Hot Docs 2013: A Breath of Fresh Air

By: Addison WylieIamBreathingcover

Morag McKinnon and Emma Davie’s documentary I Am Breathing is really good and moviegoers will be thankful that they were fortunate to see it.

Audiences feel enlightened having spent time with Neil Platt. Platt, having been diagnosed with MND (Motor Neurone Disease), spends his life paralyzed as he plays with his son and humours his nurturing wife. He loves words and always has interesting things to say and even more interesting ways to say them. Even though the disease narrows down what he can do – and even moreso what he can do by himself – his warm spirit and welcoming eyes stay positive.

Everyone – including Platt – know of the inevitable and have prepared themselves for the worse. Neil does everything he can to take strolls down memory lane in order to give the filmmakers and audience more insight into his earlier days as well as leave his son memorable belongings. McKinnon and Davie show us lots of older home video footage too – weaving these more active days to the present ones.

That attitude of bracing for the inevitable and celebrating Platt’s memories instead of sinking them into a saddening stupor is what makes the documentary stand out. There have been docs that have shown us unfortunate circumstances that almost feel as if they’re cloying at an audience’s emotions. I Am Breathing doesn’t do this. The company in front of and behind the camera have a mature approach to Platt’s story, letting this leg of his timeline play out naturally and not strategically.

I did have difficulty with Neil Platt’s introduction, however. Platt has a thick accent and with the addition of his breathing machine, his speech can sound interrupted and muddled – especially during one-on-ones with him.

The people around him have an easier time understanding him, but that same coherency has some trouble transferring through the medium. Later in their doc, McKinnon and Davie make use of subtitles and a Microsoft Sam-esque voice, which are wise moves on their part. I wish these were utilized earlier.


Also, during the latter part of the documentary as we’re seeing Platt struggle even more, McKinnon and Davie show this slow progression through more of the same type of footage. Though these can read as repetitive cutaways of the same ole’ we’ve seen earlier, the directorial duo feel these steps are necessary. These scenes are going to work for some viewers who don’t mind a leisurely pace while others may feel these moments could’ve been edited down tighter.

On the whole, McKinnon and Davie do an impressive job at documenting the wonderful Neil Platt and expressing just how binding life is for him now. They also do a great job at capturing his relationship with his dedicated wife. Truly, an incredible couple.

The film is undoubtably going to have a special place in his son’s heart. No one will ever know – except him – how much of an impact McKinnon’s and Davie’s doc will have on him.

As for us moviegoers, I Am Breathing may not be a documentary you’ll revisit again anytime soon due to its heartbreaking bittersweetness, but we can damn well appreciate and admire this ambitious and well conceived piece of documentation.


Catch I Am Breathing at:

Saturday, April 27 at 4:00 p.m. at the Isabel Bader Theatre

Sunday, May 5 at 3:30 p.m. at Scotiabank Theatre

Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

Visit the official Hot Docs webpage here!

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Hot Docs: @HotDocs
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

Readers Comments (1)

  1. Speaking for the filmmakers here, thanks so much for your nice review. For your information, we do have a fully subtitled version of the film, but some people are of the opinion that it’s too overbearing if everything is subtitled. So it’s a delicate balance to decide when to use which version of the film…
    Make sure to stop by on our website, – we are also looking for people to organise screenings on ALS Global Awareness Day, 21 June.


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