Film chronicles death of a loved one

Documentary tells story of Victoria musician Kathryn Calder and her mother, Lynn, a victim of ALS

What: A Matter of Time
When: Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. (doors at 7:30)
Where: Copper Owl, 1900 Douglas St.
Admission: $5 suggested donation, at the door only
Note: Calder will participate in a Q&A session following the screening


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It has been years since work began on a documentary centred around the 2009 death of her mother, but emotion still hovers close to the surface for Kathryn Calder.

The musical life of the Victoria musician, who lives in North Saanich, also plays a vital role in A Matter of Time, a documentary that makes its Victoria première Tuesday at the Copper Owl.

For Calder, screenings of the film are tough tasks. “It always sends me into reliving that time, and all that brings with it,” she said. “It’s kind of a roller-coaster when I watch it.”

A Matter of Time tells the story of Calder and her mother, Lynn, who died from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and the emotional fallout in the years that followed. Calder was the primary caregiver during her mother’s illness, which forced her to take leave from her Vancouver band, The New Pornographers, to do so.

Calder did not stop making music, however. During her mother’s illness, the singer-pianist (whose mother taught her how to play) set up a living-room studio in her family’s Linden Avenue home and began recording her solo debut, Are You My Mother?, with her ailing mother nearby.

The album was completed in 2008, but its release was put on hold until 2010, following her mother’s death.

Much of the footage in the film, including a private 2012 concert in the Old Town section of the Royal B.C. Museum, was shot after the fact. But plenty of what producers Casey Cohen and Matthew Stotland present in the film took place earlier, during what was a great time of upheaval for Calder. As a result, she was only equipped to participate in certain parts of the process. The emotional toll of that period was considerable, Calder recalled.

When Calder finally saw the finished product last year, with the musical score she had written finally in place, she was amazed at the results. “It was really neat to see how they told the story and the elements they brought into it. There are a lot of storylines going through this film.”

Healing has taken place. Every day gets a little easier, Calder said, though the pain never entirely goes away. She and her mother were especially close, which hits home every time she does interviews to promote the film.

“I’ve noticed that every time there’s a screening or I’m doing something related to the film, there’s a few days or a week where I find myself feeling down. And then I have to remember to give myself a bit of a break, to just roll with it. Eventually, it subsides. That’s the cycle that happens. It’s fine, but it’s something that happens when I do ALS-specific things.”

Despite the up-and-down activity, Calder has taken up the cause of raising ALS awareness.

“I am in it for the long haul. When I signed up, I signed up. And even though I didn’t exactly make the film, because it’s my music and my story and my family, I feel a certain amount of ownership of it.”

Calder will return to making music this month when work begins on the upcoming New Pornographers album. The band grew closer as she dealt with her mother’s illness and death, but she wasn’t the only member affected by it. The film ties together a hard-to-believe subplot that involves New Pornographers leader Carl Newman, who —it was discovered later in life — was the adopted Lynn Calder’s biological brother.

Newman appears in the film, as do many of Calder’s other current and former bandmates. It becomes clear that Calder is immensely well-liked and respected, and her mother’s battle became a shared source of inspiration for her friends and bandmates. “Many of them are in the film saying such really sweet things,” Calder said. “It’s sort of like one big hug.”

Since the release of A Matter of Time, Calder has communicated with others who have had family members die from the disease. They often contact Calder at various stages of grief.

“That is why I’m doing this. I remember when I was going through it, I was not capable of doing anything relating to it as it was happening. It was too overwhelming. Now that I’m on the other side of it, I feel a sense of responsibility to bring awareness to the illness when other people can’t.”

Donations are being accepted during the event Tuesday to help fight the incurable neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscles. Calder will also participate in a Q&A session following the showing.

“I feel like I’m fighting for families — families who are going through it right now, and families that will go through it in the future.”

In a tragic twist, Calder completed her second solo album, 2011’s Bright and Vivid, in the wake of her father’s sudden death from a stroke on Dec. 24, 2010.

Losing both parents to separate causes in the span of 18 months, Calder has suffered and can acknowledge that hers is a remarkable story. But she has vowed to carry on the fight against ALS, for as long it stakes.

“It’s a very strange illness but I’m really glad that we’ve made the film we’ve made. It touches on a lot of different things and brings some awareness to the illness, which is really important to me. It’s a healing thing, too. It’s all for a really important cause.”

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