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They Shall Not Grow Old

A groundbreaking documentary from director/producer Peter Jackson and the Imperial War Museum

They Shall Not Grow Old was produced to mark the centenary of the World War I armistice, and to honour the British war effort, and it does both of those things admirably.

Poster for the WWI documentary They Shall Not Grow OldMade in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum in London, and using elaborate digital restoration techniques, it brings the past to life in an almost stirring way – and reveals that Peter Jackson's instincts as a storyteller can still be formidable.

Marrying archival footage to audio testimonials from veterans sourced from the BBC, They Shall Not Grow Old recounts the experiences of the enlisted, structured as a journey from home to war and back again - with an eye for the small moments that remind us His Majesty's troops were human beings, and fairly young ones, rather than cold-eyed killing machines.

The big technical gambit that garnered all the attention when the film screened in the UK last month – refreshing, re-timing and colourizing scratchy black-and-white footage to make it look more ‘real’ to the modern viewer – is introduced gradually, the better to bring us into the era rather than bring the era to us. It's not a stunt, but a way to change our relationship to the footage; Jackson has said he's trying to collapse the distance between archival material and the human experience, and show us the war as these people would have seen it. It's a radical artistic choice, and it works incredibly well, giving They Shall Not Grow Old a power and an immediacy rarely found in documentary cinema.

– Norm Wilner, NOW Toronto

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