A 14-year-old girl is listening to her parents fight. When she gets involved and sticks up for her dad, her mom snaps “why are you defending him? He’s not your real dad”. She looks to the man who raised her to tell her that this isn’t true but the expression on his face tells her all she needs to know and it’s not the answer she was looking for.

Nearly twenty years later, Kulap Vilaysack lives in LA where she works as a writer and comedian; and has appeared on some of my favourite shows. No one has spoken of that night since. Kulap rarely speaks to her father and pretty much never talks to her mother. Happily married and ready to start a family, she decides that it’s finally time to learn about, and maybe meet, her biological father. With a camera crew in tow, she travels to Minnesota to visit her mom and Laos to get to know birth father and learns about the dangerous journey the two took from Laos to the United States.

Directed by Vilaysack herself, Origin Story hit me harder than I expected. Through her often funny and sometimes incredibly sad journey, her documentary has a lot to say about the impact of untreated emotional wounds and how important it can be to know where we come from. More than once, I caught myself thinking “This is an impeccably structured documentary because this kind of story of personal discovery could have been really boring if told linearly”. The decision of what to show and when to show it feel smarter than most documentaries I’ve seen lately.

Rarer still is a documentary, especially one that a filmmaker makes about their own life, where I believe emotions that I’m seeing. The occasional debriefs with her friends (at least two of whom are famous) back home sometimes feel a little out of place and not as natural as the rest of the movie but all in all this is an admirably sincere and smart documentary.

Monday, November 12, 5:15 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox