Negative stories about pandemic polarization prompted Red Deer filmmaker Linda Pidhirney to seek uplifting subject matter for her documentary Anonymous Heroes.
“The sense of community is not always there. I think we need to be reminded,” said Pidhirney.
She began seeking positive local stories as part of her application to the Telus Storyhive program for up-and coming filmmakers. After receiving a $20,000 from Storyhive, Pidhirney accrued so many feel-good tales through social media and word-of-mouth that they couldn’t all be squeezed into a half-hour documentary.
As director, writer and co-producer, Pidhirney had to make some tough decisions. She whittled the list down to just four stories: of a lost dog, lifesaving strangers, a woman’s grief support, and food for the hungry.
Among the more wide-ranging examples of kindness recounted is the search for a mixed-breed pooch named Koda, who got lost in Airdrie last spring.
“It was amazing! Hundreds of people were involved,” said Pidhirney.
Residents who never knew the dog’s owner were up searching for Koda all night. There were even people providing searchers with hats and mitts and boots, she added, and people would message each other with updates and post them on the local lost pets page.
“It was just so heart warming that so many strangers were willing to help out…”
If strangers were prepared to go to all lengths to reunite a small dog reunite with his owner, it is heartening to know they were also ready to help someone sprawled on the sidewalk.
Pidhirney interviewed Sylvan Lake’s Brandon Koch, who was in a car crash as a youngster and now suffers from seizures. “He doesn’t always know when he is going to have an episode,” she said. “Sometimes it can happen when he is walking or biking and he’s caught unaware… sometimes nobody’s there…”
Strangers have come across the young man lying prone on the ground. While they might not have immediately recognized he was in medical distress, they took the time to stop and see if assistance was needed.
Pidhirney said, “They’ve called an ambulance, and helped put him on his side, and just looked after him. Some even found his phone and called his mom… It’s certainly encouraging that people have empathy.”
The filmmaker is grateful that Koch, his family, and others were willing to share their personal stories for her film.
Some experiences were not easy to talk about — such as Laurie Lee’s untimely loss of her husband Mark.
The local marathoner and father of five died in 2015 at the age of 47 a few days after completing his New Year’s Eve run at Bower Ponds with the Red Deer Running Club.
Pidhirney said the wider community was shocked by Lee’s accidental fall and fatal brain injury. “Friends, family and (neighbours) all helped out. People came from all over and dropped off meals,” giving Laurie and her children all kinds of help, said Pidhirney.
The filmmaker learned something important by making this documentary, which also includes interviews with staff at the Red Deer Food Bank.
“I think we are not as alone as we think we are,” she said.
“There are always people out there who are willing to help, but I think we are not always open to asking for it.”
Describing herself as a shy person, Pidhirney had to learn to question strangers about very emotional experiences. “I had to push myself to be more outgoing.”
Having gained previous writing experience by helping her partner Randy Kirk make some of his local films, Pidhirney was able to hire a crew to help her create Anonymous Heroes, which will be showing on the Telus Optik channel as of mid-September.
Although the pandemic appears to be ramping up again, she hopes her film will help viewers take heart and remember we are still a community — and help is out there, if you seek it.