PHOTOS: Art mirrors life in Sarnia director’s latest film shoot

Sarnia’s Aaron Huggett directs the film and organized its cast and crew. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz 

The world is in chaos and a deadly virus is claiming the lives of millions worldwide.

No, it’s not 2020, but 1918.

The Spanish influenza pandemic is the backdrop against which the action unfolds in The Ace and the Scout, the latest film from Sarnia director and producer Aaron Huggett.

In this scene Dylan Bernier, left, is so moved by Billy Bishop’s recruitment speech he asks his “mother,” Nancy Bernier, if he can join the Canadian Army to “fight back the Huns.”
Troy Shantz

The World War One-era flick offers a look at the military contributions of fighter ace Billy Bishop and Indigenous sniper Francis Pegahmagabow.

The Journal visited the set in Petrolia recently where filming was wrapping up. In one scene, which required 29 cast and crew, Bishop tells compelling stories in a town square as he recruits soldiers for the war effort.

In the crowd, background actors wear face masks. COVID-19 appropriate, sure, but historically accurate as well, Huggett said.

The unusually deadly Spanish flu infected one third of the world’s population and killed 20 million people or more.

While shooting at locations across southern Ontario, Huggett has scrambled to meet local public health guidelines while watching for signs of illness in the crew. The pandemic has added four months to the production schedule and 20% to the budget.

“We tracked who was on set, at what time, what time they came and went — all the potential contacts,” Huggett said. “It was different.”

Twenty-one military tents featured in war scenes also doubled as isolation spaces, where the talent could relax without worrying about spreading germs.

Many of the cast and crew are related and were already in existing social bubbles, Huggett added.

With the filming now complete, the editing is next, with a goal of screening The Ace and the Scout around Remembrance Day, 2021.

Michael Vanhevel, playing Canadian flying ace Billy Bishop, rehearses a scene for The Ace and the Scout. The First World War-era film tells the story of Bishop and Indigenous sniper Francis Pegahmagabow. Troy Shantz

Meanwhile, Ontario’s film and television industry created 45,000 jobs and contributed more than $2 billion to the provincial economy last year, but most of it was in Toronto and Northern Ontario.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley has joined a push by regional mayors and the Southwestern Ontario Film Alliance to create a Film and Production Hub in this region.

The mayors recently asked the province for the same tax incentives and development funding currently available for films made in Toronto and Northern Ontario.

Director Aaron Huggett plans a shot with camera assistant Diana Richardson.
Troy Shantz

Makeup artist Jessica Hext does a last minute touchup on Michael Vanhevel, who plays Canadian flying ace Billy Bishop.
Troy Shantz