Jonathan Holiff didn’t really know his father.
The man who raised him was a stranger. He was someone who lived in the shadow of one of the most influential American musicians.
His father Saul Holiff was Johnny Cash’s manager and saw the singer through some of his most turbulent years.
Jonathan spent more than 20 years estranged from his father until he learned of Saul’s death.
It left him with questions.
“Why was my father so angry? Why did he commit suicide and not leave a note?” asked Jonathan.
Walk the Line came out three months after his father’s death. Jonathan was inundated with calls from reporters.
It wasn’t until he returned to the family home in Nanaimo that he learned some of those answers.
Upon his return he discovered a storage locker with his father’s possessions. Amongst the items stored were more than 600 letters, 1,400 photographs and more than 60 hours of audio recording between Saul and Cash.
“Johnny didn’t even know he was being recorded,” said Jonathan. “And neither man was aware anyone would hear the tapes.”
He said sifting through his father’s material inspired him to create the documentary: My Father and the Man in Black.
The documentary allowed him to heal and reconcile himself with the image he had of a cold, unfeeling father.
The journals, letters and conversations showed him the other side.
“I met my father for the first time as a man,” said Jonathan.
What makes the movie unique is portions of the audio recording were used in the film and the letters were read by David James, a Johnny Cash tribute act.
“It’s the only new information about the man (Johnny Cash) that has appeared since before he died,” said Jonathan. “It’s an inside look. This is an unauthorized look at Johnny Cash as seen through the eyes of his long-time manager.”
It took Jonathan about seven years to create the documentary and coincidentally he said it is coming out the same year as the 10th anniversary of Cash’s death, which is in September.
Saul stood by Cash through difficult times including the prison years, addiction, liaisons with women and arrests, but decided to walk away.
“Managers don’t quit superstars, they get fired. My father was a highly principled guy and he walked away from what amounted to a million a year,” said Jonathan.
His father’s reasons for leaving Cash are revealed in the documentary. But at the heart of the story is a tale about the estranged relationship between a father and son and how the father’s career as Cash’s manager created a rift in the family.
“In the end it is a universal story about fathers and sons,” said Jonathan.
“Don’t wait until it is too late to reconcile with a parent with who you have a troubled relationship.”
My Father and the Man in Black shows at the Port Theatre Wednesday (March 20) at 7 p.m.
It opens with a live concert featuring David James and Big River and is followed by a discussion with director Jonathan Holiff.
Tickets are $30 and are available by calling 250-754-8550, at the Port Theatre box office, located at 125 Front St., or www.porttheatre.com.