The Perfect Story takes audiences on a decade-long journey through the reality of reporting and the bonds storytellers build through their shared experiences. The documentary film, directed by Canadian journalist Michelle Shephard, premieres at the Calgary International Film Festival on Saturday.

Shephard recounts her journey with Ismael Abdulle, a young Somali who had his hand and foot cut off by the terrorist group al-Shabab. Shephard’s articles about Abdulle helped him escape Mogadishu, but unforeseen events later caused the writer to question her position as storyteller, and the ethics behind not becoming a part of the story. 

Michelle Shephard and Ismael Abdulle on the beach in Toronto during a visit to Canada. Courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada, 2021

Working as a national security correspondent for the Toronto Star, Shephard traveled to many countries throughout the years. 

“During the time of my coverage [in Somalia] was when there was the rise of al-Shabab, which later went on to join Al Qaeda,” Shephard says. “It was through covering that conflict in 2010 that a contact of mine… said, there’s someone you have to meet, make sure you get here.” 

Shephard was introduced to Abdulle, building a bond that started as a partnership that later became a friendship. But, 10 years later, Abdulle revealed he had not been truthful about his story,  dragging Shephard into an ethical dilemma of what stories she expects people to share and if that is altered by the relationships she creates with those people. 

“There are so many ethical issues, both when you insert yourself in a story or become too close with those that you cover,” she says. “It seemed, in the end, really disingenuous not to bring myself into the story because I was asking tough questions of myself that I should be asking.”

Ismael Abdulle in 2018, in Mogadishu for the first time since the East African terrorist group Al Shabab cut off his right hand and left foot. Image from Film – Courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada, 2021

The film’s world premiere takes place on Saturday at 4:45pm at Cineplex Odeon Eau Claire Market with Shephard in attendance for an audience Q&A. The film is also available by limited-time streaming through CIFF’s website. 

Shephard says she is looking forward to bringing one of the most difficult stories she’s reported on to light, and hopes people can learn more about storytelling.

“I think it’s one of those films that despite the ironic title, it is an imperfect story,” Shephard says. “It doesn’t have a tidy ending, and so I hope it’s one of those films that is visually compelling.” 

This year’s Calgary International Film Festival runs through Oct. 2. You can find more information, including the full festival schedule HERE.

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