Film to tell singer's life story

For Kathryn Calder, the filmmaking process meant reliving the death of her mother from ALS

Victoria's Kathryn Calder is known for being one of the most well-adjusted, evenkeeled musicians going.

So when a documentary team approached her with plans to tell the story of her life in and outside of music, she was taken aback, to say the least.

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Her co-operation in the documentary, currently being helmed by Victoriaborn, Vancouver-based filmmaker Brent Hodge, meant Calder would have to relive certain difficult ordeals, in particular the death of her mother, Lynn Calder, from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease) in 2009.

"I really had to think about whether I wanted to do it," the 30-year-old said. "It took me at least two weeks of, 'Can I do this? Am I capable of doing this?' to decide. But it was more important to me that this story gets told. I wanted to help people who are going through this."

Hodge will continue shooting tonight during a sold-out Calder concert in the Old Town section of the Royal B.C. Museum.

The event, which coincides with Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, will feature Calder's numerous musical allies, from members of Immaculate Machine to Todd Fancey and Kurt Dahle, two of her current bandmates in the Juno Award-winning group the New Pornographers.

That the concert encapsulates more than a decade of musical evolution makes perfect sense to Calder.

She couldn't have come this far in life, or tackled such emotional hurdles, without help from those around her, she admits.

Calder's professional life was put on hold while she cared for her mother during her long illness, out of which came two critically acclaimed recordings, 2010's Are You My Mother? and 2011's Bright and Vivid.

The latter was voted onto the long list for this year's Polaris Music Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in Canadian music.

The documentary will not wrap up until October, but already it has helped Calder cope with the loss of her mother, with whom she was very close.

"I have had to come to terms with a lot of things that I think are really healthy, like mortality and perspective on life," she said. "On some levels, I am probably a wiser person for it."

Hodge - who won raves for Winning America, his 2011 documentary about Vancouver group Said the Whale - was brought on board by Montreal-based co-producers Matt Stotland and Casey Cohen of nonprofit music charity Yellow Bird Project.

Calder designed a fundraising T-shirt for Yellow Bird two years ago, with proceeds going to the ALS Society of B.C.

When Stotland and Cohen learned why that was Calder's charity of choice, the idea of a documentary was born.

For a filmmaker, there are almost too many twists to mention, Hodge said, from Lynn Calder's search for her birth family (she was adopted) to her discovery that musician Carl Newman was her biological brother.

Newman, who is Calder's uncle, is now her bandmate in the New Pornographers. "That alone is just one act of the story," Hodge said.

The team has been shooting Calder's current and former bandmates across Canada and the U.S., in addition to ALS experts, for the past two months. Hodge hopes the film will open a dialogue about the subject, if not Calder's remarkable life.

"It's unbelievable that it is a real story, and not a TV movie."

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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