Hot Docs 2016: Spirit Unforgettable

Spirit of the West singer John Mann’s battle with early on-set Alzheimer’s is documented in Spirit Unforgettable. Vancouver Celtic rock band Spirit of the West formed in 1983 and are probably best known for their hit “Home for a Rest.” At the very young age of 52, John Mann discovers that he has Alzheimer’s, which affects his ability to perform with the band. Spirit of the West prepare for a show at Toronto’s Massey Hall, which may as well be their final performance.

It can probably be said that there wouldn’t be Mumford & Sons without Spirit of the West. As one of the first bands to combine Celtic jigs and reels with a pop rock sound, the band enjoyed a career of more than 30 years, bolstered by songs such as “Home for a Rest” and “And If Venice is Sinking.” When he is first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, John Mann continues to perform with the band, using an iPad to help remember lyrics. However, as his condition worsens, the future of the band is put into question.

Spirit Unforgettable is an incredibly emotional film, as it documents what is essentially the beginning of the end for Spirit of the West, who just recently played their final shows. At the centre of the film’s story is the relationship between John Mann and his wife Jill, who ends up quitting her job to become John’s primary caregiver. The film also tackles the subject of music being therapy for those with Alzheimer’s, with John and Jill even writing a musical play about their experiences. Altogether, Spirit Unforgettable is a very emotional and heartbreaking film that celebrates the career of John Mann and Spirit of the West.

8 / 10 stars


Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).