A peek at Fred Penner’s world

New documentary digs into the history of the beloved children’s entertainer

Veteran children’s entertainer Fred Penner is the subject of a new documentary about his life and career.

A new documentary about the life of Fred Penner premiered on Super Channel’s streaming service on Dec. 4. Fred Penner: This is My World is a feature film by Winnipeg director Aaron Floresco. It explores Penner’s childhood, how he came to work with children and the journey he took to become the person he is now, but also the person he is becoming.

Floresco, who grew up watching Penner and was able to share the singer-songwriter’s music with his own son, met Penner six years ago after he saw him perform one of his shows for adults. 

The project has seen three incarnations: a 15-minute short for Bravo about Penner’s adult shows, a 45-minute film for CBC Gem about Penner’s life and now, a 92-minute feature for Super Channel. 

“I thought Fred’s story was worth telling as a feature,” Floresco says. “I was glad I was able to complete the project the way I wanted to.”

Floresco rounded out the picture using the footage he had already shot for the previous two projects. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, he filmed new interviews with current Penner collaborator Alex Cuba and several re-enactments to flush out the portions about Penner’s childhood. 

“I’ve covered a lot of territory over my lifetime,” Penner says. “I’m hoping that people will get a sense of some of the circumstances that lead to me committing myself to a performer’s life.”

Penner’s sister Susie, who lived with Down syndrome, died very young but had a huge impact on the direction of Penner’s life.

“She really set my appreciation for the value of music in her life and, ultimately, in the life of all children,” Penner says.” My music has been very powerful with autistic children, (so) when I was doing my first record, it made sense to direct it to children and families.”

Susie’s death was followed within the year by the death of their father. Those two mortality checks are crucial parts of Penner’s journey to becoming a musician, despite completing a degree in economics from the University of Winnipeg. 

“It is a really unique position to be able to look at my life and see where it has gone, and more importantly, where it’s going,” Penner says.

Penner, who has been working nonstop for the past 45 years, has been taking a pause during the pandemic with his wife on Vancouver Island. 

“I’ve not lost any of my enthusiasm or delight in what this can do for myself or for an audience,” Penner says. “There is still lots more music inside of me.”

Fred Penner: This is My World is available on Super Channel’s streaming service. Due to the pandemic, there are no current plans for a screening in Winnipeg, but there may be opportunity for one at a later time.

Published in Volume 75, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 13, 2021)

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