire van der Boom (Red Hill). The film is also alleged to have attracted an international cast member to be announced as the production progresses.
The film is currently in development and funding is being sought at Cannes. The Sparkes' are hoping that the film can commence shooting in September this year. For more information, head here.