Al Purdy was Here is a documentary directed by Brian D. Johnson, making his feature directorial debut. It held its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this year as part of the TIFF Docs program and finished third in the audience choice documentary voting.
Before finding fame, Purdy endured decades of poverty and failure. A high-school dropout from Trenton, Ont., he hopped freights during the Depression, and worked in mattress factories from Vancouver to Montreal. He finally found his voice in an A-frame cabin on Roblin Lake in Ontario’s Prince Edward County. Built from salvaged lumber by Purdy and his wife, Eurithe, in 1957, the cabin became a mecca for the pioneers of Canadian literature, including Margaret Lawrence, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and Dennis Lee. Fifteen years after Purdy’s death, Canada’s arts community rallies to save the cabin and turn it into a writing retreat for a new generation of poets.
“I didn’t choose this story; it chose me,” explains Johnson. “My wife, Marni Jackson, brought Al Purdy into our home when she began writing a play about him then got drawn into the campaign to restore his A-frame cabin as a writing retreat. She asked me to edit a reel of archival footage for a fundraising show. Which is how it all started over two years ago.”
Al Purdy Was Here is rated PG.