Alzheimer's indie film moves locals

The Vogue Theatre screened a film of musician John Mann’s struggles with Alzheimer’s disease. - Phil McLachlan
The Vogue Theatre screened a film of musician John Mann’s struggles with Alzheimer’s disease.
— image credit: Phil McLachlan

By Phil McLachlan

The Vogue Theatre presented its first Indie Film of the new year, and set the bar high by giving audience members a look into the mind of an Alzheimer’s victim.

Winner of the Audience Choice award for Canadian documentary at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and Top 3 Audience Choice favorite at Toronto’s Hot Docs, Spirit Unforgettable is the beautiful yet tragic story of a legendary musician who slowly starts to forget his legacy.

Iconic Canadian Celtic rock band, Spirit of the West, not only changed the Canadian music scene forever, but also possessed incredible live show energy, thanks to the legendary frontman, John Mann.

Mann was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 51. Before this diagnosis, Mann fought and beat colorectal cancer in 2009. Through captivating and perfectly executed cinematic technique, Spirit Unforgettable opens up a window into the life of a man who loved music, and loved performing even more.

Spirit of the West was the first rock band to introduce Celtic themes and make it to the records. Never before had a Celtic band made it to that level of popularity or fame. Starting off as a band that thought it legendary to play music for free beer, Spirit of the West grew into a timeless piece of music history.

Spirit Unforgettable introduces each band member, giving a history of the group and how they came to be. In the early 2000’s, after over 20 years of extensive touring and performances, frontman John Mann started to show signs of forgetfulness. Mann’s approach to this news starts at denial, which transforms to acknowledgement and eventually acceptance that he did, in fact, have Alzheimer’s.

With the acceptance of this disease out of the way, the band started to find ways to help Mann remember. More practice worked for a while, but as Mann’s condition worsened, an Ipad was installed on stage with the lyrics that Mann could read from while singing. However, even this was a challenge for him, as he not only started to forget the lyrics, but also the tune.

Early on in the development of the disease, Mann was brave in coming out to the public, which received this news with loving arms. Since this announcement, shows were sold out and the then-college kids turned adults sang along with Mann just like they did in their earlier years.

By the end of the film, Mann’s thick skin and resilient attitude towards life is shed, and we are allowed the moment of gazing into the tearful blue eyes of a man so full of life, yet so stripped of his memories. Throughout the film, Mann and his incredibly supportive wife search for cures, to take away what Mann refers to as, “An ever-approaching white fog”.

Spirit of the West decides to play one final show, and they are booked at the epitome of live performance venues; Massey Hall. During the show, Mann is struggling to read the lyrics, and stops in exhaustion. The crowd, standing from the start, sings along so loudly that the band, still playing their instruments, stop to just listen to the legacy that they had created.

Spirit Unforgettable is a story about family, a love for rock-and-roll, as well as the tragedy of mental illness and how it not only affects the victim, but also everyone around them. This is the first Indie Film of the year, shown by the Vogue Theatre, and is presented with support from the Fernie Arts Station.

Indie Films are shown on the first Sunday of each month at 5 p.m., and cost $10 for adults, and $8 for youth.

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