DOXA Fest: Dear Audrey delivers a love story for the ages

The unspoken message is that through her example in health and sickness, Audrey Schirmer clearly made her husband, filmmaker Martin Duckworth, a better man

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      Featuring Martin Duckworth and Audrey Schirmer. Directed by Jeremiah Hayes. Produced by Jeremiah Hayes, André Barro, and Annette Clarke for the National Film Board

      Canadian documentary maker Martin Duckworth spent decades telling other people's truths.

      But the former National Film Board director and cinematographer is actually in front of the camera for some of his most compelling and candid moments in cinema. It comes in the feature-length documentary, Dear Audrey, which is available online at this year's DOXA Documentary Film Festival.

      Jeremiah Hayes (Reel InjunRumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World) directed this intimately nuanced story of the 89-year-old Duckworth's life, which began on March 8, 1933.

      "I came from a feminist womb on International Women's Day," Duckworth declares in reference to his mom, Muriel, a noted peace and women's-rights activist.

      There's a hint of what's to come when Duckworth reveals how he was reminded that he was born on a stormy night. And therefore, he was headed for a stormy life.

      "I've been through a lot of storms," Duckworth adds.

      Martin Duckworth's career was rooted in telling the truth. He shows his candour in Dear Audrey.

      There's something very compelling about a man who is speaks honestly on-camera about his flaws.

      Duckworth frankly reflects back on his first two difficult marriages before meeting Audrey Schirmer, a kind, courageous, and extremely talented photographer for whom the film is named.

      In the film, Schirmer is in the middle stages of Alzheimer's—she wanders off sometimes, needs help getting dressed, and more often communicates through gentle touches rather than words. And Duckworth's utterly devoted to her and their adult daughter Jacqueline, who's on the autism spectrum.

      Duckworth, a former Concordia University film-studies prof, admits at one point that he behaved very badly with his daughter in the past. He would raise his voice and sometimes slap her when she was much younger, not understanding the roots of her behavioural challenges.

      He confesses that he remains very ashamed of himself for doing this.

      "Audrey stuck with me," he says. "I'm so lucky to have had such a faithful partner."

      Audrey Schirmer's character shines throughout the film.

      The unspoken message is that through her example, she clearly made Duckworth a better man. 

      Dear Audrey is filled with touching moments showing Duckworth's deep love for his wife, who taught photography for 16 years at the Saidye Bronfman Centre in Montreal.

      The scenes in their rambling and sometimes chaotic household are augmented with glorious footage from the '60s and '70s and imaginative black-and-white animation.

      Topping it off is the warm, understated, and authentic original music by Walker Grimshaw. It's presented to just the right degree to reinforce this love story but not so heavy as to overwhelm it or become treacly. 

      Anyone who watches Dear Audrey will undoubtedly conclude that Hayes is a masterful filmmaker. Thus, it should come as no surprise that he's one of the nine filmmakers in competition for DOXA's Colin Low Award for Best Canadian director. 

      Video: Watch the trailer for Dear Audrey.

      ( has articles about three of the other finalists in this category: Beyond Extinction: Sinixt Resurgence by Ali Kazimi, Doug and the Slugs and Me by Teresa Alfeld, and Love in the Time of Fentanyl by Colin Askey.)