War + Kiwi = Empathy

With the wealth of news both good and bad that young people wade through on a daily basis, finding the space and time to care about what happened in the past is hard. Connecting with the events of 100 days ago is a stretch so 100 years ago... It’s literally a lifetime away for the average young person in 2018.


Video footage of World War One has typically been primitive and grainy. Frame speeds were dependant on the winding hand of the cameraman, leaving the footage with a robotic disjointed quality, while the lack of colour adds a further layer of distance between the reality of war and our current society.

Enter Peter Jackson. The oscar winning director, who presided over The Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit films.

Jackson took footage from archives of the Imperial War Museum in the UK, colourised it, converted it to 3D, and threw the full suite of modern techniques at it to bringing it to life in a way that had never before been done.

The first 20 minutes of “They Shall Not Grow Old” is comprised of standard footage, weaved with voiceovers taken from veterans during the 60s and 70s, it is when the colourisation kicks in that the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.


This is the moment Jackson changes this from “just another war documentary” to something new that uses an unprecedented way of engaging with an audience, especially one who might have been born too late to have an intrinsic connection to the footage. Stock images that might have been seen in a history textbook or a half watched documentary, become living breathing young people, who’s stories become a bit more relatable to young people by the nature of their animation. We’re a generation that’s become increasingly dependant on shock or surprise to grab our attention, and this delivers both in spades.

It’s no surprise that the decision has been made to send the film out to every secondary school in the UK, and with the film being released in the US on 17th of December it will be interesting to see how America views it.

A search of the hashtag #TheyShallNotGrowOld brings a wealth of reactions as they were live tweeted, not to mention a crucial sidebar thread by historian Greg Jenner that points out the prism it was being viewed through and gives some brilliant supplementary information.

The ignorance of the young men setting off to what would ultimately become their nightmare is heartbreaking. If they knew then, what we know now, would history tell a different story? But with this narrative we come closer to feeling the story of the men and relating it to our own.


Peter Jackson has used the tools of the future to resurrect the past bringing a new understanding of a period that no longer has living veterans.

Already, students and educators are beginning to connect and relate to World War One in a different manner; whether that be as an immersive story shown in a classroom, or just considering what kind of shoes their great grandchildren are picking out in JD Sports.

However, by making this film Jackson has set a precedent in reimagining that will keep the importance of this time in living memory of young people for the foreseeable future.