THAT NEVER HAPPENED: Canada’s First National Internment Operations (2017) directed by Ryan Boyko, is a poignant and deeply moving documentary that chronicles, and explores Canada’s internment of Ukrainian-Canadians during the First World War, just one of many groups at that time who were denied their fundamental rights and to suffer mistreatment.
Boyko juxtaposes the narrative of Canada’s official policy against new Canadians deemed enemy aliens during the First World War against the personal stories of the descendants which shines a light on Canada’s shameful past, efforts to obliterate the past, and deny it ever happened.
The film documents the extraordinary efforts of Ukrainian-Canadian organizations, community leaders, politicians, and descendants to give voice to the forgotten and create a legacy of remembrance, and the lasting psychological wounds internment inflicted not only on the survivors but their descendants.
Boyko weaves together many visual elements which include archival film and video footage, narration, first-person interviews, Super 8 home movies, and archival photography stills to create an insightful documentary. Close ups and medium angles shots are interspersed with wide angle shots, and aerial shots, and the film incorporates both interior and exterior footage shot over an extended period of time at various locations which add complexity to the documentary. Some of the most powerful images in the film are the juxtaposition of Canada’s majestic landscape with barbed wire. By juxtaposing the narrative of Canada’s misdeeds against the backstory of the descendants and the search for justice and restitution, Boyko creates dramatic tension that moves the documentary.
The film includes interviews with a distinguished group of community leaders who were instrumental in seeking redress, and many professionals including an archaeologist, a politician, a funeral director, a retired park warden, an academic, a sculptor and a muralist to name some who weigh in and present a multiplicity of viewpoints. Boyko frames the documentary in a broader social context and is a painful reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.
THAT NEVER HAPPENED is a powerful documentary which gives voice not only to those who suffered injustices at the hands of the Canadian government during the First World War because of who they were or where they were born but it is also a moving story of justice and restitution and creating a legacy of remembrance. It is a deeply meditative film which explores Canada’s past, the legacy of Canada’s misdeeds, and the importance of remembering and documenting the past for future generations to come.
The documentary has tremendous educational appeal and can serve as a vehicle to promote positive social change and understanding. It’s the story about a community of newcomers who were welcomed with open arms and given free land to settle and open up Canada’s west only to suffer mistreatment, and for some, internment and exploitation. It is also a provocative documentary and left me wondering about the other groups of new Canadians including Croats, Slovaks, Ottoman Turks, Armenians, and Bulgarians to name a few who were unjustly treated by Canada during the First World War. Where’s there justice? And what about the Batchewana First Nation of Ojibways whose land was confiscated and became the site of one of the many concentration camps across Canada. When will they see justice?
Boyko has created a moving documentary about a community of Canadians who nevertheless have persevered and triumphed over evil. It is a well-made film, and deserving of your attention.
[Review by Stefan Chiarantano]