Fatherhood Film Festival Schedule
Thursday, June 14
Where: Liberty Hall, 644 Mass.
5:30 p.m.: Screening of “The Other F Word”
7:15 p.m.: “Balancing a Dream with Becoming a Dad,” panel discussion on fatherhood with the makers of “Sironia” and local musicians
8 p.m.: Screening of “Sironia”
9:45 p.m.: Performance by Wes Cunningham
Where: The Oread, 1200 Oread Ave.
7 p.m.: Screening of “WaterWalk,” with presentation and Q&A by Steven Faulkner, author of the book that was the basis for the movie.
Even now, 16 years after the trip, Steven Faulkner gets the question: Were you guys crazy?
“I think in a lot of ways what we did was insane,” he says.
It was 1996, and Faulkner, then a Ph.D. student at Kansas University, convinced his 16-year-old son, Justin, to join him on a 1,000-mile canoe trip that retraced the 1673 journey by Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, the French explorers credited with discovering the Mississippi River.
Faulkner, now an English professor at Longwood University in Virginia, recounted the experience in a 2007 book, “Waterwalk: A Passage of Ghosts,” which has been given new life this spring with “WaterWalk,” a film based on the book.
“At the time, I was finishing up my college career and working full time,” Faulkner says. “I was really overly busy, and I hadn’t spent that much time with my son. This trip was an opportunity to do that. It really was a bonding experience.”
The father-child relationship will be a common theme of this week’s Fatherhood Film Festival, which will feature “WaterWalk” and two other films about being a dad. The festival also will feature discussions with those involved in the films and a musical performance.
“This is the first time of reaching out on a national level,” says Marc Havener, a local filmmaker who helped organize the third year of the festival, which is a project of Dads of Douglas County. “We see an opportunity to create an annual event featuring storytelling and filmmaking that opens a conversation about fatherhood.”
“There’s power in those little human beings we’re invested in,” says Havener, a father of three. “There is glory in those relationships. There’s no better way to show that than through movies.”
‘Join and pain’ of fatherhood
In addition to “WaterWalk,” the festival’s offerings include:
• “The Other F Word,” a documentary about how rock stars such as Art Alexakis (Everclear), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Lars Frederiksen (Rancid) balance their careers and being fathers.
• “Sironia,” a feature loosely based on the life of Wes Cunningham, who also stars in the film. Cunningham’s character — like himself in real life — moves back to Texas to raise a family after an attempt to strike it big in the Los Angeles movie industry. The film won the people’s choice award at this year’s Austin Film Festival.
“We’re all fathers now,” Cunningham says of those involved in making the film. “We’re coming to terms that maybe what we had imagined for our careers isn’t what is going to happen.”
But Cunningham, who has boys ages 3, 5 and 8, isn’t complaining.
“It’s hard to remember a time when I wasn’t a father,” says Cunningham, who lives in Waco, Texas. “So much of it is freeing for me in that I don’t have to obsess about myself or my life. Being a father is such a constant ego squash. There’s a joy and pain in that. Sometimes I think, ‘I haven’t picked up my guitar and paid attention to my creative voice for a week.’ But the best part of being a dad is giving yourself away, and for an egomaniac like myself, that’s really freeing.”
Cunningham is perhaps best-known for his song “So It Goes,” which reached the top 10 of the Billboard adult alternative chart in the late 1990s. He also has toured with such acts as Wilco, Lyle Lovett, Jason Mraz, Los Lobos, Aimee Man and Buddy Guy.
He still performs around Waco but spends most of his time with his sons.
“Sironia,” named for the fictional town Cunningham’s character moves to after his stab at L.A., is “largely my life, but it’s not, too,” he says. The themes ring true, but some of the details are different, Cunningham says.
“I write a lot autobiographically from a musical standpoint,” Cunningham says, noting the movie’s writers — himself and buddies Brandon Dickerson and Thomas Ward — started with a list of his songs they wanted to include and wrote the plot around the music.
Cunningham says he’s been reading “The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids” by Tom Hodgkinson. It’s helped put in perspective his balance between fatherhood and his drive for creating music.
“It’s kind of revolutionized me,” he says. “It’s saying, ‘What’s so great about always being productive and always getting things done?’ Great creative space happens in just being in the moment with your kids as much as you can.”
‘It brought us together’
Faulkner can identify with being in the moment, too — though he realizes biting off a two-month canoe trip with your son might not be for everybody.
“I don’t think it would have been good for a lot of fathers and sons,” he says. “It’s a risky proposition.”
But it worked, and he’s glad to share his tale again now that there is new interest with the film “WaterWalk.” He tells stories of a capsized canoe, losing his journal in the process; watching a pair of wolves pull a buck into the water for dinner; and paddling well after midnight in the dark in search for a suitable place to set up camp for the night.
“It brought us together,” Faulkner says of his relationship with his son. “We still share that experience. We still talk about it sometimes. We’ll laugh about something that reminds us of the trip.”
Faulkner reviewed the screenplay for the film, directed by and starring Robert Ciccihini, but didn’t have much involvement in its creation. Several details are different — in the film, Faulkner is a laid-off newspaper editor in Michigan, instead of a carpenter/student in Kansas, and it’s the son convincing the father to take the trip, instead of the other way around. But Faulkner says the overriding theme holds true.
“One of the themes of the book is we do need to take the time,” he says. “Maybe not all in one whack like we did. But every week, or every day, we need to touch base with our kids. The movie does express that. After several years of going to college, I didn’t fulfill my end of the role.”
The message, though, apparently got through to Justin Faulkner. Steven Faulkner says his son now has two young daughters, and Justin recently took them rappelling.
“I think he’s crazy,” Steven Faulkner says. “I guess he’s too much like his dad.”