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Okotoks veteran bringing military experience to the big screen

Okotoks Legion chaplain Kurtis Sanheim plays a prominent role in 'The Liberation Men,' an upcoming Second World War film that will be screened in Okotoks on May 5.

An Alberta veteran is showcasing his military experience and acting chops in an upcoming film.

Kurtis Sanheim, chaplain for the Okotoks Legion, brings years of military experience to his role in The Liberation Men.

"I was in the army reserves for about 16 years," said Sanheim, who served in Croatia in 1993, "and so obviously having a background in the military, it just made it a breeze because I had observed and watched so many officers."

Filmed near Ottawa, The Liberation Men depicts the Canadian army's efforts towards liberating a town in Holland from Nazi occupation during the Second World War, and is based on the true story of a Canadian war hero.

"What I love about this film is that it is based on a true story of what Canadians actually did in Holland," said Sanheim. "In this particular case, in this particular town, these characters in this movie are 100 per cent based on real people who actually did what you see in the movie.

"More or less, it was Canadians that liberated Holland, so that really makes it much more touching to me because I'm aware of how much we actually did.

Sanheim, who also has acting credits in Heartland, Fargo and the upcoming film The Order starring Jude Law and Nicholas Hoult, plays a commanding officer in a key supporting role.

To get in character, he had to make some big changes.

"I was about 230 [pounds] and I wanted to get down to about 200," said Sanheim, "because I work out a lot and I'm quite bulky, but everybody in 1945, they're not like that, right? They're skinny ... because there was food rationing and years and years of fighting.

"Everything was much more physical, so that's quite a different look back then. I didn't want to look like a modern person, so I lost a lot of weight. I lost 30 pounds for the role."

Sanheim also grew out his moustache for the role, rather than wearing a prosthetic.

Besides looking the part, Sanheim's military experience factored heavily into his performance.

"I was a sergeant in the military," he said. "I trained soldiers for years and years and years. I was never an officer or CO (commanding officer) but just being in a position of leading troops let me understand."

Sanheim's military experience also helped him subvert military clichés. 

"For example, CO's don't get all emotional and amped up and everything, like you might see a drill sergeant in a movie, right? A drill sergeant in a movie is yelling and screaming at the troops and he's very emotional, because he's trying to train him and stuff.

"But a commanding officer on the front lines of a war effort, he's going to be very reserved, very calm, cool and collected, cool as a cucumber. Because he's trying to portray that to his troops, right? So I I have to be very calm."

Sanheim is happy to see more Canadian representation in the war film genre.

"Most war movies that we watch are American," he said. "In this case, to be able to see Canadian content, World War Two movies of real heroes that were Canadians actually doing heroic things, that's what's appealing to me about the show."

Off-screen, Sanheim is the president of painting company Veteran Painting Inc. and serves as chaplain for the Okotoks Legion.

"I'm a peer support counsellor with people with operational stress injuries, people with post traumatic stress, veterans, first responders, in-uniform service people," he said. "I've been doing that for a couple years, helping with that, doing counselling and peer support and mentoring and suicide prevention, those sorts of things."

Sanheim hopes to honour the armed forces through his work on and off screen.

"What we're trying to do with the Legion is raise awareness for the younger generation to not forget," he said. "It's great to show teenagers and young people in their 20s and 30s today what it is that Canadian soldiers did when they were teenagers in World War Two, and really encourage the pride in our country, because freedom is not free. Freedom has a cost and freedom that we have in the West is bought at the cost of lives and the cost of sacrifice."

The Liberation Men will be screened at Okotoks Cinemas on Sunday, May 5 from 1 to 3 p.m., followed by a Q&A with Sanheim. Tickets for the screening are available on Eventbrite.

Watch the trailer for The Liberation Men here.

Amir Said

About the Author: Amir Said

Amir Said is a reporter and photographer with the Western Wheel covering local news in Okotoks and Foothills County. For story tips, reach out to [email protected].
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