Filming the French Shore

Emma Graney
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Noted film director captures tapestry on tape

Barbara Doran (right) in Croque with her film crew last weekend.

Sitting outside the Croque town building, filmmaker Barbara Doran is protected against the biting wind by a bulky sweater, knitted from bright orange wool.

“That’s smart,” I say, tightening my thin, black cardigan around me.

“My dear, I know how to dress for this place,” she replies.

Doran hails from St John’s and admits that “Newfoundland is a place you can never leave.”

She has spent 25 years making films — documentary, drama, comedy — but what she loves is making movies about her home province.

That passion for Newfoundland is what brought her to the Northern Peninsula for the past couple of years as she documents the making of the French Shore Tapestry in Conche.

“When I’m here I feel a mix of sadness about a small place that relied on the cod fishery that is now starting to fade away, and hope because these people are so strong-willed and they won’t see their communities die,” she says, gesturing towards the couple of hundred people gathered in Croque to celebrate the arrival of a boatload of French naval officers.

“We’ve lived here for 500 years and we survived sometimes against incredible odds, but every time I see evidence of it like I see here  (in Croque) or in Conche it reminds me of what’s so wonderful about this place.”

When Doran heard about the tapestry from producer Jerry McIntosh she recognized its potential as a documentary but, as is often the case with filmmakers, obtaining funding was the tough part. After a couple of knock-backs the Canadian French language broadcaster, Radio-Canada, agreed to finance the project.

With funding under their belts Doran and her film crew headed to France to film Jean Claude Roy and Christina Roy — the designers of the tapestry.

We’ve lived here for 500 years and and we survived sometimes against incredible odds, but every time I see evidence of it like I see here (in Croque) or in Conche it reminds me of what’s so wonderful about this place. Filmmaker Barbara Doran

After that they returned to Newfoundland and headed to Conche.

“When we arrived in Conche what we saw was astounding,” she says.

“The women who embroidered the tapestry would be at the fish plant some days till four, then they’d come over and do this beautiful work. They’ve woven the beauty of this place into stories, into their history and into the tapestry. The commitment of all involved was phenomenal.”

Doran’s love of Newfoundland — particularly rural parts of the province — is obvious when she speaks of the project, and it’s something she hopes others will understand when they see the film, due to be finished in April.

“We live on the edge here. For our entire lives we’ve been on the edge of Canada. When the fish disappeared, a huge part of who we are disappeared, too. Cod was what brought us to these shores and cod was what kept us alive. Oil’s around now, but I don’t think oil will ever be able to replace the culture we had of cod, because oil’s all about money,” she says, rubbing her fingers together and shaking her head.

But to Doran the project is about more than just the history of Newfoundland — it’s the spirit she wants to portray.

“I’m hoping that from seeing this film people will gain an understanding of what small community life is like over here,” she explains.

“People have lost a lot, a hell of a lot, but they’ve pulled together and they’re fighting back. They work together to keep their communities alive. There’s a spirit here that won’t die, a spirit of survival.”

The Northern Pen

Organizations: Radio-Canada

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Conche, Croque France Canada

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