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Spirit Unforgettable: a Scenic City Film Festival screening

Written by Jesse Wilkinson

There’s an iconic Canadian band whose frontman has been diagnosed with a debilitating disease that affects the brain. They have decided to continue touring despite the lead singer’s deteriorating memory and have opted for one final show as a goodbye to fans – a risky move, but a legendary one.

No, I’m not talking about Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip.

Unfortunately, there are two Canadian bands who’ve watched this devastating scenario unfold: Spirit of the West has been given significantly less media coverage as they’ve struggled to tour in the face of their lead singer, John Mann’s, diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 51. Mann’s passion for the stage is clear, through both his music and acting career, and his fight to continue this career is inspiring.

Photo: The Globe and Mail

The coverage of John Mann’s story was limited until Pete McCormack made a “wildly powerful, devastating, and inspirational film” called Spirit Unforgettable that has screened across Canada picking up awards at the Vancouver International Film Festival and Toronto’s Hot Docs.

And now, thanks to Scenic City Film Festival in collaboration with the Alzheimer Society of Grey-Bruce, it will be coming to Owen Sound on March 23 at the Heartwood Hall.

I’ll be there, and I’m not going because I’m a huge Spirit of the West fan; I’m a fan, but I’ll be honest – I’ve only dabbled in their discography over the years. I didn’t even know they had twelve full-length albums that span thirty years. I’m most familiar, as many Canadians are, with their 1990 album Save This House, which included their biggest hit and probably the best pub song to ever exist (I’m serious. I have danced more often to Home for a Rest than any other song in existence. I’ve linked arms with more people to that song; I’ve sung those lyrics louder than any other. Period. And after backpacking through both England and Ireland, I know exactly what the lines “I’m so sick from the drink/ I need home for a rest” really mean so I can belt them out with full conviction.)

Photo: Ottawa Citizen

No, I will be there because I love stories; I love music; and I love local opportunities to celebrate Canadian culture. Judging by the trailer, this film’s going to be an emotional one, and that’s something I look forward to. I never got to see Spirit of the West play live, so I hope this brings me a little closer to who they were as a band and how they ended, and how someone deals with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

McCormack’s telling an important story – one that will start a conversation. Literally. Following the film there’ll be a Q & A with Alzheimer Society’s Sandra Hong with food donated from Milk Maid Fine Cheese and Gourmet Food. Cultural events like this are a great opportunity to learn, converse, and find deeper truths in the lives of others. That’s the power of film. I hope that’s the power of this film.

Doors open at 6:30 and the film starts at 7:30. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the Heartwood Home this week and at the Heartwood Hall on the evening of the event. Tickets are also available on Ticketfly.

To open the evening, Larry Jensen, one half of Owen Sound’s Poet Laureate team, and local musician Kiera McArthur will perform his song “Do You Know Me” about Larry’s own father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and a large portion of the proceeds for this event will be going to the Alzheimer Society of Grey-Bruce.

See you there.


Written by Jesse Wilkinson

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Jesse Wilkinson

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