Wheeler's Movies Have Heart Canadian Director's World War II Family Drama Was a Highlight of Filmfest DC

Article excerpt

THERE are films like "Tender Mercies," "Norma Rae," and "Driving Miss Daisy" that tug at your heart and won't let go. Canadian director Anne Wheeler's "Bye Bye Blues," which had its United States premiere at the Filmfest DC here, is one of those heart-tuggers, about people so real they could live down the street.

The lethal violence, R- and X-rated eroticism, and drugs that are prevalent in many Hollywood films today are missing from this one about a family torn apart by World War II.

Director Wheeler knew the story well before she shot a frame of film: Her own mother had lived it - braving a harsh life in Canada, raising her children, and waiting for her husband's return from a Japanese prison camp.

"Bye Bye Blues," which won three "Genie" awards (Canadian Oscars), is one of 57 feature films screened at the fourth annual Filmfest DC, which ended last night.

Earlier Wheeler plopped into a chair in her room at a midtown hotel to talk about how she made "Bye Bye Blues." "Yes, it's a family story." she admits, one which she wrote from her own memories and imagination.

Her funny, poignant romance about life in a windswept Canadian town has the authentic ring of a documentary, though it is a feature film. The film's plot is really her mother's half of "War Story," a docudrama based on her father's World War II diaries as a prisoner-of-war doctor in a Japanese prison.

"He was captured in Singapore and kept in a Taiwanese copper mine," she says, before he was sent home after the war. They were separated for six years, from the time the young Canadian doctor, adventurously serving with the Indian Medical Service in 1941, was sent "to places unknown" during the war, and his wife and children were shipped home to Canada. It took her four months, via boat trip around Cape Horn and a train trip from New York to Alberta, Canada, traveling with three sons still in diapers.

Wheeler says her own grandparents were very different, more understanding than the ones in her film. Its heroine, Daisy Cooper, returns home to a bleak life - short on food, money, and jobs because of the war - in a tiny Canadian town that looks like a northern Wyeth painting. The British government sends no money, and her letters to her husband are returned.

Desperate to support her young son and baby girl, she takes a job playing piano with a band at local Saturday-night dances for soldiers going off to war. She turns singer in the band, "The Stardusters," which becomes such a hit it goes on tour. Daisy falls in love with the band's trombone player, Max, but refuses to marry him, remaining faithful to the husband who may or may not survive the war. …