Documentary Screening Shows Community the Reality of World War I

By Tiffany Cooke

A projector, screen, and lines of chairs filled the upstairs of the Salem Public Library on Tuesday night, creating a free pop-up theater for community members to attend.

Movie lovers, history buffs, and anyone else interested to learn about World War I in an authentic film arrived at 7 p.m., filling the darkened library in this after-hours event. Twenty-eight people took their seats to view the documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old”, directed by Peter Jackson, the man known for “Lord of the Rings”.

The documentary, released in December 2018, brought in 19.9 million dollars from the box office. Jackson used updated technology and materials from the BBC and Imperial War Museum to bring old footage to life. He explored the reality of the war using voices from soldiers to tell the story.

Washington County community members had the opportunity to witness this creation, while learning the untold truths of soldiers in the war.

Indiana University’s Center for Rural Engagement, Washington County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism partner, sponsored the event, providing the film and the materials to show it.

This Center for Rural Engagement uses Lily grants to endorse a “quality of place” and works to boost the value of arts and humanities in communities, according to Jon Vickers. Vickers is the Founding Director of the Indiana University Cinema.

Flyers posted around the community advertised the screening to the public.

Each month, Vickers, with help from the Center for Rural Engagement and Indiana University students, hosts a pop-up film screening to help find that quality and encourage arts involvement. This month the film screening featured the World War I documentary.

“I hope this film gives you empathy, that it moves you and changes you,” Vickers said before the screening.

He mentioned that it’s not immediately clear what Jackson’s plan for the footage is until about 20 minutes into the film. The first part of the documentary addresses the before-war period. All this early footage is black and white and only takes up part of the screen, showing it as it originally was taken. Once the documentary moves into the war time, the footage, restored by technology, becomes colorized and expands to fill the whole screen, giving it a 3D effect.

“They Shall Not Grow Old”, R-rated, uses these personal stories and images to show the war for all that it was. In moments of gruesome footage, some viewers grabbed their seats, shielded their eyes, or gasped in response. Other times, when soldiers told stories from the memories they made, the room filled with laughter.

The film ends how it began, in black and white. It does not end in the same upbeat emotion as it began, though. Instead of celebrating the end of the war, the documentary tells the truth – the truth about how hard it was for these soldiers to recover and move on.

Viewers gathered around the screen prior to the start of the film.

Following the screening, viewers could take a moment to learn more and shift through books and documents related to World War I, chosen and provided by Emily Alford of Indiana University’s Library.

Washington County is an initial test area for the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement, but soon the program will reach at least 11 communities, growing and changing as the public becomes more involved.

As summer is approaching, the Center will take a break from screenings, so the public will have to wait until August to catch the next free showing. However, the Center is eager to announce that during this break they are working to develop a filmmaking workshop, coming soon to Salem Community Schools.

More information on the Indiana University Center of Rural Engagement and their mission in the community to bring together people, perspectives, and expertise, including interviews from Center leaders and specific projects underway, will be released at a later date.

Skip to toolbar