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Claire Varney


Claire Varney is an arts and entertainment correspondent/journalist who covers film, television and music by producing and conducting one-on-one interviews at premieres, festivals, and behind-the-scenes productions in the US and internationally.   


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The Death of My Two Fathers. Interview with Director/Writer/Producer Sol Guy

 

Q:  Tell us about the title of your film?

 

A:  Great question- It’s almost something I need to explain because when people ask me what’s your movie called, and I say The Death of My Two Fathers”… they kind of lean away. 

The title truthfully is like a lot of things…it emerged late while in the process of making this documentary. 

It was all a journey toward excepting loss and death.

A lot of this film is very personal and the title is almost a reminder to myself of my own mortality.

 

 

Q: How did the idea for this documentary come about...what compelled you to make it?

 

A: As you know in docs, the initial ideas are far different from the end result.

It was almost 4 years ago… I’ve lived the majority of my adult life between Canada and America dual citizen... arts and culture in New York and LA… but I also liked to be in Canada.  

When Trump came into power, I was looking around the country… I was thinking a lot about segregation and separateness that is the truth of America - and the lack of acknowledgement of it. And the blood lines that run through me being a person of mixed heritage.  

But also, (thought about) my adult life as a man who looks and is seen as a black man in this country, and all the challenges and the beauty that come with that.  

Then I asked myself, is it better, worse, or the same than when my parents, a mixed couple, in the late 60s/early 70s decided they needed to get out for various reasons that I share in the film. And that was the initial question was it same or different…

The idea initially was to retrace their journey....they were wild hippies, they hitchhiked down to America…and I wanted to retrace their route -but from Canada backwards.  

I had all these ideas on how I was going to do that, and while thinking about the journey at some point these video tapes my father made surfaced. And then I of course had to watch them, and that’s when everything took a left turn. 

 

I was terrified to look at the tapes.

Because I must’ve known subconsciously that I wasn’t going to just watch those tapes and then be like, ‘Oh that was heavy’, and then turn them off. I must’ve known that there was more there…

 

 

Q: And probably when you decided to make this film, it gave you a real purpose and the strength to look at those tapes?

 

A: 100% ..I had a purpose and I also had a shield-which is the protection of art. 

A lot of times it’s very personal, but I knew I was creating.  I believe deeply that healing is a creative process. You make something great because it transforms you first, and then perhaps it’s something that other people can relate to. 

And I found the courage to go into those things because I had a camera with me. 

‘Oh I’m just making a film’… It was that, and I don’t want to say I hid behind, but it somewhat propelled me forward.

Otherwise I don’t think I would have had the courage. 

And I’m grateful for my family that was willing to put up with me. 

 

 

Q:  Your father’s video tapes that you discovered: What was in them?

 

A: The last year of my father’s life in 1998 he decided..well he knew he wasn’t gonna live much longer, and he sat down in his workshop with an old VHS camera and he sat in front of the camera and he told his life story to tape. Two hours on his own, and about six hours my sister who was becoming a journalist interviewed him. It marked from his birth to where he what is a young man, to where he was he was 54 the time. And how he arrived there:  A black man from Kansas City born in1944, arrived in rural British Columbia in a town of 3000 people. 

And of course what was in there when I did watch it was all the pieces to the puzzle - not completely, but he told his story, and I think he told it because I was in my 20s (at the time of the recordings), and the things that he needed to say may be valuable to me and my siblings and my mother and my stepmother and our family; as we hadn’t   had the conversation. 

One can post conversations you can’t talk about (such as) why your first marriage didn’t work out to your 12 or 15-year-old kid, but you sure can when the kid’s 30… but he wasn’t gonna be around then.  

So I think he saw something there that he wanted to leave. I’m blown away that we were able to then take that and make something now for his grandchildren that he never met. That’s what does my head in.   

 

 

Q:  It seems this documentary was full of discoveries-moments you didn’t plan on.. in other words, it doesn’t seem like it was scripted or had an outline. It seemed like it your path changed along the way- did it?

 

A:  It’s a lot more work doing this way, and a lot more terrifying. There’s a lot more uncertainty. But certainly things can emerge. There’s no way I could have known that what I was really doing was preparing for something bigger to happen in my life by going down this road. And I thought the film was completed at a certain point, but then things happen and I keep going keep going, so I think that the documentary is about emerging, because life is about emerging, and docs are a snapshot of life.

 

 

Q: You’re in the film - and you talk to your children directly into the camera. Tell us about that…  

 

A:  I asked myself a question about what I would want most as it related to my father, and quite quickly I realized that the thing I would cherish, if I could have one wish - it would be to have another conversation with him. And then when I realized that I thought, oh man… that’s pretty universal.  I think there’s people that we all wish that for. We play that out in our imaginations…but to actually have these tapes…what if I position myself in a simpler way, and then honoring his gift to me by giving that gift back to my kids. It felt like It was like a three-way conversation; taking in from him and responding to him and through him - to my children. 

It’s kind of like a double helix. 

And then what happens is when you speak to your children in a kind of divine way, they begin to tell you things that you didn’t know.

I hope this film was a conversation between a father and a son, and a father and a son, and a daughter, I hope. 

 

 

Q:  Did significant things pop up during the editing?

 

A:  So much. 

The thing that I’m most proud of was one of the biggest challenges.  I’m in the film, but trying to remove my opinion and allow for peoples experiences to be shared. There’s certain things that I learned that were so powerful about myself and about some of the assumptions I was making about my family circumstances. 

 

When it’s that personal and I decided to put myself in it, I had to accept that the reward of the success is in the making… and I don’t say that to be trite or dismissive of what we did, but I really feel fundamentally changed by the experience:  Everything that has come from this with responses, watching people react, and my family and other people having conversations…these are all add-ons. 

 

I just received so much by staying present. I did have some rules I got off of social media for like the entire time and I’m not really on that stuff anymore but it seems. I was doing as much as I could to force myself to be present.  

Having those conversations, understanding your story of where you come from with the people that you love is not a something that should be reserved for making a feature film it is you should just pull out your iPhone and record your mom your dad your cousin your brother your grandfather y whoever it is your best friend who has the craziest story about the thing that happened….. get the story!  who knows because you get so much by getting the story.  it doesn’t have to become anything -the value assigned to The courage it takes to ask questions and document them -everyone can have that experience. 

In general my work is like pushing people to have those experiences. 

We are creative beings in these bodies and we are here to express ourselves and to put our thumbprint down . 

I have a passion about it.  I hope that if anything people get from this film, it is that this is something they can do for themselves

 

 

Q: Yes, such as speak up sooner than later ..Do it sooner than later?

 

A:  You nailed it- has to be… Has to be sooner than later because none of this is promised -if there’s anything we learn from this past year (2020) year and a half ..loss is real. 

 

I had questions of my own I needed to ask and find out for myself that I could pass on to my *kids I needed some answers so I need it now there may be a little late another version but I’m glad I did It now.

My kids said some beautiful things. And they’re proud. My son was at the premiere at Tribeca.  It was a moment of a lifetime for a father. 

 

I just wonder what’s this going to mean to my son when he’s 30…and maybe when I’m all gone. 

You can just record the stories and put them all in a box, or in your iPhone, and your child and family will have it when you’re there not anymore.  I think it’s powerful.

 

 

Q:  How was the Tribeca premiere?  It was a significant weekend, wasn’t it?

 

A:  Yes it was a significant weekend…some call it coincidence but some call it divine choreography.  That weekend lined up on my fathers birthday, and my whole family arrived and we had a meal together.  The following day was Juneteenth, which was when we did our first screening, and it was outdoors in person. The screening was sold out. I was very nervous, but I sat with my son and my family to watch it and we received a standing ovation, which was kind of shocking to me.  People had some great conversations, and we had a great party after. 

And it was so heightened because we hadn’t all been able to see each other for so long (due to Covid). 

And then the following day which was Father’s Day, we had another screening which was again very well attended with incredible feedback, and the weather complied-it was great. 

 

I find it fascinating that the origin of the Tribeca film Festival was born out of a response to 9/11: To get people back into Tribeca within the year after 9/11. And I find it so telling of the nature/ the DNA/ the intention of this event that is usually held in April-but was moved to June …it just so happened it was 20 years later it when as people we’re emerging once again, and needed to come outside again, and be together.  Literally 20 years later. That was 2001 and now it is 2021.  I love that. To be a part of that …It was truly a humbling, exciting weekend.  

 

 

Q:  What are some of the questions or comments people had after seeing the film...Which ones do you remember the most?

 

A:  The ones I remember most are people talking about how they are moved to be in touch now with their family members. Multiple people saying they haven’t talked to their kid for a while, or they need to go see their auntie.  Or some of my dear friends  saying, ‘I don’t include my family in what I do; but I’m not me without my family…how do I weave that in?’  

What I’m proud of is that there is a self reflection that seems to happen when people watch this movie and it seems to stick with people. I had a few friends who said a couple weeks after, ‘You know I can’t stop thinking about your movie,’ and that’s really gratifying to me.  And people are thinking about their version.  

The most I could hope for is that I offer inspiration.. that the people can then carry-on into action in their lives. If there’s a seed of inspiration I’m incredibly grateful. It felt like there was. 

I hope that people can use this as a conversation starter. 

 
 
 

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