Al Purdy Was Here Review

“Who the hell is Al Purdy?” When I first heard that former Maclean’s film critic Brian D. Johnson was making a film about a Canadian poet I figured my ignorance was fairly contained. Yet for many that I do know and admire – Leonard Coen, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Denis Lee – Purdy is an iconic, critical voice to Canada’s poetic legacy.

Johnson’s film provides biographic elements, musical contributions and cinematic flights of fancy (including some stunning drone shots). Framed by a storyline about the preservation of Purdy’s A-frame cottage that now serves as a writer’s retreat, the film manages to prod those who knew the man into providing warm and insightful recollections.

This is no hagiography, and for fans and neophytes alike you’re going to get a richer and more complex portrayal than films of this ilk often provide. While the first act does plenty of heavy lifting to set the pieces in play, it’s the last two thirds where the film finds its voice, comfortable in letting Purdy’s words do much of the talking. We’re introduced to the land he called home, and see from those affected by his writing both the quality and caliber of Purdy’s work. The film serves both as an introduction/ invitation into the poet’s work and a celebration by those who knew him and his work best.

This review was originally published as part of our TIFF 2015 coverage


Read our in-depth conversation with Brian D. Johnson here.