With pandemic meaning the annual festival isn't possible, writers and musicians are being paired with directors and editors to make short videos
Since 2013, those on their way to Ochre Fest would travel north on Route 70, the Baccalieu Trail, past dozens of harbours, coves and bays that line the shore of Conception Bay, before reaching the Ochre House Retreat, a repurposed United Church built in 1938, facing the ocean in Ochre Pit Cove.
This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the destination for the literary and arts festival, a festival by Breakwater Books and Ochre House Retreat, is a lot closer to home — that is, the home of anyone with a computer and an internet connection.
Breakwater Books president Rebecca Rose says they worried they would have to cancel the festival this year.
“They have a really nice combination of things ... writers, musicians, there’s food and wine and stories. I think it looks like a really cool festival.” — Jenina MacGillivray
“A month or two into the pandemic, we realized the likelihood of being able to get together in person, as usual, was not going to be possible,” Rose said.
Knowing those in the arts community rely on festivals like theirs for income and to showcase their work, their concern led to innovation.
“We were determined to try to find a way to still be able to have some sort of a festival, be able to pay our writers and our musicians and everyone involved as much as we were able,” Rose said.
Rose says the co-founder of the festival, Lisa Porter of Ochre House Retreat, deserves the credit for the idea of pairing local film directors with authors and musicians to make a short film of performances to be streamed online for free.
“(Directors) could at least help and coach the authors through the computer on setting and angles and lighting, to try to bring a bit more quality to the online offering,” Rose said.
Rewriting and reading
Deanne Foley has been making feature films, television and documentaries for more than 20 years.
For Ochre Fest, she was teamed with local actor and writer Andy Jones to help film a short reading of his new children’s book, "Barefoot Helen and the Giants."
Being self-isolated, with no budget, no cameras, no lighting and no crew, she describes the experience as interesting.
“Andy Jones's wife, Mary-Lynn Bernard, became my DOP (director of photography) or my cinematographer, using her iPhone,” Foley said.
Working through Zoom, a platform she says she didn’t even know existed until three months ago, Foley gave advice on how best to shoot the reading.
“I think Andy’s story is incredibly entertaining (and) he’s an incredibly entertaining performer, but (I wanted) to get some different angles that we could cut together,” she said.
Foley and Bernard used FaceTime to find the angle, moved back to Zoom, found the angle they agreed on and filmed from there.
“We also used their dog, Trouty, so you just had to be incredibly patient and use what you had,” Foley said. “It was a fun way to spend a couple of hours.”
Jones has been writing "Barefoot Helen and the Giants," which is based on several folktales and is illustrated by Katie Brosnan, for about four years, off and on, he says.
“I had to do a lot of rewriting. … People were saying, 'Oh my God, this is so violent,'” Jones says. “I actually had 37 people read it … and they kept saying, ‘Why is she killing the giants?’ And I thought, ‘They’re giants. Need I say more?’ But I did. I really had to build up the back story of how evil the giants were.”
There are hundreds, potentially thousands, of versions of this folktale from all over the world, Jones says. And to get the story right, he researched as much as he could. This led him to folktales by Freeman Bennett and Angela Kerfont, both from the west coast of Newfoundland, and all the way to the biblical story of David and Goliath.
The film collaboration with Foley, however, was not so tedious. Jones says working on a project during the pandemic was a terrific experience.
“We did a four-minute reading from the book and I felt like I was in a real high-class production,” Jones said. “It certainly felt great.”
Jenina MacGillivray, a musician and filmmaker living in St. John’s, was paired with director Ruth Lawrence. Along with sound engineer Michelle LaCour, they ventured into the woods around Blackhead Path on the East Coast Trail to shoot a music video.
“I played my song, it’s called 'Nature is Returning,' (so) it seems like an appropriate place to play the song,” she says.
Aside from the difficulty during the video shoot of maintaining a straight face while getting “eaten alive” by flies, MacGillivray says she is glad the festival is coming together despite the pandemic.
“It’s really one of the only things I’ve done, music-wise, since the lockdown started,” she said. “They have a really nice combination of things, too. So, there’s writers, musicians, there’s food and wine and stories. I think it looks like a really cool festival.”
For anyone looking to purchase a book, Ochre Fest’s dedicated bookseller is The Travel Bug and The Bee’s Knees.
The festival runs from June 29 to July 4.
The Telegram is a sponsor of Ochre Fest 2020.