Wojtek - The Bear that Went to War is a 60-minute documentary co-produced by Double Grierson Award winning company Animal Monday, and Braidmade Films. Directed by Will Hood and Adam Lavis, the film takes us on a journey into the heart of storytelling combining archive footage, dramatic reconstructions, fables and interviews. Weaving the narration into the story is legendary actor Brian Blessed.
"Beartown Brewery are proud to commemorate the premier of this film with a speciality ale"
Wojtek - The Bear that Went to War was shot on location in the UK, Poland and Israel by prolific Polish cinematographer, Wojciech Staron, last year's Berlinale winner of the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution for the film El Premio. The film was produced by Kat Mansoor of Animal Monday and Kasia Skibinska of Braidmade Films, and financed by BBC, MDR, and the Polish Film Institute.
It tells the story of Wojtek - a magnificent 500lb military bear who fought in World War Two alongside a band of Polish soldiers, shared their beer and cigarettes - and eventually their fate. Told by those that knew him and those that are captivated by his legend, his story will capture the imagination and tell a very different war story.
Wojtek was discovered as a cub in Iran in 1942. He had lost his mother to hunters and was found by a group of Poles as they travelled through the Middle East on their way to join the allied forces in Kazakhstan.
The troops were among the 1.7 million displaced Polish nationals fleeing a fragmented and war torn
homeland, often travelling without food or shoes, and with no possessions - their extraordinary exodus is one of the untold stories of the 2nd World War.
Wojtek grew to enjoy joining in with everything his Polish friends did, including drinking beer and smoking
cigarettes, as well as wrestling matches and swimming with them in rivers. His status to soldier was created to allow him to travel with the troops to Italy - he was officially enlisted into the army and given the rank of Corporal. He received all privileges and rations that his rank allowed. It was at the battle of Monte Cassino however, that he was to have his most famous hour. One day he picked up a box of artillery shells and helped to move them into a waiting truck.
For this incredible act - he was immortalised by the 22nd Company insignia - an image of a bear carrying an artillery shell, which from then on adorned the uniform and vehicles of the troops.
As the war progressed Wojtek became more than a mascot to his friends - he was a child, someone to take care of when their own families had been torn apart. He was also a source of enormous pride, as one Polish veteran said "We had very little, but we had a bear".
And he gave valuable hope and reassurance to his homeless Polish friends during a time of madness, fear and hostility. Poignantly at the end of the war, Wojtek's fate was to mirror that of his beloved soldiers. Many of the Poles feared to return to their country due to Stalin's political domination of the region. While Wojtek's fate was to be confined behind another form of iron curtain at Edinburgh Zoo.
Without a family, a home or a country to call his own - Wojtek found himself displaced along with thousands of Polish soldiers. He and many of his company ended up taking political asylum in a camp near Berwick upon Tweed. To rub salt in to the wound - so as not to offend Stalin's regime - the Poles were not invited by the British to march in the victory parade. Wojtek - The Bear that Went to War
Meanwhile the story of Wojtek's part in the war fell into obscurity, remembered only by a few as a vague
and comical war legend. The film will tell the untold story of the Poles during the 2nd World War through the extraordinary life of Wojtek the Soldier Bear - whose life parallels so many of their struggles.
Through understanding the life and death of this unique creature we discover new meanings to the terms immigrant, patriot, and human being.
The film is now available on DVD , and can be ordered via the website www.wojtekfilm.com .