Home > CMH > Vol. 14 (2005) > Iss. 3
Very little has been written about the Canadian Army Film Unit (CAFU) since the end of the Second World War, despite Jon Farrell’s postulation. There have been a few short newspaper articles related to teh Film Unit and the D-Day footage that made it famous, but there has been no scholarly study by either military or film historians. The purpose of the CAFU was to create an official audio-visual record of Canada’s Army, just as the official historians, war artists, and photographers were documenting other aspects of the war. The Film Unit started as only a few men, but expanded substantially throughout the war, increasing the scope and breadth of its productions. The men and women of the CAFU who operated the cameras, edited the film, and then distributed the finished products were different from the civilian war correspondents and commercial newsreel cameramen who were also creating a visual record of the war. The CAFU attached cameramen to military units and they shot real-time footage of Canadians in battle. This footage was then used to create the CAFU films, and formed the basis of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and commercial newsreel company productions.
Most of the existing scholarship exploring Canadian film and the Second World War focuses on the NFB and John Grierson, the father of the documentary in Canada and the NFB’s first film commissioner. The historiography suggests that NFB was, for all practical purposes, the main film institution creating Canadian motion pictures. This was true, but much of its wartime film footage came from the cameras of the CAFU—footage that was shot in harm’s way. Despite this neglect by historians, the CAFU played an essential role in the history of Canadian film. Much of what subsequent generations have seen or know about the Second World War comes from footage shot by the Film Unit. Yet it is a difficult story to tell since it must be pieced together using primary sources, both textual and audio-visual. The Film Unit will receive the credit that it deserves and will find its place again in the history of the Second World War.
Klotz, Sarah "Shooting the War: The Canadian Army Film Unit in the Second World War." Canadian Military History 14, 3 (2005)