AP: Every part of The National Parks Project tells a different story. Jamie, your film has a fully realized story and Peter, your film has more of a historical feel to it. When you set out to make your films did you know going in that you wanted to make something that was more spiritual or more reverential?
JT: For me it was neither (laughs). I still don’t know much about the history of Kouchibouguac National Park. I really did treat this project as an experiment to make something in a way that I had never done before. It was just this kind of selfish artistic journey where it was all about me and what I felt like doing on that day.
It’s funny because the beat thing about the project for me was the music and working wit the musicians and seeing these incredibly talented people collaborate. The nature aspect was… I’m not a nature boy. I really don’t love being out in nature. I don’t know if it really informed my story approach greatly. Like, my film is not very scenic in comparison to some of the others. I tended to focus on the more architectural aspects of the park, like that amazing giant fog tower that became the focus of my piece.
PL: For me, I was thinking about this longstanding tradition of great photographers like Ansel Adams and Paul Strand that did these amazing early studies of national parks, and at the time that was how parks got into the consciousness of the public’s imagination. It was through seeing these photographs in these famous magazines. That was something I wanted to tap into, but to take it somewhere more personal. Obviously, the musical aspect was a huge part of it. With a camera you are doing a portrait but you are also synthesizing the music as a portrait to become a compendium with your image making
My wife’s father grew up in Alberta along the edge of the park and her grandfather was the veterinarian at the cattle ranch that was around that area and her uncle was a writer who wrote about the Blood Indians who were also in that region, so there is a bit of a thread that way, and I had been there because her father’s ashes and those of some of her family members are scattered in and around the park and those perimeters. I’m not quite sure if that’s legal or not (laughs). I was fascinated by these boundaries that are partly human and partly arbitrary and you’ve got this 10,000 year old history of the Blood and the Blackfoot and all the other tribes in the area When you see these National Geographic specials, and I don’t want to diss them, but in so many of these nature specials you see all these beefy looking white people with perfect camping gear and they forget to even mention this 10,000 year old history? That kind of gets under my skin and in this region that borders Alberta, Montana, and BC, it’s the foothills of the Rockies, and there is this sort of East meets West sort of thing that plays into the idea that these borders are sort of arbitrary and it is mixed in with this family history in a struggle.
This used to be like the Serengeti. There used to be 40 million buffalo roaming this area and the whole life of the Blackfoot and all the animals that fed off the buffalo and the ecology of it all, the decimation of that way of life has just changed the landscape of that area. Then you start thinking about geological time and it just makes you feel like a speck on this massive landscape. So trying to diffuse all those things gave me a way to go in with these preoccupations and I kind of dreamed with my eyes open. Not so much a historical preoccupation, but definitely a personal one. You look at all these postcard vistas, but then you look at the ground and there’s life, there’s death, there’s fossils, there’s bones, so try try and come up with a narrative that brings all those in, that was the trick.
AP: Jamie, you haven’t done any documentary work before in any formal sense. Was there ever a moment out there in the woods when you wondered what you had gotten yourself into?
JT: On the first day when we got there and realized there were no showers and no electricity and it was more rustic than I thought it would be. But I am also a chronic showerer. I shower twice a day, so this was quite a shift for me. I grew to really like it, though, and by the end of it I really wanted to go back. If they invited me back I would certainly do it again, but that was always a huge part of this whole gig. I wanted to go into this film using a methodology I hadn’t used before.