Hillbilly Highway – A conversation with director of Chasing a Song

Chasing a Song Poster

by Sheldon Birnie

Chasing a Song is a brand new documentary from local filmmaker Charles Konowal. Some of y’all might remember Charles’ work on Happily Dysfunctional: The Story of Transistor 66 Records. Konowal’s latest is a study of the art of songwriting, by way of local songwriter Scott Nolan, who Konowal met while working on Happily Dysfunctional. The film is a beautifully shot, stirring contemplation of what makes Nolan tick as an artist, with some special appearances from Bobby Stahr and Jesse DeNatale. Shot in Winnipeg, Oklahoma, and Folsom Prison in California, Chasing a Song takes the viewer on quite the trip along the Hillbilly Highway. Stylus caught up with Konowal recently to chat about the making of the film.

Stylus: When did you come up with the idea for this project, and when did it really get rolling?

Charles Konowal: Well, I was working on [Happily Dysfunctional] and I met Scott for a half day of filming. He really kind of caught my attention. I wanted to more, so I did a little bit of research. I liked the way he was  great storyteller, and I really liked his music. I hadn’t really known a lot about him before that, so I was kind of intrigued. I looked him, listened to some more music and thought, “You know, this could be an interesting subject.” I talked to him a bit, and he was a little apprehensive at first about a kind of “rock documentary.” But we came to terms with exploring his songwriting, and so we kind of made that the theme of the film. I pitched it to MTS people, and they were interested. We had an opportunity to shoot in California with Jesse DeNatale, who is a friend of Tom Waits. When we mentioned Tom Waits, Cam Bennett was ready to sign a contract right there! So we kind of tricked him [chuckles], but we were close. We almost had Tom Waits. So that’s how it all kind of came to be. We filmed for just under a year.

Stylus: What were some of the challenges involved in putting this film together?

CK: The first challenge was just the lack of funding. The MTS shows are pretty low budget. We wanted to travel. Initially, I wanted to go with Scott on tour to the southern US, Texas and that kind of thing. So I had to look around for more money. I went to Manitoba Film and Music, and they kind of kicked in a little bit, and we cobbled together enough to just make it. That was probably the biggest challenge. Then there was the fact that we were not able to go on tour, because to work in the States in time, Scott had applied [for a work visa], but they’d changed the rules… So we had a few bumps along the way. Then the whole business of Folsom came up, so we sort of ran with that.

Stylus: How much of the story did you have in mind when you started, and how much did the story change as you filmed?

CK: Well, as I said it was going to be exploring his songwriting, but we wanted to see him perform so we’d planned to go on the road and spend a few weeks again, and hitting some of the great spots in the southwestern US. That fell through, unfortunately. And actually the trip we filmed in Oklahoma, that was another one of those episodes where Scott couldn’t get across the border, so we just went down there and did our thing. What we were going to do was go from Winnipeg to Oklahoma, then get onto Route 66 and travel to California and up to Folsom and film along the way. Unfortunately, that border got in the way again. But eventually we made it to California and did the gig at Folsom, and that was really great.

Chasing a Song debuts at Cinemateque Thursday April 18, and will be available on MTS On Demand starting Friday April 19. Beginning in the fall, the film will be available for download and purchase on DVD. Check it out today for an intimate look at one of our favourite local songwriters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *