Re­flect­ing on songs and sor­row

New doc­u­men­tary fol­lows Cather­ine MacLel­lan’s quest to learn more about her fa­ther

Cape Breton Post - - Arts / Entertainment - BY MILLICENT MCKAY SALTWIRE NET­WORK

It’s been a pe­riod of re­flec­tion for Prince Ed­ward Is­land artist Cather­ine MacLel­lan.

For three years she’s worked with Mille­fiore Clarkes, an Is­land film pro­ducer, on a new film, “The Song and The Sor­row,” af­ter Clarkes ap­proached her about mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary about her fa­ther, Gene MacLel­lan, and his strug­gles with men­tal ill­ness.

“It was an in­ter­est­ing feel­ing to have these con­ver­sa­tions about my Dad and his de­pres­sion. I’ve al­ways lived to be very truth­ful and as the ques­tions be­ing asked got deeper and deeper you felt very vul­ner­a­ble. It was also in­ter­est­ing be­cause you were an­swer­ing these ques­tions with full hon­esty, not just what peo­ple wanted to hear.”

MacLel­lan says one of the big­gest sur­prises was that she wasn’t sur­prised by what peo­ple had to say.

“They all said he was this great guy and mu­si­cian. I was hop­ing to learn new things, but a lot of it was com­ments I’d heard be­fore.

“I brought the men­tal health as­pect into it. And we just started from there.”

MacLel­lan was hop­ing that through talk­ing to his friends, they would have some­thing to add to the con­ver­sa­tion about men­tal health.

Gene MacLel­lan was an iconic Cana­dian mu­si­cian who wrote and sang songs like “Snow­bird,” made fa­mous by fel­low Cana­dian Anne Mur­ray, as well as “Put Your Hand in the Hand” and “The Call.” Other artists, such as Elvis Pres­ley and Bing Crosby, also recorded MacLel­lan’s songs.

He died by sui­cide in Jan­uary 1995. In a clip from the doc­u­men­tary it is re­vealed that Cather­ine was the per­son who found him.

“The truth was that my Dad was so good at hid­ing it that peo­ple didn’t know he had these feel­ings. And talk­ing to these peo­ple who knew my Dad re­ally well but didn’t know what he was go­ing through made me re­al­ize how im­por­tant it is to talk about men­tal health.”

She says open­ing the con­ver­sa­tion has also helped with her own heal­ing process of deal­ing with the fa­ther’s death.

“For a long time, I think, I was chas­ing who I thought he was. And I thought if I asked those ques­tions I was go­ing to lose him.

“But in singing his songs I learned that’s where he still is. He’s not in any­body’s ver­sion of him and he’s not in my ver­sion of him. He’s left these gifts be­hind for us to lis­ten to. My re­la­tion­ship with my Dad isn’t over. It’s still grow­ing and chang­ing.”

MacLel­lan says work­ing on the film has al­lowed her to see the im­por­tance of cre­at­ing an open con­ver­sa­tion about men­tal health for her daugh­ter and her fam­ily.

“That’s the big­gest thing I can do for my daugh­ter, so she knows she can go through life without feel­ing ashamed be­cause she feels … what­ever.”

MacLel­lan’s nephew, Em­met, 16, says he’s ex­cited to see the film.

“It will be an­other way for me to see and learn things about my grand­fa­ther. I never got to meet him. I’m re­ally proud of [Cather­ine] and ev­ery­body for mak­ing it.”

Clarkes, the writer and di­rec­tor, de­scribes “The Sound and The Sor­row” as a lyrical, con­tem­pla­tive film that ges­tures to the is­sue of men­tal health.

“It’s also a re­ally per­sonal story about how Cather­ine tries to un­der­stand her­self through this mys­te­ri­ous fa­ther fig­ure. It’s an ex­plo­ration of his mu­si­cal ca­reer and his strug­gles that he was very re­served about.”

Clarkes says the ex­pe­ri­ence has been one she’ll al­ways re­mem­ber.

“It’s been won­der­ful. I feel like [Cather­ine] and I are part­ners in this so it’s cool to have this sense of col­lab­o­ra­tion. There were so many peo­ple we got to meet. It took us to Anne Mur­ray’s condo in Toronto, to Gene’s favourite boot­leg­ging joint in North Rus­tico.”

“The Song and The Sor­row” is a 42-minute, mid-length film that will make the rounds at film fes­ti­vals this fall. It opened Fri­day night at the Char­lot­te­town Film Fes­ti­val.


Cather­ine MacLel­lan plays one of her dad’s gui­tars. MacLel­lan, the daugh­ter of the late mu­sic leg­end Gene MacLel­lan, ex­plores his life in a new doc­u­men­tary.

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