By Steve Gow
Filmmaker Matt Embry has experienced two life-changing journeys. The first was triggered by a daunting diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. But the other journey came once he picked up a camera and began meeting others dealing with the same incurable disease.
Now the Calgary-based filmmaker is aiming to capture both those emotional odysseys in his inspiring new documentary Living Proof.
“We knew we had a powerful story,” said Embry ahead of the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. “But the surprises along the road were the patients and some of the people who just reached out to us. There’s so much on the screen that we couldn’t have predicted.”
A heartbreaking first-person quest, Living Proof follows Embry as he interviews researchers, uncovers the science and looks into the limitations of the disease’s primary drug treatment. Perhaps most encouraging, he meets those who have beat the odds and stemmed the progression of the affliction for decades.
“You don’t wake up in the morning and decide you’re going to be an activist,” admitted Embry, whose own drug-free treatment of the disease binds the film’s narrative and has provided a hopeful alternative treatment for patients for years.
As evidenced through Embry’s own strict emphasis on a complex diet exempt of dairy and gluten but rich on vitamin D and other supplements (developed by Matt's father and fellow activist Dr. Ashton Embry), Living Proof shows that a patient can survive symptom-free. It's breakthrough information that Embry has struggled to disseminate into the mainstream. He also submitted himself to a controversial surgical procedure that involved a stent in his jugular vein to increase blood flow to the brain.
“What happens is I’ve found that you start seeing things that aren’t right and you see that you can possibly offer people hope or other solutions and you have to make a decision about how important that is to get out.”
As such, the movie tackles conflicts of interest within the MS ecosystem and unearths important dietary information and hopeful possibilities that continue to be inexplicably overlooked by leading charities and the pharmaceutical industry.
“My story is interesting for sure, but what’s more interesting is we’re paying billions of dollars a year globally for drugs that may have no long term effect on the progression of the disease and people are suffering side effects - that’s a big problem,” said Embry of the movie’s political stance. “Hope is the number one message we want to get out there (so) in the film we’re saying to patients you have to get out and take accountability for your own health and start asking tough questions.”
Living Proof screens at TIFF at 9:30 a.m. at Scotia 14.
Guest columnist Steve Gow has been writing and reporting entertainment features since 1994 for a variety of publications as well as on television. Most notably, he was a movie reporter for The Movie Network and Family Channel for over a decade and his interview features have appeared regularly in Metro Canada newspapers nationwide since 2008.