As It Happens

New documentary maps Andy Barrie's life with Parkinson's

The broadcaster and the brain: We talk to former CBC radio host Andy Barrie and the filmmaker who is documenting his experience with Parkinson's -- and the radical surgery that dialed back the disease.
Former CBC host Andy Barrie, along with filmmaker Lana Slezik (left) and As It Happens host Carol Off (right) (CBC / Sarah Cooper)

It is, as they say a "small film." 

Just 13-and-a-half minutes long. But since the documentary The Voice was posted online this past weekend, it's already having a big impact.  It has been shared on social media hundreds of times. 

The film chronicles the before-and-after story of former CBC Radio host Andy Barrie. He sat behind the microphone at Toronto's Metro Morning radio show for nearly 15 years.  Barrie retired in 2010 after being diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.

Carol Off invited Barrie and filmmaker Lana Šlezić into the As It Happens studio to discuss the film and his life with Parkinson's. 

"Andy, to see you in wearing headphones, in a studio behind a mic, that is a wondrous thing," Carol says to open the interview. 

As a life-long communicator, Barrie says one of the most difficult aspects of Parkinson's early on was losing confidence in his ability to connect with people. 

"Neuromuscular disease effects all the muscles in the body, including the muscles in the face. And I didn't feel like I could communicate any longer with my face; letting someone know that I believe them or don't believe them, I couldn't do that anymore. People would just see this rigid face. And that was very confusing to me, having depended so long on that mode of communication."

Barrie says he withdrew. He also lost his wife and his brother. He moved out of Toronto, into a farmhouse north of the city where he lived alone. 

And then he decided to undergo a pioneering treatment called Deep Brain Stimulation or DBS. It has improved the lives of many people with Parkinson's. And it changed Barrie's life.

"It suppressed most of the Parkinson's symptoms. My face would relax, my arms would relax. The tremor would stop. I'd stop doing all the gesticulating."

A screengrab from The Voice, a documentary about former CBC Radio host Andy Barrie.

Šlezić's documentary chronicles Mr. Barrie's life before and after the treatment. One of the most moving moments was when he went to visit his daughter in New Mexico after she had a child. At first, Mr. Barrie was reluctant to have the filmmaker tag along, but it turned out to be very important. 

"As it turned out, my daughter was very worried but she hadn't raised it with me. She was worried about my Parkinson's if I was carrying the baby, maybe I'd stumble, drop the baby on the floor. It's not a small thing. And she was weeping when she told Lana that."

In the end, Mr. Barrie is able to hold his grandchild. 

You can watch the trailer for Ms. Šlezić's documentary, The Voice, here


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