Beaver Creek showing of ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ a sobering, revealing experience

Peter Jackson's film provides a soldier's viewpoint of the war

"They Shall Not Grow Old" is produced and directed by three-time Academy Award-winner Peter Jackson.
Special to the Daily

BEAVER CREEK —  After seeing the World War I documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old,” Paul Hebert was only half joking when he wondered why the bar was closed at the Vilar Performing Arts Center.

Hebert and his wife, Lilla, were among those who took a couple of hours out of their Memorial Day to see filmmaker Peter Jackson’s soldier’s view of the war.

That story was told through restored and colorized film, contemporary artwork, and perhaps most important, the voices of those who’d lived through the war, recorded in the 1960s by the BBC.

It’s inspiring, harrowing, and, due to the colorized scenes, often gruesome.

The voices of the veterans, who then were pretty old men, told tales of life in the trenches, the lack of sanitation, and the horrifying toll the war took.

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Hebert said he lived in London for about 30 years. He and Lilla had been to the battlefields at the Somme — site of the largest battle of the war on the Western Front, fought in 1916. Nearly 1 million men were killed or wounded during the months-long battle.

The Heberts had toured the remains of the trenches where so many fought and died.

Even on those tours, “We didn’t see what the trenches were all about,” Hebert said. The movie brought life in the trenches into focus, he said.

Lilla Hebert is a native of England. That country, its colonies and territories, suffered nearly 1 million combat deaths during the way.

“It was incredible, and shocking,” she said of the film.

The film had a deep effect on Vail Valley Foundation President Mike Imhof. The foundation operates the Vilar center. Before the showing, Imhof told the nearly-full auditorium that he and his wife had seen the film in Denver.

It made such an impact that Imhof quickly reached out to Vilar Center director Duncan Horner and asked him to bring the film to the Vail Valley.

Hosting a showing on Memorial Day was mostly a matter of good timing.

“Today is about remembrance,” Imhoff said, adding his thanks to all those who have sacrificed their lives in defense of their country, and all those who have served, along with their families.

As the crowd filed out, Adam Junkins was quiet and contemplative. That seemed to be the prevailing mood among those who saw the film.

The film, which focuses on soldiers’ stories, not the big picture or strategy, provides a “complete new view view” of the war,” Junkins said.

“You get a whole new idea of the hardships” the soldiers faced, he added.

While there’s nothing fun about “They Shall Not Grow Old,” Junkins said he was glad to have the chance to see the film. And, like Imhof, he added his thanks to all veterans.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at or 970-748-2930.

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