An interview with Paul Gross
By Lauren Paulsen, Senior Columnist
After writing Passchendaele, Paul Gross swore up and down that he would never make another war movie, because they are so complicated to make, and take forever to finance. But then he was invited to meet and greet Canadian troops in Afghanistan in 2010.
“[The war] seemed to bear almost no relationship to what I had been led to believe was happening by either [of the] governments and the media, for the most part,” he said to the Other Press. “It was vastly more complicated and lethal and opaque and baffling.”
Gross decided to come back and photograph parts of the country in early 2011. He met many new people who were affected by the war and they told him their stories. It was these many, many stories that he used to form the basis of his idea for Hyena Road.
Although Gross hadn’t planned on making another war movie, he felt compelled to show Canadians back home at least a glimpse of what it was like. He feels that the burden we place on the men and women who fight for our country is far greater than we realize, and that we should know the enormity of what we are asking of them when they go to fight on our behalf in a foreign land.
It is quite inevitable that Hyena Road will be compared to Gross’s previous war movie, Passchendaele, but as any viewer can see after watching it, the movies are completely different. The whole creation and style are different, as are the time periods and wars that the movies are based on.
“I didn’t even think much about Passchendaele when I was making it,” Gross said. “I kind of think of them as bookends, in a way, that they are on opposite sides of the spectrum.”
Part of this difference is in the way that they were filmed. Hyena Road lacked a dolly track and any crane shots, which were commonly used in Passchendale. While I was watching Hyena Road, I found the action to be so much more hectic and immediate because of this filming choice.
Gross and his crew did their best to make the movie as authentic and accurate as it could possibly be. Even small details such as what they say on communications traffic were based on fact.
One very big asset to the movie was having Niamatullah Arghandabi play The Ghost. Big A, as the crew often called him, is not actually an actor. Instead, he is heavily involved in his country’s politics, and, in the past, actually served under the real Ghost. His insight was invaluable.
All of the characters are actually based on either real people that Gross met or combinations of people. Not only did he have a person who worked under The Ghost to lend his wisdom, he also met with the real Ghost. The Cleaner, a character in the movie, was another person that Gross actually met with and spoke to. He managed to speak with these amazing people through the help of an Intelligence Officer.
The Canadian Forces were amazing when it came to helping with the movie, offering a lot of insight and advice, and opening their doors wide to Gross and his crew. Much of the footage of the Canadian army base in Hyena Road is from a real Canadian base in Montreal.
“Without them, we of course couldn’t have done it,” Gross said. “I think the reason that they’re so open is that they were very confident in what they were doing and very committed to the mission and felt that they were conducting themselves with great honour and integrity, and that’s true.”
When it came to talking about the cast, Gross was all praise. Despite the long hours and hard work, everybody was fully committed to it.
“[Making Hyena Road] was hugely enjoyable because everybody showed up to work and was eager and keen,” he said. “Everybody just sort of took ownership of the film, and that’s kind of what you both need and want when you’re doing small, independent features.”
Speaking with Gross about his movie showed just how much passion he has for his work. Making Hyena Road for him was not just about making a movie but about sending a message: war is a big deal.
“We shouldn’t lose these things so quickly in our memory,” he said. “It is a big disservice to those who served and the true nature of our history.”
Gross also wants all Canadians to know that “regardless of whether we think we should be involved in such a conflict or not, we can take great pride in the fact that [the Canadian Armed Forces] represent us with a huge degree of integrity and honour.”