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Gerald Squires - a national treasure

Gerald Squires. — Photo by Kenneth J. Harvey
Gerald Squires. — Photo by Kenneth J. Harvey - Submitted

Originally published June 24, 2017

Another day, another sold-out screening for the 2017 Nickel Independent Film Festival.

The sun was still shining as festivalgoers lined up outside the LSPU Hall at 7 p.m. Thursday. We were willingly trading the warm summer evening for the cool, dark theatre, ditching the weather in favour of Kenneth J. Harvey's recent documentary work, a piece about an extraordinary artist, the late Gerry Squires, entitled "I Heard the Birch Tree Whisper in the Night."

The evening began with the usual thank you and introductions by Ruth Lawrence, as part of her role as festival director. After a handful of short speeches, the audience was treated to a series of music videos and short films, including "Shattered Mind's Eye" and "Sundays," by local filmmakers Emily Corcoran and Benjamin Noah, respectively.

These films totalled about 35 minutes, but flew by in comparison to the evening's main feature, which hit fast and hard in just 44 minutes.

Coincidentally seated next to writer, director and producer Kenneth J. Harvey, I jokingly hid my notepad. What I couldn't hide, however, were the tears that would soon (and surprisingly) flow down my face - and continue to trickle down my cheeks for the remainder of the film.

I have no personal connection to Gerald Squires, but I live and breathe for the local arts scene and, in doing so, feel a deep passion for all of those within it. While I was familiar with Squires' work, I was surprised by just how deeply this film hit me.

Comprised of candid footage featuring commentary from Squires' friends, family, colleagues and, of course, the artist himself, "I Heard the Birch Tree Whisper in the Night" explored the intense topic of living and dying - and everything that comes with the two.

Squires died in late 2015 at age 77, following a battle with cancer. He knew his time was coming, he explained throughout the documentary, noting that it wasn't death that bothered him ... it was the idea of "being useless."

Squires eloquently detailed his beginnings as an artist, with funny anecdotes peppered in by fellow artists, friends and his wife, Gail Squires.

I heard a fair bit of sniffling, though many laughs were had throughout the film, especially as Harvey expertly spliced Gerry and Gail's separate stories about moving into their famous lighthouse home. Gerry romanticized the move - Gail, not so much.

As the film moves through his life and approached his end, Squires seems to confront his mortality with poise and grace, though he laments "not having enough time" to do everything he wanted to do.

With a lengthy list of accolades, awards and an innumerable amount of creations - many deemed "national treasures" - Squires certainly made the most of his time on this plane.

I decided to make the most of my time, skipping out the side door, tears still streaming down my face, as I rushed home to write what you're reading right now.

A particular quote stuck with me as I walked down Duckworth Street, thinking about creating this content: "The need to create is there," Squires said. And unlike every single one of us, "it will never die."

Through his words, his works, his friends, family and fans, Gerald Squires will live on forever.

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