COLUMBIA, TN (WSMV) - Grammy-winning country singer/songwriter Rory Feek is marking the wide-release of his film, Finding Josephine.
The film is a Civil War drama, co-written and co-directed by Feek, and loosely based on letters found in his old Columbia farmhouse.
The film follows Josephine Robison as she poses as a man and enlists in the army in search of her missing husband, John. The characters on which the film is based lived on the hundred-acre farm in Maury County which Feek now owns, but their story was partly Feek’s creation.
“I bought this old farm house in 1999 and it was in really rough shape,” said Feek in an exclusive interview with News4. “We found those letters and they just inspired me - something about how poetic they were - and I wrote a song based upon those letters.”
Feek said he was so touched by the sincerity in the letters between John and Josephine that he began to hope for a love story like theirs.
“I was singing that song at a writer’s night and this girl Joey was in the audience who ends up being my wife and her nickname’s always Josephine,” said Feek. “The amazing part is [the letters] not only inspired a song, it inspired a love story.”
Joey and Rory married in 2002 and made the Columbia farm their own. In 2011, they recorded the song “Josephine” and made an accompanying music video. It wasn’t until 2014 that the story of Josephine was expanded again into the screenplay, Finding Josephine.
“I’ll never forget, we were driving down the road and [Rory] just looks at me, he goes ‘what if [John’s] letters back to [Josephine] stopped? What would she do,” recalls Aaron Carnahan, who served as co-writer and producer for the film. “We just started talking and spit-balling and we set up two chairs and a desk and we both had our laptops out and we started writing.”
Carnahan and Feek spent a year writing the script for “Finding Josephine” before shooting in 2015 in Halifax County, Virginia. The film stars Alice Coulthard (TNT's The Last Ship), Boris McGiver (Netflix's House of Cards, The Wire), Jessejames Locorriere (Netflix's Ozark, Marvel's Ant-Man) and Linds Edwards (The Walking Dead pilot, Lethal Weapon, Rectify, Homefront).
In 2014, the same time the writing process for the film was going on, Rory’s wife Joey was diagnosed with cervical cancer. After surgery and treatment, she was declared cancer-free. At the completion of filming Finding Josephine in 2015, it was found that Joey’s cancer had returned and was then terminal.
Joey died March 4, 2016, and was buried on a hill on Rory’s property, visible from the farmhouse.
“[Joey and I] took a thousand walks to the cemetery because that’s where the people who built this farm are buried,” says Rory. “We romantically thought ‘we’ll be buried there some day.’ But when it starts to come into life for real, you realize it’s an incredible gift that someone you love could be buried here on your property and you can walk and be with her any time that you want.”
An early-edit version of Finding Josephine was screened one month after Joey’s death at the 2016 Nashville Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize for Tennessee First Feature.
Since Joey’s death, Rory has finished the film. The cemetery where Joey is buried now serves as the new opening and closing location for Finding Josephine.
“It turned out that some of the story is missing - and that was the truth,” said Rory. “So we went back later on - really in the last six months or so - and found a way to share the truth of the story, which is my own story combined with the story of Josephine and John. That’s what the movie was missing was the part of our lives that was changed because of these letters.”
The new version of the film is available for purchase beginning Feb. 5 in Walmart stores around the country and online.