A new documentary, nearly a decade in the making, has a couple of local connections. But its theme of hope in the face of adversity is universal.
“The Healing of Heather Garden” is nearly ready for the screen. For filmmaker Judith Morrow, originally from Margaret, Manitoba, it has been a long journey, but an inspiring one.
“Eight years later,” Morrow said, “I would say this has been a life-changing venture for me. What kept me persevering through the multitude of roadblocks, tedious details, facing one hurdle after another, was the support of wonderful connections and the thought ‘if Heather could do what she did, I could learn to make a film to tell her story.”
The documentary is the first by Morrow, who previously was a therapist/social worker. Her introduction to the story of Heather Garden came first through this connection, and Garden’s inspiring story. A former Boissevain resident, Garden was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1992. As Morrow explained, MS is a highly individual disease – it tends to flow on its own pattern and timetable. She had the classic symptoms, including attacks of paralysis, pain, fatigue, difficulty breathing and others. She went into traditional medical treatment for five years. Often hospitalized as the disease progressed, medical experts told her she would have to move to a new home as she prepared for life in a wheelchair, and she was placed on permanent disability pension. However, through a program of holistic or natural healing, Garden began to improve, to the point where she was walking and later running.
“The documentary will show you how, as she came to know people in the community around Boissevain, she came to see a different way of looking at health and healing. The story will take you through her journey about what she did.”
It was during Garden’s second year of recovery that Morrow became involved. Garden and friend Kim Shaw invited Morrow to be involved in a healing centre they were establishing. A group Morrow was involved with at a healing camp was forming an Aboriginal film collective and asked her to be involved in training sessions for this. The two ended up flowing together.
“My thirty years of experience in seemingly ‘impossible’ situations had taught me that words, images and beliefs can be powerful healing tools, or powerful methods to limit what is possible for human beings,” Morrow stated, “I found Heather and Kim inspiring. I love southwest Manitoba, and wanted to work on a project that was positive for both and myself. I had no idea what lied ahead.”
Morrow bought a camcorder thinking it would be an easy task to make a documentary. Her first interview with Garden went well, but there was no sound. Winning tickets to the opera, she bartered them with a professional cameraman – Victor Dobchuk – who did the next round of interviews.
Over the eight years of making the film, Morrow did get considerable support. Her story editor volunteered his time over two years. She was given help from the Winnipeg Film Group, Video Pool, and received a small grant from the National Film Board. She herself devoted the last two years full time to the endeavor. Support from all quarters was greatly appreciated.”I am happy with the tremendous learning I have gained,” she said, “the people I have come to know – filmmakers and healers and friends who are supportive of the project.”
Over the years of working on the film, she and Garden became good friends. Garden, who has recently returned to Manitoba after a time in New Brunswick and is working again, was a good model for both the trials and the triumph of illness. “Heather is a private person. Being featured in a documentary was difficult. She endured the invasion of privacy because she wants her story to provide hope for others. MS can be lonely. Heather put on a bright face. When people used to ask how she was, she would say ‘oh, I am fine’ no matter what she felt. This kind of illness is painful, not just for the person but also for the family. It was not easy for them to talk about those times.”
A clip of the film has been available on the Net on vimeo.com, and that and other cuts have received strong reviews. For example, Ellen Karr of the Multiple Sclerosis Society said The Healing of Heather Garden was “an inspiring and beautiful story. It focuses on one woman’s journey. Balanced and well done.” This and other reviews point to the fact it is a strong story worth being told.
Morrow said she is hoping to launch the finished product in January. Now she is almost through production, she needs to arrange screenings and distribution rights. As well, she would like to hear some reaction from people in Boissevain, to see if there is some interest in setting up a screening in town, a natural move as there is a two-way local connection.
In the end, Morrow has learned a great deal about filmmaking, illness and different options for treatment. She continues to research holistic medicine, in part for any of her own health needs that may arise. Although happy to be finished with the film, the story does stick with her, as does Heather Garden. She hopes she can help tell her story and spread the hope.
“Illness can leave anyone finding it hard to believe they have the power to take control,” Morrow explained, “Heather believes people need positive companionship to face the challenge of a journey like hers. She cannot provide that companionship for others at this time of her life, and feels she is not an expert on MS, but on what worked for her. “People already drive for hours to come and talk to me looking for answers, but that is not a role I can take on” Heather says. We hope that telling Heather’s story will provide support and perhaps open ideas for others.
This story was originally published in the Boissevain Recorder in December 2012. It is reprinted here with permission. To see more from the Boissevain Recorder go to http://therecorder.ca/