Mike Jones, filmmaker and co-founding member of the Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers’ Co-op (NIFCO) died Wednesday. He was 73 years old.
Jones is perhaps best known for his Genie Award-nominated film, “The Adventure of Faustus Bidgood,” which he co-produced and directed with his brother, Andy Jones, and which was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing.
Jones was also a director for the iconic Codco comedy troupe, directing the company’s stage show and television series, which featured his siblings, Andy and Cathy.
Fellow screenwriter and director John Doyle worked with Jones when a group of filmmakers in the province were working to establish a film co-operative in the 1970s.
“It’s hard to make comparisons, but personally, I think that he is still the finest filmmaker that Newfoundland and Labrador has produced,” Doyle said. “I think he’s the most original and the most daring — the smartest filmmaker. If you look at a film like ‘The Adventure of Faustus Bidgood,’ you look at it now and it looks like the kind of films that are being made today, and it was made in the ’80s. It was well ahead of its time.”
In the 1970s, professional film equipment was expensive and hard to come by in the province, so a group of filmmakers, with Jones leading the pack, got together and established NIFCO in 1975.
“Mike was really a key visionary in seeing that, yes b’y, you can make films right here,” Doyle said. “I think it was probably one of the most important contributions that he made to film in Newfoundland, besides just his creative spirit and the great films that he made. But one of the most important things was that he felt it was really important that we be able to make films in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Award-winning filmmaker Paul Pope worked closely with Jones over the years, meeting him in 1975 through Pope’s older brother, David, who was also one of the founding members of NIFCO. Pope produced “Secret Nation,” which was directed by Jones.
Pope said Jones was the driving force behind the thriving filmmaking scene that exists in the province today.
“He believed that we needed to tell our own stories, and that we needed to be in charge of making them. And this was at a time when it was like telling people we were going to grow oranges in Newfoundland. You might as well just tell people, ‘Listen, we’re going to plant orange trees and we’re going to grow oranges.’”
Today, it’s a multimillion-dollar industry employing more than 600 people in the province.
Pope said Jones was a Newfoundlander first and foremost.
“He was a passionate Newfoundlander,” said Pope. “It informed everything that he did. It was all about Newfoundland, and our identity, and our stories, and our place … that threaded through all his work.”
Gerry Rogers got to know Jones when she first started in the filmmaking business in Montreal and Jones was in the city working on various projects. Rogers said she invested $25 in “The Adventure of Faustus Bidgood.”
“It was a production that made us all so proud, and made us see that it was possible for us to tell our stories, it was possible for us to make feature films in our province, and in our own way of doing it,” Rogers said.
Jones was especially dedicated to ensuring there was support for independent filmmakers, and people who were making experimental films that weren’t commercial in nature, she said.
“That was so important to him, and that’s why I think he truly is the godfather of filmmaking here in Newfoundland and Labrador,” she said. “He was so passionate and committed to the art of filmmaking.
“Mike was a true artist in every sense of the word. He lived for his art … and he was a wonderful, ferocious Newfoundlander.”
Rogers, Pope and Doyle all said Jones was a mentor to numerous filmmakers in the province.
“Everybody who’s working in film or television in Newfoundland today should take a moment and thank Mike Jones because otherwise, they’d be doing something else or they’d be living somewhere else,” said Pope. “Where we are today took 40 years. You know, we’re 43 years into developing this. It didn’t happen overnight. And the first 20 years when he was really active were critical.”
Rogers said Jones is forever immortalized through his art.
“We will remember him in his films — in the short films, in the feature films, and his passion and his art lives on in the many people that he mentored.”