There is a moment when everyone falls in love with the music of Ron Sexsmith.
For director Douglas Arrowsmith it was 1994, when he heard a radio broadcast of Sexsmith live from the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec. “I had kind of been on a search for a contemporary who possessed lyric and melody and guitar the way he did. I hadn’t found it until then.” Six years later, Arrowsmith finally met Sexsmith after a show at the Jazz Cafe in Camden, UK. “Even just in talking with him there was more confirmation that this story wasn’t going to go away,” Arrowsmith recalls, “That story would be around for the whole test of time with him and would just get better and better.”
Shortly after that, Arrowsmith started shooting a documentary about the artist, his process and his life, but he was capturing Sexsmith at an important time in his career. You see, despite Sexsmith’s ability to intimately connect with listeners, he had not achieved a level of success or fame he felt was consistent with his ability to write and perform incredible music.
“What the film captures is Ron in the process of turning a really critical corner,” Arrowsmith shares. “He’s coming from a place where he is pretty despondent, and he’s not sure about his future career as a songwriter.” Arrowsmith began documenting the creation of what was to become Sexsmith’s latest album, Long Player Late Bloomer , which was a particularly challenging process for Sexsmith. “It’s not that Ron isn’t confident about what he does, I think it’s that he’s just lost faith about how music is getting made, about what can be a hit — and why his songs can’t be.”
Getting the film made was a journey that mirrored Sexsmith’s own. The hunt began to find broadcast interest in the film and, “They would say, maybe we gotta wait until Ron gets more famous.” Arrowsmith’s faith in the project was restored when they were awarded funding through Astral Media’s Harold Greenberg Fund. “There was a onetime only envelope available for a Canadian music film. We filled out the application and actually won. That was huge. We went up against I don’t know how many other films — and the Ronnie film won! I’ll never forget that day. I was like, yeah, this is gonna happen.” After that there was significant broadcast interest. HBO Canada, The Movie Network and Movie Central came on board, in addition to funders like the Rogers Documentary Fund, who all contributed to the creation of the film.
The filmmaker toiled through funding difficulties, and the artist toiled through self-doubt and fears about his future as a songwriter. The result is the film Love Shines , an up-close documentary about an artist’s world both in the studio and out. “The film has solved this hanging question about who is Ron Sexsmith? What is it about him? It’s created such a special answer for people,” Arrowsmith says of the completed journey. “Here’s a guy who’s worrying through the same stuff that we all are. How do you know when you’re good enough? What matters? Whether you’re a husband or a father. He’s all these things in the film, and he’s also this guy with this incredible gift.” It’s this willingness to be open about those anxieties that is sure to connect with audiences.
Few films get to the heart of the artist’s process the way this film does. It’s obvious that Arrowsmith has a keen understanding of this unique, personal process and was capable of creating the level of comfort with his subject that was necessary for the type of intimate portrait Love Shines is. “I think it’s that message of perseverance and following your passions against all costs. That there’s a light at the end,” says Arrowsmith of the lasting impact of the film. “Ron really exemplifies, he really embodies that journey. He’s found the only thing really that he’s good at, the only thing in the whole world he can really do, is write songs, and he’s devoted himself to that. It’s that long and honest journey that I just find really moving.”
Arrowsmith’s fondness for his subject comes shining through in this not-to-be-missed film, which premieres at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival this Friday, May 6 at 9:45 pm. If you miss it at Hot Docs, it will also debut on HBO Canada on May 14. Don’t miss either opportunity to find your moment to fall just as much in love with the man behind the music as the music itself.