Canadian documentary Perfume War captures the story of modern revolutionist Barb Stegemann and how she turned her compassion towards an intimidating circumstance into a passion that helped a country and an industry.
Before her successes as a public speaker, an entrepreneur, and an activist, Stegemann was inspired to reach for the stars by her close friend Trevor Greene. Greene, a good-natured husband, author, and soldier, was critically wounded during his time in Afghanistan, which instantly limited his day-to-day abilities. After witnessing the aftermath of Trevor’s injury and hearing about more destruction by the same terrorist group, Stegemann reworked rose and orange blossom oils well-known in Afghanistan and Rwanda, and turned it into an alluring fragrance (The 7 Virtues) that gave the war-torn regions an alternative association. Stegemann, however, always kept the best interest of the needy in mind – her thoughtfulness would be exactly what Trevor would appreciate.
Michael Melski’s endearing doc begins as a puff piece towards Stegemann, but it’s anything but. The documentarian (along with nearby guidance provided by Stegemann and Greene) tells a coherent chronicling of Barb’s bumpy road to glory while also giving audiences cultural and political lessons along the way. I may not have agreed entirely with Melski’s filmmaking (jump-cutting between different interviews with Stegemann, constantly breaking the film up with quotes from Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius), but these choices hardly affect the film’s power to whisk the viewer up in unequivocal inspiration.
Perfume War is now playing in select theatres, but I’m already expecting Melski’s doc to wind up on CBC’s documentary channel; given Stegemann’s compliments towards the staff and featured financiers on the hit show Dragon’s Den. However, I would hope Kevin O’Leary – despite his stubbornness – can appreciate how respectfully the film shows him eating his words.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie