BBC ALBA shares the epic journey of A Bear Named Wojtek in exclusive VE Day premiere

To mark the anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (VE DAY), BBC ALBA is giving viewers an exclusive opportunity to unravel the story of A Bear Named Wojtek with a special Gaelic broadcast of the award-winning animation.  

Airing on BBC ALBA and BBC iPlayer on Wednesday 8 May, this is the first opportunity for UK audiences outside of the film festival circuit to explore the true story of Wojtek the Bear.

The half hour animated film, dubbed in Gaelic with English subtitles, tells the epic journey of an orphaned Syrian brown bear who was adopted by Polish soldiers during World War II, becoming a beacon of hope and an emblem of their fate.

The story begins with a platoon of Polish soldiers trading rations for a small orphaned Syrian bear cub that Piotr Prendys, a member of the 22nd Artillery Corps of the 2nd Polish Army, names Wojtek – ‘happy warrior’. To Piotr, the bear comes to represent his lost homeland, needing protection and care to become strong and independent again. To Wojtek, Piotr and the soldiers become his only family. 

Tragically, the realpolitik of the war’s outcome ultimately force Piotr and Wojtek to become refugees in Scotland, with Wojtek confined in Edinburgh Zoo. 

Directed by Scottish filmmaker Iain Gardner, and produced by Iain Harvey and Wlodzimierz Matuszewski, Mathan Leis an Ainm Wojtek / A Bear named Wojtek is a love story for one’s homeland; and an important subject in times of refugees, nationalism and xenophobia.

Producer Iain Harvey said: “This is an emotional story, not just because it is true - though the film makes no pretence of being a documentary - but through the extraordinary parallels of recent events: the Covid pandemic restricting movement, and then the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The agony of losing loved ones and the plight of refugees is symbolised by the history of Wojtek the Bear.

“Coupled with the beautiful artwork and the haunting music by Normand Roger, it is a film that will never lose its appeal.”

Piotr’s experience echoes that of many Polish people, who would become the biggest losers of the War as their land is bargained off to the Soviet Union. Despite feeling abandoned and betrayed, the Polish fortitude continues today via Wojtek: still a celebrated legend and symbol of hope. 

Co-produced by Filmograf in Poland and The Illuminated Film Company in the UK, Mathan Leis an Ainm Wojtek / A Bear named Wojtek was financed by the Polish Film Institute, Screen Scotland, and the UK Government-supported BFI Young Audiences Content Fund

Mathan Leis an Ainm Wojtek / A Bear named Wojtek will premiere on BBC ALBA and BBC iPlayer on VE Day, Wednesday 8 May, at 7pm (in Gaelic with English subtitles).