Nickel to screen Rogers' new award-winning film

Justin Brake
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film Ferron to perform concert in conjunction with St. John's premiere

Newfoundland filmmaker Gerry Rogers' latest creation is making a splash at film festivals across North America and will see its Newfoundland premiere Friday at The Nickel Independent Film Festival in St. John's.

Part biopic, part documentary, "Ferron: Girl on a Road" follows legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Ferron as she reunites with her band after a 10-year hiatus and embarks on a three-show tour in her native British Columbia.

Gerry Rogers

Newfoundland filmmaker Gerry Rogers' latest creation is making a splash at film festivals across North America and will see its Newfoundland premiere Friday at The Nickel Independent Film Festival in St. John's.

Part biopic, part documentary, "Ferron: Girl on a Road" follows legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Ferron as she reunites with her band after a 10-year hiatus and embarks on a three-show tour in her native British Columbia.

To mark the occasion in Newfoundland, Ferron will perform a special show at the Bella Vista June 30 to coincide with the St. John's screening.

The film represents the coalescence of both old and new achievements for Rogers and her partner, Peg Norman.

Using "state of the heart technology" to make "Girl on a Road," says Rogers, the two continue to rely less and less on high-tech equipment and more on non-material and humanistic resources like "respecting truth and emotions" and the approach seems to be working.

On May 17 the film's world premiere took place at "InsideOut," Toronto's gay and lesbian film festival, where it was voted by the audience as best documentary.

By the end of the month it had also screened at festivals in New Zealand, Connecticut, and Hawaii, earning three more awards, including one for "best director."

"I think in order to make a film that has a sense of honesty and intimacy, the people that you work with, you have to trust," explains Rogers. "You have to build a relationship and they have to trust you."

Ferron, a deep contemplative and emotional individual and songwriter, experienced mainstream success in the 80s and 90s, drawing comparisons to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen for her world-class songwriting. One critic went so far as to call her "the Johnny Cash of lesbian folksinging."

Beating the odds as a gay and native female folk singer, Ferron paved the way for such artists as Ani DiFranco, The Indigo Girls, and Mary Gauthier.

Rogers says the temptation to make a film "about" Ferron and her dark past constantly enticed her, but in the end a "gut feeling" led her to offer audiences "just Ferron".

"I constantly thought about looking at the whole historical context of when she was writing her music, looking at the zeitgeist of the 70s," explains Rogers, "and I know some people would like more history and more context, but somebody else can make that film. I just wanted Ferron, unadorned, without artifice.

"There's that truth and integrity in her and that resonance with past hurts and pains, but also I think she's right at times when she says, 'Some of my songs are like prayers and the music industry doesn't know what to do with a prayer.'"

If one thing comes across in the 73-minute film it's a relationship between vulnerability and confidence, both on the part of the filmmaker and the subject.

"I constantly second guessed myself," says Rogers. "I wanted to be able to clear the path so that she could speak directly to the audience. But boy did I struggle with that."

Similarly, Ferron says she felt vulnerable having a film crew follow her into emotional territory as she reunited with her band and performed in front of local audiences with them again.

"There was this moment when I was on stage in Vancouver and, I don't know what happened, my heart just broke open," Ferron recalls. "But I left that all up to Gerry. If she felt that was important then it has to be there. I think being vulnerable is a valuable quality to have, especially being a broken dyke, lesbian, queer. All your life you don't know how to, you know, the first time someone told me they loved me ... I pushed them down," she laughs. "I had really, really wrong responses to things. Love was not a good thing from where I came from. So I came a long way to fall apart on the stage. And also, I did not make the film, I made me. That's my art. Gerry made the film, that's her art. I just had to stay away from having any great opinion of it."

It's obvious that the honesty, emotion, and "state of the heart technology" used in formulating "Girl on a Road" was embraced by both Rogers and Ferron, and has resulted in a film that will have audiences laughing and sobbing during Ferron's stories and songs.

"In her music there's such a stillness - her music reaches right down into your soul and your heart and holds on," says Rogers.

Recalling the screening at Inside Out in Toronto, Ferron says she experienced something new.

"Gerry wanted me to come on stage after and answer a few questions," she says. "When I walked down the aisle to go on stage I got this tremendous standing ovation. I was quite touched by that and I thought, 'This is what honour and respect and gratitude looks like.'"

"Ferron: Girl on a Road" debuts in St. John's Friday, 7:30 p.m. screening at the INCO Innovation Centre at Memorial University.

Visit www.nickelfestival.com for more information.

The Ferron concert will take place at 8 p.m. June 30 at the Bella Vista on Torbay Road. Tickets are $25 and available at The Travel Bug on Water Street.

Organizations: INCO Innovation Centre

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland, Toronto North America British Columbia New Zealand Connecticut Hawaii Vancouver Torbay Road Water Street

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