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Death or Canada

Death or Canada

Date:Mar 11, 2020 Price:$7-$10 Time:7:30 pm Location:122 Frederick Street, Kitchener ON
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A Canadian-Irish Docudrama

Part of the Irish Real Life Festival

Death or Canada is the tragic and true story of one family’s epic journey to Canada fleeing the ravages of the Irish famine in 1847.

IRL Festival is honored to have Craig Thompson (Executive Producer) join us to introduce the film and host a Q&A after the screening.

DEATH OR CANADA is an epic, tragic tale of extreme heroism and courage. Set in 1847, the darkest year of the Irish Famine, it follows the true life story of John and Mary Willis who, with their five children, abandoned their home in the west of Ireland gambling everything on finding new lives in North America.

Their journey was part of the worst humanitarian disaster of the 19th century – over 20,000 people died en route that summer while around 1 million people died during the famine years in Ireland. Toronto alone took in 40,000 people, bringing chaos, fever and death to the city’s streets. Hundreds of the dead were buried in unmarked graves.

The hero’s of the young city of Toronto are central to the story as they attempt to deal with and absorb the famine refugee’s. Portrayed in the film are Dr. George Grassett, who was the Chief Medical Officer at Toronto’s Fever Sheds, Toronto’s Emigrant Agent, Edward McElderry, Nurse Susan Bailey, who also worked in the Fever Sheds and Bishop Michael Power who is the chief hero of Toronto’s summer of sorrow in 1847 – responsible for building the fever sheds and hospital that saved thousands of the refugees – and finally dying himself from Typhus – contracted from his time in the fever sheds.

Dramatic reenactments were filmed in Ireland and Canada. Locations in Ireland included Achill Island in Mayo and Cobh in Cork. When the production shifted to Canada filming took place at Discovery Harbour, Black Creek Pioneer Village and in downtown Toronto and St Michael’s Cathedral.

Death or Canada was nominated for an Irish Film and Television Award in 2009 in the Best Documentary Series category. The film was also nominated for four Gemini Awards in Canada. In 2010 it was selected as the closing film of The Archaeology Channel’s International Film and Video Festival in Eugene, Oregon. The film won two awards at the festival: Honorable mention for Special Effects by jury; Honorable mention in Audience Favorite competition. In September 2010 Death or Canada was nominated for a 2010 Heritage Toronto Award in the Media category.

Director Ruan Magan says:

“There is an inherent danger in making a project about the Irish Famine. That the fact that a million people died in such tragic circumstances forces the storyteller into being po-faced, delicately tip toeing around the issues or into being too historical creating something that is dry and lacking humanity. In Death or Canada my hope is that I have done neither and that instead, together with a team of over 200 people, cast, technicians and production staff, we have achieved drama documentary films that grab the audience’s attention from the start and sustain them for two hours after which they will have stepped closer to the reality of this incredible story. Ireland has changed. The Irish have moved on. Maybe now we can remember that the famine was about real people who died and many others who survived going on to create new and better worlds both at home and across the Atlantic in Canada and the United States of America. That was my hope. My greatest hope now is that we have achieved it.”

March 11, 7:30 pm

General Admission: $10
Student: $7

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