When filmmaker Anne Henderson decided to make a documentary about Claire Duchesneau, a hearing-impaired social worker who strives to rediscover her singing voice, she was not prepared for events to unfold for the worse.

The production took an unpleasant turn early in the schedule when Duchesneau was diagnosed with cancer. Henderson decided to continue shooting, and spent four years documenting Duchesneau's complex struggle with illness and encroaching deafness as her protagonist persevered to record an album and perform live.

In The Key of Claire

A social worker at the MUHC HIV Clinic learns to sing despite the onset of deafness and cancer, and brings together survivors of the Rwandan genocide to collaborate in a powerful performance. (Anne Henderson/Arcady Films)

'I would survive through music. That if I could just sing, I would feel whole again.' - Claire Duchesneau in In the Key of Claire

The film is an intimate telling of what it means to negotiate with one's own far-reaching, uncertain goals.

Along her difficult journey, Duchesneau carves space for humour, writing her own cancer jokes to alleviate her suffering.

She confronts hearing loss by learning to read vibrations for intonation, and restores her strength through continuous singing practice. Recognizing that her HIV-positive clients at the MUHC's Montreal Chest Institute might also benefit from this outlet, she invites the asylum-seekers from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda — including several survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide — to record with her. The result brings the notion of resilience into sharp focus for Duchesneau.

Claire Duchesneau and daughter Erin Ashley Singer departing for Rwanda

Claire Duchesneau and daughter Erin Ashley Singer departing for Rwanda

Through its frank treatment of one woman's four-year struggle, In The Key of Claire explores how music nurtures the healing process, and how a well-timed "butt joke" can do wonders to lift the darkness during troubled times.

The documentary airs Saturday, Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. as part of the Absolutely Quebec series.