The Marie Clements-directed 2022 documentary, Lay Down Your Heart, is fun, quirky, and droll. And it’s now available for free for anyone with an Internet connection. That’s because today (November 14), the National Film Board began streaming this entertaining film about visual and performing artist Niall McNeil’s family tree of blood and chosen relatives.
Last year, Lay Down Your Heart won the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Audience Award in the Portraits program for its heartwarming glimpse into McNeil, who has Down syndrome. Perhaps best known for playing the title role in King Arthur’s Night at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, McNeil provides lots of commentary on-screen. He’s also joined by a fleet of talented musicians and performers. Sometimes, they even express their admiration for him through song.
The film’s opening is highly unusual. McNeil faces the camera as he lightheartedly bickers with the director, Clements (Bones of Crows), who’s off-screen. He describes her as his “ex-wife” before his other “relations” are introduced.
Elsewhere in the movie, there’s a memorable rendition of “We Are Family”. It would be worth the price of admission if the NFB had decided to impose any fee.
McNeil is a man full of heart
According to his mother Joan (also known as his mommy/daddy), McNeil always had a very natural way of expressing himself.
“So, some kids would colour on a paper,” Joan says in the film. “He’d colour on his face. He loves to sing. He loved to make up stories out loud.”
Plus, McNeil is a playwright. In fact, he received a writing credit for Lay Down Your Heart.
When people talk about underrepresented artists, it’s often in the context of race, ethnicity, or national origin. But there is another community of underrepresented artists in our midst: those with Down syndrome. People with this condition have an extra chromosome, which creates common physical features such as a flattened face, upward slanting almond-shaped eyes, white spots on the irises, and small ears, hands, and feet.
It was McNeil’s fate to be born with this condition. But neither he nor his family—chosen or by blood—let it get in the way of him pursuing his artistic passions to the fullest. Check out Lay Down Your Heart on the NFB website. It just might change your perception of who should get to be called an artist.