The Montreal Gazette published an article about In the Key of Claire on July 28th. The article by Susan Schwartz is reprinted here with thanks.
MONTREAL — In the Key of Claire, a lyrical documentary on music and healing, will have its world première Tuesday, July 29 at the Rialto Theatre.
The film tells the story of Montreal social worker Claire Duchesneau, a talented amateur musician who uses music to transcend challenges facing her and facing her patients, all of whom are HIV-positive and most of whom came to Canada from African war zones including Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo as asylum seekers.
Montreal director Anne Henderson has created a moving film that, among other things, gives voice to two groups not often represented in movies: older women and female refugees.
Duchesneau, 62, had gradually lost her hearing until she became profoundly deaf and needed hearing aids. But music has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember, and “to put down my music is to put down a part of who I am,” as she says at one point in the 52-minute documentary.
She reached out to Barbara Lewis, a voice coach and a hugely talented singer in her own right, to ask if she would teach someone who wore hearing aids. Lewis said she would.
Lewis and Henderson met in 2009, at a Christmas party at the home of a mutual friend. When Henderson said she was looking for a film project, Lewis told her about Duchesneau, “an older voice student with hearing aids.” The following year, back at the same party, Henderson asked about Duchesneau. “Next thing I knew, Anne was sitting in my office at the hospital,” recalled Duchesneau, who works at the Montreal Chest Institute of the McGill University Health Centre.
Music would help her through a cancer diagnosis in 2010 and through a gruelling course of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Fearing that the chemo would worsen her hearing further, she recorded an album before starting the treatment.
Once she recovered and felt well enough, she gave a concert in late 2011 to celebrate her 60th birthday. She performed to a full house at the Montreal jazz bar Upstairs, together with Lewis.
Music “is a thread in my life that helps me deal with the sad stories I hear day in and day out,” Duchesneau said in an interview in an MUHC newsletter this year.
“You can be terribly vulnerable and still strong as hell … and I think I learned that from my patients,” as Duchesneau, who has been in remission for four years from cancer of the anal canal, observes in the film.
She credits those patients with helping her to find her voice. “I don’t think it’s just a solo journey,” she says in the film. “My African women make me taller. … These women can find their voices. We hear their voices, their courage.”
Duchesneau helped a group of African women followed at her clinic to record an album of their own in 2013. Then in April, she travelled to Rwanda to participate in the national commemoration of the 1994 genocide.
Most Montrealers know nothing about asylum seekers who have been victims of war crimes and whose status in Canada remains uncertain, said Henderson. Duchesneau and some of her colleagues observe in the film that the government has, to some degree, demonized refugees as “queue jumpers, liars and cheaters.”
In the Key of Claire is co-produced by Henderson and Robbie Hart, who produced the multiple Gemini award-winning documentary I Am Not a Rock Star.
For three and a half of the four years it took to make In the Key of Claire, it had no funding. Ultimately, the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec provided a $20,000 grant and the CBC and Toronto-based IChannel bought broadcast licences, but the film is still not fully financed.
Part of the challenge, Henderson explained, lay in convincing broadcasters that a story about an older woman — a social worker who wears hearing aids — could interest an audience. “Most commissioning editors shied away from the subject matter,” she said.
“I feel that older women are virtually absent from the mainstream media, except for quirky character roles or dysfunctional mothers-in-law. But I am surrounded by older women who live rich and fascinating lives, who are repositories of stories that need to be told.”
In the Key of Claire is screened Tuesday, July 29 at 7 p.m. at the Rialto Theatre, 5723 Parc Ave. A Q&A with director Anne Henderson and some of the film’s subjects will follow. Tickets cost $10, and are available at the door or via eventbrite.ca. CBC will air the film Saturday, Aug. 2 at 7 p.m.; to accommodate commercials, only 45 minutes of the film’s 52 minutes will be shown.