Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

What if Nazis invaded city? See for yourself on CTV special

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THE grainy, newsreel-style black-and-white images are disturbing but familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of 20th-century history:

Nazi soldiers driving armoured vehicles through city streets, past lines of dumbstruck civilians. Stormtroopers arresting politicians and academics; helmeted infantrymen looting homes and burning library books. Nazi flags being raised as a symbol of conquest and oppression.

Yes, disturbing.

But wait a minute -- isn't that the old Eaton's store in the background as the armoured procession rolls by? And wasn't that Winnipeg's mayor and Manitoba's premier who were hauled off by the Nazis?

Yes, yes, and yes. And it all really happened, in a "well, sort of" kind of way.

The locally produced documentary If Day: The Nazi Invasion of Winnipeg (which airs tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. as part of CTV's Manitoba Moments) offers a fascinating account of a little-known chapter in our city's history -- a bit of rather convincing wartime gimmickry aimed at scaring Manitobans into buying Victory Bonds to support Canada's war effort.

Filmmaker Aaron Floresco makes good use of the considerable film record of the "If Day" exercise -- the mock invasion was recorded by a Hollywood newsreel crew for distribution throughout North America -- and also manages to track down several Winnipeggers who witnessed the acted-out assault first hand.

"Seeing them like that was a little bit surprising," witness James S. Hicks, says of the Nazi invaders. "But again, it became rather obvious after a while that this was a staged event.

"For a young guy who didn't know a heck of a lot about real life, it was quite an eye opener. It was an exciting time -- dreadful, but still an exciting time."

The local media were fully involved -- this newspaper ran a headline screaming BOMBS RAVAGE WINNIPEG AS AIRPORT FIGHT RAGES; Casualties Are High During Terror Raids (the alarming bold-faced alert was tempered by an above-the-Free-Press-banner notation that "This Did Not Take Place; But It Could Happen Here). And the rival Winnipeg Tribune went as far as to circulate an edition whose front page had the paper's name crossed out and replaced by Das Winnipeger Lagenblatt and a front page full of stories printed in German.

It's worth noting, too, that unlike the upcoming military exercise Operation Charging Bison, which will invade parts of the city at the end of April after much discussion, debate and media coverage, "If Day" arrived in Winnipeg on Feb. 19, 1942, without any real prior warning to the general public.

Apparently, the stunt worked. A fake invasion that cost $3,000 to stage produced $60 million in Victory Bonds sales (including a one-day total of $3 million from Winnipeggers on "If Day" itself).

* * *

First filmmakers: Young, talented documentarians from Manitoba's aboriginal community are given a showcase for their work this afternoon on First Stories, a locally produced CBC special that airs at 4:30 p.m.

The half-hour program highlights the efforts of three aspiring filmmakers who were part of a new Aboriginal Filmmaker's Program -- a co-operative effort sponsored by the National Film Board, CBC Manitoba, Manitoba Film & Sound and Telefilm Canada.

The trio of five-minute-long first directorial efforts includes Patrick Ross, a cinematic profile of an ex-convict and aspiring artist by new filmmaker (and fellow ex-con) Ervin Chartrand; Apples and Indians, a very personal reflection by director Lorne Olson on an outrageous and racist comment made to him by a schoolteacher when he was a child ("Indians are like apples -- they may be red on the outside, but on the inside they're white like everyone else, and that makes them OK"); and Nganawendaanan Nde'ing (I Keep Them In My Heart), a filmic statement by Shannon Letandre about the importance of maintaining connections with her rural-reserve roots and her grandparents' traditional way of life.

If the point of these very short projects is to identify artists deserving of a chance to do bigger, better things, well, mission accomplished.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 18, 2006 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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