2012/08/15


The Fate of America: A Review

  The Fate of America is a 1997 Canadian documentary by Jacques Godbout. The film shows how Jacques Godbout and his friend René-Daniel Dubois, two artists from Quebec view the Battle of the Plains of Abraham as both set out to make films that focus on the battle and the major figures involved, primarily General Wolfe and Montcalm.  René-Daniel Dubois is working on a screen play for a dramatized version of the battle and the events leading up to it for an American studio. While at the same time Jacques Godbout is working on his documentary that also examines what lead up to the battle, the battle and what its significance on the history of America is.  Godbout also uses this as an opportunity to ask a number of other questions about the nature of history and he begins to have questions about his personal feelings towards the battle and how it has come to affect him as he tries to understand the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Godbout carefully approached the event, doing his best to put the battle and the key figures into their historical context, and making an effort to objectively look at the events without personal feelings influencing his judgements.
  
The Fate of America begins with a summary of the events of the battle, and describing the importance of these events in shaping Canadian and even North American history and paying special attention to how this affected the lives of the people of Quebec and how this has continued to this day.  The description given at the beginning is very brief but is supplemented throughout the film with a number of more detailed accounts of the events surrounding the battle. With a large part of the middle of the film describing in great detail how the battle unfolded and the tactics used by each of the leader Montcalm and Wolfe and then how the English came to with the battle as well as the implications for this politically for people living in Quebec. 

  Godbout travels to London where he meets with Dubois and they being to work together on their projects.  During his time in London Godbout meets with Andrew Wolfe-Burroughs a direct descendant of General Wolfe to hear what his opinions are on his ancestor.  Godbout hopes in meeting with Wolfe’s descendant he can get a better insight into the battle and impacts. Andrew Wolfe-Burroughs is described as a BBC television journalist and a Liberal.  He tries to put Wolfe’s military career into place historically and is makes a serious effort not to judge it by today’s morals, and the problems that are seen in hindsight as a result of British imperialism, but recognizes that they saw themselves as doing good and bringing enlightenment and other positivism to the people that they conquered.  While an interesting discussion at times it fails to lend much to the film. His conversation with Wolfe-Burroughs makes some comments on the importance of putting the events into their context which is nothing revolutionary and it adds little to changing the understanding of the battle or its significance.

  Godbout then travels to the south of France to meet with a descendant of Montcalm.  This is again an interesting conversation but does not answer any of the questions that Godbout is looking to answer.  He meets with Baron Georges Savarin de Marestan, Montcalm’s descendant, who working on his own to rebuild his ancestor’s estate, at the time doing the masonry by hand. He is a monarchist and hope for the return of the Bourbon dynasty and argues that the aristocracy were servants of the people.  It is an interesting interview to watch but again like the one with Andrew Wolfe-Burroughs it does not help to come any closer to answering the questions posed by the film maker. 
  
  Godbout returns to Quebec after this two interviews and visits the school board in an attempt to find out about the education system and how history is taught in schools. There are a number of scenes that show him and Dubois trying to get basic information but are unable to due to the bureaucracy and then find the office that dealing with history empty.  These scenes do not seem to have a place in the rest of the movie, it does go to show the lack of importance placed on history which turns out to be one of Godbout’s motivations.  He sees that history is losing its importance to modern generations and in a way is trying to understand what the implications will be but it leads the film off track in a way that is hard to follow.   

   This also leads the film shifting and Godbout reflects on the place on the Plains of Abraham in Canadian history and the way in which myths have been built around it but also how it is at least in the director’s view becoming forgotten and more irrelevant to new generations of Canadians.  Godbout fears that his might be the last generation that care about the battle and how it influenced Canadian history.  He tells a story about his father shortly before he died he told him not to forget that the English burned there houses.  The director takes this as an important idea because up to this point and he feels it too that this has been a part of him as a Québécois and the battle has in a way been a large part of his identity and that of past generations of Québécois so if it is forgotten what will that mean.

   At times it is very unclear what Godbout is trying to do with his movie which does not make for the most engaging experience as he is constantly shifting focus and is he unsure what his goals for the film have become.  This is even addresses in a scene in the film. Godbout is with another man discussing the documentary he is making and how he has the ability to shift his focus throughout the filming and it is one of the benefits of documentaries for Godbout because he is not restrained. Though this does not make for a great film as you watch interviews and conversations that do not relate to one another and most of the questions that are asked get forgotten a few scenes later. 

  Of the questions Godbout asks the one he most successful argues asks about the ability for a fictional dramatized version of history to present good history.  By showing the process of René-Daniel Dubois working on his script he shows the obvious problems this presents in creating accurate history.  IN the film Dubois struggles with when to sacrifice history for a stronger narrative. He is not sure who will be the villain and who will be the hero, and that this is not motivated by research but by what makes the finest story. Dubois sees ten possible villains and some who could also be the hero.  Godbout does not face with it clear to him that this fails to present a valid from of history.  As he is unable to manipulate the truth and the facts for story as it may be convenient but has to face the reality of what he finds.  From this it is clear that the dramatized film goal is to put focus on entertainment ahead of education of accuracy.  The film maker goes on to describe in great detail his vision for the film even before he had begun to do any research.

   Godbout creates and interesting and humorous look into the battle of the Plains of Abraham and asks a number of interesting questions in the film, which does encourage the audience to think about the how this event has shaped the history of all North America.  What he fails to do is offer much insight beyond this or even the necessary information to let the audience answer the questions.  By constantly shifting focus and not following through with a single idea Godbout fails to say anything very meaning full about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.  In the end all that we walk away with is the same story surrounding the events and are told the same story of the English scaling the cliffs and defeating the French, Montcalm and Wolfe dying and how this battle passes control of North America over to the British.  It is a familiar story to Canadians, and it remains a relevant part of Canadian history, continuing to affect how Canadian identify themselves and deserves to be studies and have questions asked but I am not sure that Godbout does much to change anyone view on the battle. 

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