Throughout history men have left their wife and kids. Oftentimes they leave their families behind to start a new one. It is nothing new or original in regards to material for a film. Director Chelsea McMullan’s documentary film tries to come at this very subject from a new angle shedding light on those left behind.
An interesting twist in this one is that former Canadian (Hamilton, Ontario) police officer John not only leaves his family – wife and two kids, Michael and Shannon, but goes off to Thailand to marry another woman, has two kids with her and names them…you guessed it or not, Michael and Shannon. Only to leave this second family after getting into some shady business troubles and fleeing to the Phillipines. There he takes up with a woman as young as his kids and finds trouble once again. This time he is shot down dead in the middle of the street before he can flee. His four children and the three women he left behind have tried to move on without really knowing what really went on with John Hanmer.
The film mainly follows his eldest daughter Shannon (Canadian Shannon) as she travels the globe trying to finally find out what her father was all about. Being 6-years-old when he left and having not spoken to him since she was 14-years-old, the now 30-year-old wants some answers and closure. Her older brother, while interested to a certain extent, is not quite as invested in getting a fuller picture of their long absentee father. The two are quite understandably shocked to find out not only that they have a half-brother and half-sister over in Thailand, but that their names are also Michael and Shannon. It is an interesting moment when, through the aid of a translator, Canadian Shannon finds out from John’s Thai wife that he did so because he missed his Canadian kids.
Memory is a tricky thing. That is shown time and time again in this documentary as same occurrences (the one that stands out the most is the different versions of John’s murder) are remembered in a multitude of ways. This is especially tricky when you are dealing with a man who seemingly purposely led a shadowy existence due to his morally ambiguous life. The gaps in memory do not help Shannon paint a precise picture of the man who was her father. Answers are sought, but not always gained.
The way that Chelsea McMullan goes about telling the tale really makes the film. She lets things like interviews happen organically and did not edit the film to eliminate all the silences (usually awkward) that happen. This allows everything to unfold in a natural and organic feeling way. McMullan does not go without some cheeky moments of drama though as she shows the moment when Shannon Hanmer gets a Facebook request from herself – Shannon Hanmer. Cue the dramatic music. She does use a fairly straightforward storytelling method though it is not without some impromptu moments. Interviews (the four kids, the three women in John’s life, his two brothers, and some friends) along with some archival footage are backed up by a bright score by Juno-nominated artist Alaska B. In the end you are left scratching your head about what reality really is.