Indianapolis, October 26, 2016: From the opening shot of The Healer, you know your eyes will be in for a treat. Set mostly in Nova Scotia, the film reeks of depth and richness, with breathtaking scenery and Nathan Wang's full-orchestra score. Featuring a heavily Canadian cast with a couple known stars, the family film has just the right mix of intrigue, mystery, folksiness, humor, and spirituality to defy classification and emerge as an uplifting reason to go to the movies. Oliver Jackson-Cohen's character, Alec, gets in financial trouble with the wrong people in his native England, and an eccentric long-lost uncle bails him out, provided he spends a year in a different world, which happens to be Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Arriving with nothing (and no cell or Internet access) Alec is forced to land on his feet, a process aided by Cecilia, a beautiful but unavailable large-animal veterinarian, played by Camilla Luddington (Grey's Anatomy). Alec finds out he has inherited a gift of healing, a gift he must accept or reject by a certain deadline, and he rejects it, yearning for a quiet year to pass before he can go back to his gambling and his nightlife in London. Of course, circumstances intervene, especially in the person of the perfectly-cast 14-year-old Canadian actress Abigail (Kaitlyn Bernard), whose parents have heard of Alec's healing powers and drive "from seven hours away" to have their daughter cured of cancer. He refuses, but the girl takes him aside and explains that he needs to go through the motions with her for the weekend, for the sake of her parents. She knows he's not a healer, but her parents couldn't take it if he didn't at least pretend to try! The weekend is rife with touching sequences, embarrassing moments, mystery, a fat angry priest with a man bun and a tenuous hold on his faith Jorge Garcia), townspeople who believe (and don't), humor and an arrest for murder. We are enthralled by the clever dialogue, and our eyes, soon accustomed to the richness of the camera work, start looking for the sight gags that appear throughout. If you've watched for more than three minutes, and haven't seen or heard something that made you smile inside, you weren't paying attention. In fact, to an alert watcher, The Healer provides unending mirth, but director/writer/producer Paco Arango doesn't beat the audience over the head with his sense of humor – you'll see it if you're looking and it can be your private pleasure. Little circumstances around the film also make an interesting story. Abigail, the young girl with cancer, got her character's name from the daughter of a Canadian Film Commission administrator, who helped Arango navigate the processes and funding of the Canadian film industry. Paco's dog, Batman, couldn't be left back home in Spain during the filming, so he has a significant part in the script – and a credit. And at the end of the film, there is a closeup of young Abigail, riding in the back of a pickup truck on the way to rejoin her parents, as Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwoʻole's Somewhere Over the Rainbow plays in the background. The Canadian film lady cried uncontrollably at that scene, Arango told me. It turns out that her own little now-departed Abigail sang that song at her high school graduation. Arango told me he always wanted to be a healer, himself, and that the film fits so well in its setting because he went to Nova Scotia first, and then wrote the screenplay. "My dream was to have that gift," he said. And in his way, he's living it. Paco Arango has volunteered in hospitals for fifteen years; all his films support worthy causes. The Healer's profits – 100% of them – are going to Paul Newman's summer camp for kids who, because of sickness or disability, can't go to a regular summer camp. All the profits go to Serious Fun Network. That's not smoke and mirrors, either: earlier Arango movies financed the largest children's bone marrow transplant facility in Europe. His example has already borne fruit: Now-17-year-old Kaitlyn Bernard has started her own foundation for kids, Just Breathing, in her native Vancouver B.C. The Healer premiered at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis in October, 2016. Is it a little corny and predictable? Sure, like It's a Wonderful Life was. But that won't stop you from feeling good when you see it. And you will, if you do.
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