Doggie History

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero is a lovely animated movie aimed at middle grade children. It’s a historical story about a dog named Stubby who participated in battles on French soil during World War I. In between action scenes are short narrations by a woman named Margaret Conroy (Helena Bonham Carter) who writes to her brother, Robert Conroy (Logan Lerman), while he fights in the war. In these excerpts the narrator sums up some of the history surrounding the war story. The film ends with photographs of the real Stubby and some statistics about the heroics of this brave and intelligent dog. This combination of animal story, history and narration makes for a touching, educational experience, one I think children and their families will find very worthwhile.

Stubby is a stray Staffordshire Bull Terrier who befriends Conroy while he is training to be a soldier in the USA. Despite army regulations disallowing dogs, the friendly, nimble pooch proves himself worthy and is adopted as the base’s mascot. When the troops leave for Europe Stubby sneaks on board the ship and so makes his way to France alongside the soldiers. There he participates in battles, dodging bullets, bombs and gas, sniffing out survivors and foes, and sending warnings to Conroy and his comrades. Stubby is so brave and helpful that he is ‘promoted’ to Sergeant.

Although a little heavy-handed with American propaganda, Sgt. Stubby is an informative, delightful, heartwarming film. I had to dry my tears before I left the theatre.

Sgt. Stubby opens at cinemas in South Africa on 14 September 2018.

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My Father’s War

I have often found South African films difficult to watch. Perhaps because of a shameful predisposition to think they are second rate. Probably because of a strongly felt desire not to watch more of what I live and see every day around me. My Father’s War is difficult to watch. And it is deeply South African. But it is certainly not second rate. And it tells a unique, brave story. One I could strongly identify with.

The tale revolves around one family’s struggle to deal with the after-effects of the 1980s South African-Angolan bush war. David Smit (Stian Bam), the main character, was a soldier in the war but now, 20 years later, is married, has a grown-up son and works for a security/guarding company. He still suffers from post-traumatic syndrome and has a terrible relationship with his son Dap (Edwin van der Walt). Dap resents David’s absence over the years and is critical of his father’s participation in an “apartheid-fuelled” war. But something strange begins to happen to Dap: he starts having dreams about David’s role in the war and even appears in the scenes alongside his father. It is through these dreams that Dap learns to understand how much his father loves him, and how much the man went through in combat.

So many aspects of the war’s portrayal and its resultant effects rang true for me. David worked in Iraq after the bush war before becoming a bodyguard in South Africa, not unusual for a former soldier in this country. The war scenes accurately depict assault-rifle gunfire, “black-is-beautiful” face cover up, Afrikaans and English speaking soldiers, Black and White men, Portuguese soldiers who had defected to the South African side, helicopter drops and the African bush. David’s PTS manifests as hypersensitivity to gunfire-type noises, anxiety, insomnia, anger and confusion, again not uncommon in former soldiers. I quizzed my husband, a bush war soldier himself, after the movie. His answer: “It sounds like my life.”

Although the war was obviously firmly grounded in politics My Father’s War manages to remain unpolitical. It is a film about people and one viewers from different sides of the political spectrum will watch and appreciate. One negative: I found the home scenes just a little too angst ridden. Other than that, My Father’s War is a touching, extremely well-made, sensitive and brave movie.

My Father’s War releases at cinemas in South Africa on Friday 5 August 2016. It is rated 10PG.