Metro Canada: Paul Gross Goes to War Again in “Hyena Road.”
By Richard Crouse – Metro Canada
Paul Gross didn’t plan on directing two war movies back-to-back, that’s just the way it turned out. “I don’t know what I was thinking,” he says with a laugh.
Seven years ago his film Passchendaele, a hybrid of romance and war based around the gruelling 1917 battle of the same name, was highest-budgeted Canadian-produced film ever.
That film was based on the experiences of his maternal grandfather, Michael Joseph Dunne, who served in the First World War. Hyena Road was born out of Gross’s own experiences after visiting Canadian troops in Afghanistan.
“I was mesmerized by the complexity of it and it was nothing like I had been told by the press,” he says, “let alone our government. I thought I should go back with a camera team because they were talking about pulling out of combat operations. I didn’t have a story in mind or the intention of making anything, I just thought it would be a good idea to film it.”
Returning with a modest crew, he shot footage and had long conversations with the soldiers.
“I would pick various guys and jot down their stories. Out of that the story emerged. Nothing in it is actually mine. The assembly of it is mine. That includes the characters. All the characters are based on people I met or composites of people I met.”
He says the story of a young Canadian sniper (Rossif Sutherland) struggling with the ambiguity of the missions his superiors (Gross and Christine Horne) are sanctioning was “written by the soldiers in a sense.”
“I finished the script and gave it to my producing partner Niv Fichman and he was just furious. He said, ‘Why did you have to do another war film?’ Then he read the script and said, ‘Damn you, it’s good. Now we have to make it.’”
Gross, who stars and directs, blended the film he shot in Afghanistan with locations in Jordan to create a seamless look at a very complex subject.
“I look at Hyena Road and think, ‘This sort of the polar opposite of Passchendaele in terms of a war film.’ Passchendaele was partly the way it was because it was the bridge between the romantic period and the modern era. I think Hyena Road is post-modern in that the nature of warfare contains almost no romanticism anymore. It’s very complicated. As one of the characters says in it, ‘There’s no winning, there’s just an end state.’”