A new documentary about late Red Deer war veteran and poet-farmer Joseph Young is airing on Telus Optik after earning accolades at film festivals across North America and Australia.
Poetry, War and the Dance of Life was made by local filmmaker Randy Kirk with a $50,000 Telus Storyhive grant. Filming was done two years ago, while Second World War survivor, Young, was celebrating his centennial.
The Red Deer-area veteran has since died at age 102 on July 7.
Kirk is pleased to help preserve Young’s story of perseverance over hardship in the 25-minute film. He noted the Second World War experience is a “living history that we are losing” with the death of each veteran.
Poetry, War and the Dance of Life is about a long life, well-lived. But Kirk also considers it a love story of Young and his wife of over 70 years, Nettie, with whom he raised 11 children.
The documentary spans nearly a century — from Young’s adolescence, when he began writing nature poetry at the age of 16, near Carrot River, Sask., to the war, then the farming years beyond.
Young joined the Canadian army in 1941 to fight the Nazis in Europe. While in the 8th Reconnaissance Regiment of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, Young landed in France on D-Day.
He later sustained a serious back injury from shrapnel that required six months of rehabilitation.
After four years of fighting, Young returned to Saskatchewan physically and mentally scarred, having lost childhood friends overseas. After the war, he started a new chapter by marrying a 19-year-old girl he met at a dance.
Kirk said he really enjoyed talking to Joe, Nettie, and their children about their life-long romance.
The Youngs, who moved to Central Alberta in the 1960s, attended dances at the Red Deer Legion for as long as their health allowed. Kirk remains struck by their devotion to each other amid the many hardships of raising and providing for 11 kids.
“No matter how hard life was, they were always dancing,” he recalled.
“They were committed to their relationship and making it work, no matter what” — which is a timely lesson in this era of 50 per cent divorce, Kirk added.
The documentary is interspersed with passages of Young’s poetry being read by his children. Kirk believes writing poems helped Young resolve inner turmoil during tough times.
“Thirty to 40 per cent of the poems in his book were about his experiences during the war…. they helped him express the horror…”
The rest were about his love of nature and farming, and about his beloved wife and family.
“Some of his descriptions were just beautiful,” recalled Kirk, who was particularly moved by a poem Young wrote about the harvest moon.
Poetry, War and the Dance of Life, co-produced by Kirk’s partner Linda Pidherney, was screened at film festivals across Canada and the U.S., as well as in Vienna, Austria, and Sydney, Australia, where it won Best Original Score for Red Deer composer Josh Rickard.
The film also earned an Award of Excellence from the Canadian International Short Film Festival in St. John, NB, an Honourable Mention at the Toronto Independent Film Festival, and was an Official Selection at the Docs Without Borders Film Festival and the Canadian International Faith and Film Festival.
Kirk hopes it will be selected for showing at the Central Alberta Film Festival in Red Deer this fall.