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The film is the same. Everything feels different.

Holding the Nashville Grand Jury Prize - Director Jeanie Finlay and Nashville Festival director Brian Owens

  • Paul and Louise, audience members wearing masks at our Doxa, Vancouver screening

May 2015 | North Americas 2015

Documentary star Jeanie Finlay has been on a North America tour to unveil her latest film, Orion: The Man Who Would Be King. Here, in the second of her blogs, she describes her adventures in New York, Nashville, Toronto and Vancouver with a man in a mask.


I recently arrived back home in Nottingham after a heady and fevered few weeks spent launching my new feature film Orion: The Man Who Would Be King into the world across four north American film festivals – Tribeca Film Festival in New York for our world premiere followed by Nashville Film Festival, Hotdocs in Toronto and finally Doxa in Vancouver.

As well as launching the film we also launched “I am Orion” which was developed as part of React and University of West England’s future documentary sandbox.  It is a 'wraparound artwork' that encompasses a live tribute to Orion and encourages our audience to wear the mask that transformed Orion into the 'superstar of song'.

Download Dr Judith Aston’s academic report on “I am Orion” here:

Showing at so many different festivals in quick succession, with different audiences and different cultures has been fascinating and discombobulating. Tribeca was thrilling in that it is not like premiering within the cosy confines of a smaller film festival that is an enclosed community, this felt like launching into the world and press at large. At the very point you are deciding how you feel about the film so are lots of other people!

The film is exactly the same at each screening, it is fixed in length as is the content but the framing and the context stretched and flexed with each new outing. The audiences responded to and were audibly moved by subtly different parts of the story in each city. Each cinema had its own unique feeling from the HUGE screens of Toronto to the emotional outpouring in Nashville. The film may have been the same but it felt different. Every single time.

Once the world premiere was out of the way, Nashville was the festival I was most apprehensive about. Much of Orion was shot in and around Tennessee and I knew that the audience would be made up of people close to Orion and Shelby Singleton from Sun Records. The screening was packed with Orion’s son, Sun Records executives, his band-mates, friends and fans clutching hand made Orion posters for signing.  One fan even wore Orion’s own rhinestoned jacket and another bought me a gift of a mask ring.

I took my place on the red carpet a brief two hours after landing in Nashville, all of a blur. We assembled en-masse for a nervous group shot and I was then interviewed/photographed by a range of camera crews. It was a horizontal gauntlet of Southern charm and TV lights and it added to the giddiness of our South East premiere.

The film was greeted with great emotion and after it was finished the tears and traces of make up on my dress told the story of how many times I had been embraced by members of the audience. Orion’s son had left the screening in a hurry and I was relieved to speak to him the following day and get his take. Although he had seen a screener of the film online seeing it on the big screen had been overwhelming. He said “It was hard to watch, one moment I was laughing, the next I was crying…. now I couldn’t imagine anyone else making the film.”

The following evening our good feelings were trumped by discovering we had won the Grand Jury prize at Nashville; the prize in question, a beautiful, limited edition Les Paul Gibson guitar in cherry red.  It’s currently winging its way to Nottingham and I can’t wait to try playing it - it’s the perfect prize and I’m thrilled.

Then on to Canada for the mighty Hotdocs and the lovely Doxa in Vancouver. Hotdocs was a chance to meet up with industry friends and to see some films and to show Orion introduced ably by Nick Fraser from BBC Storyville. I finally saw the joyful Mavis! by Jessica Edwards and so happy to see my friend and one time mentor Karen Guthrie pick up the international jury prize for her moving and funny The Closer We Get.

It was wonderful to be back in Vancouver. Over the last few years Dorothy Woodend at Doxa has programmed my films. It was heartening to see the same people at screenings, film after film after film.


  • Toronto has THE most dedicated audience for documentary. The Canadians really know how to do a big screen well.
  • Paris is Burning was made in 1990 but its power to move and thrill an audience full of people has not dimmed
  • The beating heart of documentary is late night karaoke. It is a festival obsession and one of my favourite things to do in the whole world.
  • Orion has the most dedicated fans I’ve ever come across. I lost count of the times I was kissed and hugged by his fans.
  • I never feel more British than when I’m thousand of miles from home.

Next big stop for Orion: The Man Who Would Be king is our European premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest on June 6. Come see the film and our special guest on Saturday 9 June and stay for my masterclass hosted by Danny Leigh (Film 2015) on June 7.

You can read Jeanie's first blog detailing her Tribeca premiere here - and find out more about Orion: The Man Who Would Be King here .