For many of us, the closest we come to war is through film and television. When done well, war documentaries, like war dramas, show the human face of conflict. The heroism, sacrifice, or horror, but also the lived experience. The camaraderie and struggle alongside the politics.
While we can all reel off famous war dramas, to mark Remembrance Day, here are some of the finest documentary films ever made about war and its impact on people.
For more films of War and Remembrance, we have created a War and Remembrance playlist at The Big Issue TV.
Lest we forget…
They Shall Not Grow Old
Made to mark 100 years since Armistice Day, Peter ‘Lord of the Rings’ Jackson and his team sharpened, stabilised and colourised archive footage from World War One to make this incredible and affecting film.
By using audio from survivors of the war, contemporary accounts including diaries, and even employing lip-readers to dub the voices of the soldiers in the footage, the film takes us closer to their stories than ever before.
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In colour, shown at the correct speed, the soldiers we first meet talking about signing up to fight look even younger and less removed from their peers today. A stunning film…
It’s showing on BBC4 on Sunday November 14 at 9pm then available on iPlayer.
Another different and important perspective on the impact of conflict, Waad al-Kateab’s remarkable film records what it was like to live through the uprising in Aleppo, Syria. But al-Kateab’s film differs from other war documentaries. For, during five-years of filming this war, she fell in love, got married, became a mother and began raising her daughter, Sama.
Bombing, violence and massacres contrast with the hope that new life brings, underlining the fragility of it all. The film is a rarity, offering a woman’s perspective on armed conflict, and is half apology, half explanation for Sama about why the family stayed in Aleppo. It deservedly won The Broadcasting Press Guild Award for best single documentary in 2019.
This classic longform documentary series narrated by Laurence Olivier, which first aired on ITV in 1973-74, chronicled the Second World War across 26 haunting and powerful episodes. A landmark series, The World At War looked at the impact of the global conflict in great detail, but it is the eyewitness testimony – at a time when the surviving soldiers who had fought were still relatively young – that is so powerful.
The pain and suffering is still very raw. And the Holocaust episode explains the Nazi genocide in more detail than previously. As affecting and important as any television ever made.
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Historian and film-maker David Olusoga challenged and expanded people’s understanding of World War One with this important two-part documentary made for the BBC in 2014. Olusoga’s films tell the story of the war from the perspective of those whose voices are so often omitted, but who made this a truly global conflict.
Drawing on personal stories and testimonies from the hundreds and thousands of African, Indian and Asian troops who fought alongside and as part of the allied forces, and featuring expert historians, economists and modern military commanders, The World’s War brings complex and vital discussions of empire and race into the story, which is illustrated with rarely seen stills, archive and location photography.
To mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the BBC delved into its archives to produce a moving documentary called I Was There: The Great War Interviews. This presented the human face of war via interviews filmed for the BBC in the 1960s for the landmark series The Great War.
There were more than 250 interview recordings, presenting war as lived experience – and a selection of these are now permanently available to view on the BBC iPlayer.
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A terrific film that looks at the way graphic novels have depicted the first world war over the years. How are the images that help us imagine this conflict constructed? Why have the major artists featured chosen this medium as the most visceral, the most powerful to depict the horrors of war? And what do these graphic novels say about war?
A fascinating exploration of how wars become mythologised and recreated for new generations.
Widely seen as the definitive take on the conflict, though not free from criticism, this 10-part, 18-hour series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick – whose documentary collaborations set the standards for filmmakers – was a decade in the making.
It offers a sober and informed perspective on the Vietnam War, featuring combatants and civilians from the US and from both the North and South of Vietnam, as well as the voices of those who opposed the war. The result is a new view of this extraordinary conflict from the ordinary people involved in it.
The Big Issue TV is a subscription video on demand service showcasing documentary films that are challenging, provocative and vital viewing. The Big Issue TV War and Remembrance Playlist joins playlists for Earth Day 2021, Pride month, Women’s History Month and Black History Month. All are still available, alongside films on politics, social activism, the environment, finance, culture and health and technology.
All films are hand-picked by The Big Issue team, with new content added each month. To subscribe to The Big Issue TV for £3.99 per month – or to enjoy a one month free trial – go to thebigissue.tv
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