In 1943 Operation Husky was put into motion. Canadian Soldiers travelled deep into the Sicilian countryside to fight against the Nazi presence that had been established there. More than 500 Canadian Soldiers lost their lives during the campaign in Sicily.
The cemetery in Agira, Sicily is not a well-known place to be visited in the remembrance of Canadian and Allied bravery, however, Yukon filmmaker Max Fraser is trying to change that with his new feature-length documentary film Bond of Strangers: The Operation Husky Story.
On July 10, 1943 Fraser’s father landed in Sicily along with the 1st Canadian Infantry Division. Seventy years later, Fraser and group of 10 others decided to do the same journey. Thus, in July of 2013 this film project was launched. I had a chance to sit down with Fraser and ask him about this emotional journey and the film.
Andrew Gilbutowicz: How did you first become interested in Operation Husky 1943 as a documentary subject?
Max Fraser: When I was little I learned that my dad had been in World War II. He didn’t talk much about it with his family, however, like most veterans. As an adult, I came to appreciate the true horror of war. Fast forward to 2006 and I went with my daughter, then in Grade 11, on a Battlefield Tour put on by the local high schools. The first time I stepped into a Canadian War Cemetery in Europe, I was overwhelmed. It was a deeply emotional experience. Around that time I started making short films. My wife Arlin McFarlane and I went to Europe a few times, discovering more about how much Canadian history is buried in the ground all over Europe.
AG: What makes this film important to Canadians and Yukoners?
MF: The film is important to Canadians because much of our history is forgotten, except to a few. It’s our job to never forget. My contribution is to make films so that others can understand what went on. The invasion of Sicily in 1943 and the Italian Campaign of World War II involved almost 100,000 Canadian soldiers, but was overshadowed by the invasion of France in 1944.
For Yukoners, I think they want to support Yukon filmmakers as they explore various topics, Yukon ones and others that are broader in scope, like this one. I had a lot of support from local people who were generous to my crowdfunding campaign of last year. That made it possible to finish the film, so many local people have a vested interest in this project.
AG: What were some of the hardships of filming during such heat and over such a long period of time?
MF: Sicily is a lovely place, but this film shoot was quite grueling. Like for the soldiers of World War II, we were there in the hottest month of the year – July. We stayed in only two different places where communications were good, but it meant we were separated from our characters and their journey, so we’d have to drive long distances at the start and end of each day to do the filming. Despite that, I had a good crew – five of us altogether – and we shot for 20 days.
AG: What is it like for you as a filmmaker to be premiering your film here in the Yukon?
MF: The premiere of a film is always exciting, always a mix of emotions – joy, relief and apprehension. One always wants to know how the audience will react. I look forward to it. Then we take it on the road to Vancouver, Kingston, Belleville, Toronto and Montreal. And it will be broadcast locally on Northwestel Community TV – I’m grateful for their support, too.
The Yukon Film Society presents Max Fraser’s new film Bond of Strangers: The Operation Husky Story Premieres Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Yukon Arts Centre.
Joining Fraser on his journey was author Mark Zuehlke, who will be presenting his latest book, Through Blood and Sweat: A Remembrance Trek Across Sicily’s World War Two Battlegrounds alongside the premiere of the film.