The ongoing Canadian adventures of Publisher-Poet Jumping Joe Blades
Interview by Cathie Leblanc
First published on the website of the New Brunswick Filmmakers' Cooperative in 2001.
Cathie: So Joe, here we are again. Different location, different time.
Cathie: We both still have a coffee, though. This is a continuation of what we were discussing last time in part one of "Jumping Joe's Great Canadian Adventures," about the Festival in Labrador. This time you'd like to focus a bit on the documentary that was made behind the scenes.
Joe: Yeah, there was an unexpected aspect to the Festival, which I didn't know about at all until I was there. Even the first time I saw the crew I didn't realize what they were, I figured it might have just been part of a cable TV station, or a group out . . . you know, for CBC, because we had CBC Radio floating around a lot of times at workshops. I had no idea that we actually had a film crew there who were shooting footage to make a documentary about the Festival.
Cathie: And they were shooting you, as well.
Joe: Well, they were shooting all of us. Certainly in the first days that I was around I was just in the audience, and they were shooting the children's, the student's, plays on-stage at Goose High, and I think they were in some of the workshops that the other artists in the Festival gave.
Cathie: You'll know when you see the documentary.
Joe: I'll know in the end, yes.
Cathie: What was it like when things slowed down a bit?
Joe: It was on the weekend that things slowed down, naturally (laughter). It's good. Even though there were still lots of kids coming in from the coast there was no evening performance on the Saturday. Saturday night was off. This was a good time for them to have some fun. They fly in from their little towns of 250 to 600 people, they've got Saturday night off in Goose Bay. They're ecstatic, because a lot of them come from towns that have no restaurants, coffee shops, or anything, you know, they don't have video rental stores, none of that.
Cathie: I can't imagine.
Joe: Then they're in Goose Bay, and Goose Bay has actually mushroomed in the last couple of years, since the road came in, it's connected by road to Quebec now, so people can drive there year-round.
Cathie: Oh, that's really quite a difference.
Joe: It's a major difference. So now there's 31 restaurants, most of them of the fast food type, everything from Subway and A&W to Irish pubs. Not a lot of high-end stuff, but there's 31 eateries where you can go out, and sit, and have someone else make the food. They were doing their Christmas shopping, and all sorts of fun things like that. That was a good break, from giving five workshops a day, to doing that. On the Sunday there were no workshops scheduled at all, which I thought was . . . well, it didn't surprise me. I had no idea how religious they were, or anything, but I knew from my experience on the Coast that some of them were very religious because the schools, up to a year and a half ago, had been run by a missionary. So (laughing) I figured it's quite likely that Sunday there won't be much happening. But I had a phone call, and was asked if I wanted to go cabinning on Sunday. I said, "Cabinning? What's that?" It's what they call going to the cabin. (laughter). Cabinning!
Cathie: I guess we just call it, "Going to the cabin."
Joe: (Laughter). I had never heard of it as a verb.
Cathie: So you said yes?
Joe: I said yes, of course! Because I've always liked the real world, as opposed to just our nice little urban constructed houses, and roads, and streetlights, and all that sort of thing. This was a cabin that Tim had that was some ways out of town. I think it's in the Land Management area. I just know that we went alongside the bay of Goose Bay. There were a couple of van loads of us that got picked up and taken there.
Cathie: So it wasn't just a few people . . .
Joe: It was about half of the artists. What was surprising was that when we got there, the film crew was there as well. There were four of them. It was led by a woman named Marian Cheeks and she was the producer. Another person was on sound. Someone was doing camera, and then there was someone who was, essentially, directing.
Cathie: Were they shooting digitally? Or on film? Joe: I'm thinking it was video, but I could be wrong. It was a big shoulder unit, like CBC, so I'm thinking Betacam.
Cathie: Which makes it interesting, when you're not ready for something.
Joe: Yeah. They'd rope in people to help out on lights. If they needed some extra lights, they'd just ask someone to hold lights. Or the one who was doing some of the directing would ask questions off-camera that we would answer on-camera. At the cabin they did some footage with a few of us, and I was one of the ones who got asked to do it while I was out picking some Labrador tea, just for the fun of it.
Cathie: So you picked it yourself.
Joe: Yeah. And I'd picked it before, but I picked it in BC, I picked it in Nova Scotia, wherever.
Cathie: What does it look like when you pick it fresh?
Joe: Oh, they're small, long oval leaves that are green, a shiny green on one side,
and kind of fuzzy, rusty brown on the underside.
Cathie: And is Labrador tea really nice?
Joe: It's a very mild, calm kind of sweet tea. It was just for the irony of it that I picked some. But of course they spotted what I was doing, and asked, "What are you doing?" (laughter)
Cathie: So it became a little bit bigger than both of you?
Joe: Then I had re-enact it for the camera! To go and pick some more.
Cathie: Which sort of takes out the spontaneity.
Joe: Oh yeah, that's why I was telling someone I became a docu-actor on it, because . . . what are you when you're doing a documentary? But, it's still acting, I thought. It's not like footage of a hockey game, you know. They don't say, "No, no . . . Do that slam into the boards again! Again! Again!" You know, Take 3. It doesn't work that way. But they had me go out and pick leaves. I did it, and then we had a little conversation or something about myself, and why I was there, and if it was the first time I was to Labrador. That sort of question. I know they went off and got someone, one of the other writers, Toby, from Montreal, an Irishman from Montreal . . .
Cathie: An Irishman?
Joe: Yeah. (laughter) . . . who did storytelling, and had his bag full of whistles, and all the "appropriate" things for being an Irish storyteller. They talked to him down at the stream. At the back of where the cabin was a stream that dropped probably about 12 feet across the back of the clearing, through a series of rapids and little waterfalls. They talked to him down there, and we'd have to act going into the cabin, and close the door behind us, and then inside they had all these trays of, like veggie trays, from I think had been the soiree the night before, the after-performance party. We were sitting around eating this and just talking about stuff. They'd prompt some conversation amongst the group of us artists, to talk in some sense about our experience at the Festival. Until then I hadn't had a sense that this was a history of the 25 years of the Festival, that this was what was prompted the film. For most of us it was our first time there. I think only one of the artists who was at the cabin that day had been to the Festival before. So we had no history with the Festival. Since we weren't in on the organizing of it, we didn't know about the background, or their expectations. We could talk, but it was a very uncomfortable type of speculation that what we felt we were doing. I think, in the end, none of that, unless it's a very small incident, none of that will show up in the final documentary because we didn't really know any of the background, or the development through 25 years of this festival.
Cathie: Sort of odd, eh?
Joe: I thought it was a little odd, I think that's what we were all feeling. We were quite glad, actually, when the camera got turned off. (laughter). Apparently, the other thing that we were supposed to do there was make some artist books . . . for fun, and do a little poetry slam. But that didn't happen.
Cathie: Yeah, it really should have been a day of rest. Everybody needs a day of rest.
Joe: Yeah, it wasn't totally cabinning, much as there was a nice wood stove, and we made tea . . .
Cathie: It actually sounds more urban than I thought it would, just with all the people there, and the camera crew . . .
Joe: With the camera crew there, it really threw it off, but it was a small cabin that was warmed by the wood stove, it clearly had bunks, and if you wanted water you dipped it from the stream. But dropping the camera crew and the vegie trays in there I thought was a little . . .
Cathie: The world sort of came in, eh?
Joe: Yeah, a bit unreal. It wasn't quite cabining. So yeah, that was a little odd.
Joe: I got a card from the producer, at least, which gives me some contact info, so I can follow up on it. The next night at my reading, they were there. They tended to be at all the evening performances, because they were getting bits of the children's plays that they created in their communities, and what they reflected on, and what their concerns were, and all of that. I had my short moment in the light, you know, my 5 or 10 minutes, or whatever it was, it wasn't very long. After the reading, Marian came up and asked if I would stay behind afterwards to do a recording of one of the poems I had read during the reading. I said sure, I can do this. I said it might be a bit of a challenge, as it had been onstage because I had lost my eyeglasses on the Saturday afternoon at Muskrat Falls when we'd been out on a hike. I think I had just slipped, or that they had flown off while I was taking a picture. No idea. They were just gone. So I was there trying to read without eyeglasses and for me, since I'm far-sighted, that can get very difficult. It was a challenge when they did the lighting.
Cathie: Oh good, good. That'd be interesting.
Joe: But of course that's, what do you call it, serendipity? It was something I was reading, I was just reading poems from the book, but she, Marian felt that this poem had a strong tie-in with something that she was working through, for the whole film. How would I know that? I think that's serendidpty.
Cathie: It is funny how things work out.
Joe: I've heard that it's slated for Vision TV and CTV. I have no idea if that's something that's on paper, or just speculation. I don't know anything about them, so I think there's a little investigating to do to find out.
Cathie: Well, you covered quite a bit. I want to find out when we talk again where
you travelled to next. And that, my dear man, will be the next installement of "Jumping Joes' Great Canadian Adventures."
Joe: Sounds good to me, let's drink some more coffee.
(End of part two of "Jumping Joe's Canadian Adventures, February, 2001." On a regular basis new articles about our member's creative activites are featured in this section of the New Brunswick Filmmakers' Cooperative web site. Contact the Co-op if you have any questions.)