A Sense of Purpose

By Kiana Karimkhani


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Director Hilary Pryor transitioned from a social worker to a film maker in 1979 through grants for non-profit organizations. Photo: David Malysheff

A Change of Mind is a Victoria-made documentary that centres on the body’s most complex organ, more delicate than a ripened peach: the brain. It uncovers the hidden epidemic of brain injury in which countless people are going unseen and undiagnosed. Sufferers are the walking wounded: impaired, often isolated from society because of their uncontrollable behaviour, and likely unaware of the source. The documentary gives a voice to the survivors, like narrator Derrick Forsyth, whose intricate journey is laid bare. Highlighted are the organizations and new approaches that are helping those who are injured, but the film also outlines the lack of support that’s prevalent for sufferers: from the broader scope of society to family and friends, who are unable to relate to their loved one’s struggle.

Hilary Pryor, director of the film, was in a board meeting for the Cridge Centre for the Family when the manager for brain injury services made a presentation that detailed extraordinary statistics. The rate of suicide increases four times after a brain injury; 95 per cent of marriages fail after a spouse develops a brain injury; 53 per cent of homeless people have a brain injury. Hilary was blown away by the figures and felt compelled to get the information to others who might be unaware of the effects.

“In the media, there has been a lot about brain injury in terms of concussions and the sports-related aspect, but not much was being said about these very profound impacts,” she says. As the founder of local production company, May Street Productions, she immediately had a film in mind.

“I did a bunch of research on my own first – Googling, speaking with experts, and reading a lot,” she says, emphatically. “I wanted to have all of the facts at my fingertips before writing a proposal.”

Hilary submitted her considered proposal to The Telus Fund, who initially financed the development of the project, and then the entire production. She says the film took longer than expected to complete, estimating the process to be around two-and-a-half years. However, this extended filming period ended up being advantageous, as it allowed for real change to be shown in the film’s main character, Derrick. An unexpected result of his prominence in the documentary is that Derrick was introduced to Prince William during his recent visit to Canada.

When asked what information she uncovered that surprised her most, Hilary pointed to the extreme fatigue that’s attached to brain injury.

“The brain actually uses about 70 per cent of our caloric intake, so when it’s trying to heal itself, it’s absolutely exhausting,” she says.

It’s that kind of tiredness that can make sufferers hit a wall. “Understanding that exhaustion for family and professionals working with brain injury is very important.” A significant influence for brain health, particularly for seniors, is exercise. Getting the heart pumping and blood circulating creates new brain cells, she says.  

Hilary, 69, came to Canada with her then husband and children in 1974, educated as a social worker in England. She transitioned into making film in 1979 through grants for non-profit organizations. As a teenager, she had studied theatre with the National Youth Theatre in London, so the evolution of combining social activism with the arts was natural. In 1987, she was invited by educational networks to attend the prestigious Banff World Television Festival and make a presentation about her work.

“My focus was on children’s programs, at the time, but as I worked my way up, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is a business, and I should form a company.’”

Decades later, May Street Productions is an award-winning producer of television with substance. The company’s mantra (outlined on their website MayStreet.ca) is to produce television with integrity and to tell stories about people and experiences that encourage community. A Change of Mind fits perfectly into that mould for inspiring social change. One innovative outcome that’s spawned from the film’s research is the development of the Head Start App, a treatment tool created for brain injury survivors. It’s the only app that’s able to provide brain-injured individuals and their caregivers with a rehabilitation aid that helps with scheduling. If someone suspects they have a brain injury, going to a doctor would be the recommended first step. However, Hilary says, if you feel like you’re not getting enough help or being heard, go to a brain injury association, which has the resources to guide you in the right direction.

Despite getting older, Hilary has kept pace with the notoriously rigorous schedule of film shoots. “To be honest, I’m still working 60-hour weeks,” she says. “I’m not really actively pursuing the projects, they just seem to come and, as long as there are projects I feel are important, I’ll keep going until I drop.” Whether the project is a hard-hitting social documentary or lighter fare, she says the material has got to be, in some way, positive.

One may not have the tools or desire to make a film like Hilary did, but taking social action on a local level is something everyone can do.

“In my series The Pursuit of Longevity, I found that the main key to living a long and healthy life was having a sense of purpose,” says Hilary. “Having a purpose in either a family or in society is huge. You want to add years to your life? Go help somebody else.”

Hilary suggests that if you have something you’re passionate about but don’t know how to help, go to the frontline workers and see what they need. Educating oneself about a topic is as easy as a click of a button or as convenient as watching a movie.

A Change of Mind can be viewed for a small fee at www.changeofmind.ca

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