(Bethune, héros de notre temps)
Format: 16mm Black & White
Runtime: 59 min
National Film Board of Canada
This award-winning biographical documentary is a forceful and sympathetic portrait of Norman Bethune, the Canadian doctor who served first with the loyalist forces against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War and later with Mao’s Red Army in China. In Spain, he pioneered the world’s first mobile blood-transfusion service; in China, his work behind battle lines to save the wounded – and his death while operating under fire – made him a legendary figure, to the Chinese in particular.
Bethune is arguably Donald Brittain’s finest work apart from The Champions trilogy (1977 and 1986). It is comprised of photographs and interviews with some of Bethune’s surviving friends and colleagues, and is held together by Brittain’s marvellous commentary (narrated by Lister Sinclair), which takes the view that Bethune – a committed communist – was a "great man." Some criticized this approach as being antithetical to what Bethune himself stood for. Furthermore, the political implications made the National Film Board management nervous, and as a result the film never received official approval. In spite of the controversy, Bethune was a great success in Canada and the United States.