Thirty-nine musicians. Thirteen filmmakers. And 13 national parks.
Put ’em together and what do you get? Aside from a new CD and 13 short films, how about the most creative nod to Parks Canada’s 100th birthday witnessed yet.
But what are the participants of this unique adventure thinking now that the National Parks Project (2011 Gemini Award winner for Best Arts Documentary Series) is behind them?
What memories remain from their mission – where small groups scattered country-wide to capture Canada’s wildest places not with paintbrushes like the Group of Seven, but with film and music?
We chased down Joel McConvey – one of three producers on the project – and East Coast musician Matt Mays in search of their thoughts, after the fact, on this ambitious undertaking.
T & C: Joel, how are you feeling about The National Parks Project now that the dust has settled?
Joel: To be honest, immediately after the project finished, I was disoriented. You spend so much time in these amazing natural spaces and when you come back to the city, you’re almost confused. You’re thinking “What am I doing here? Why are we moving so fast?” Now, what I feel is a great sense of gratitude and a crude wisdom. I’ve learned a whole lot about what Canada means and how it has been shaped by its natural environment.
Matt: With something like this, there is never one moment. There’s an abundance of moments. The making of the music was super memorable. The visuals were breath-taking and everything transcended from that. I was friends with Kathleen and Sam before but this took our friendship to a whole new level. We all fed off each other’s excitement. I mean, we’re not talking about hanging out with each other in a dressing room at a shitty little bar somewhere, right?
T & C: Can you tell us Joel, what were your goals with the NPP to begin with? Did they pan out for you?
Joel: We wanted to create something that would explore the link between landscape and expression, a link that has a long history in Canada from the Group of Seven onwards. The Group of Seven were definitely a touchstone for us. You know, sending artists into the wilderness to see how they would respond. We gave our filmmakers and musicians complete creative freedom. In the end, I think we increased the profile of national parks among younger people who live in cities and are more engaged in technology. What we’ve done, hopefully, is given people a window into the notion of wilderness and how wilderness has shaped who we are as a nation.
T & C: Come on Matt, there must have been a few distinctly memorable moments?
Matt: O.K. We had to fly into our polar bear-proofed compound by helicopter. It was like a zoo, only reversed. We were the animals in the cage and polar bears and wolves came to look through the fence at us. We spent a lot of time in that compound and if we wanted to go even six feet outside, we had to be accompanied by two park rangers who were packing some serious heat. One night, we were lying on our backs outside under the stars but still within the compound’s electric fencing. We were drinking scotch. And we were watching the most incredible display of northern lights seen in a decade.
T & C: Can you tell us, Joel, about the challenges of pulling such an ambitious project together?
Joel: Certainly, logistics are an issue when you’re flying 13 people into northern Manitoba and you have to chopper them into a fenced-in enclosure designed to keep out polar bears. Just getting people to the parks was a challenge. Then, with musicians, scheduling is tricky too. We had to lock people down for a week and say “We’re going to pull you out of your regular routine entirely and cut you off from communications and put you in situations unfamiliar and daunting.” We had to convince them it would be worth their while.
T & C: Matt – what did your involvement in the NPP mean to you as a Canadian musician?
Matt: As a musician, I really fed off the experience. When I think of and write music, I think of landscapes. Being in Wapusk was like being on a different planet. A different, vast world of sunrises and northern lights. It’s a trip to imagine places like this. But to be there for real, to make music in a place where I feel my music exists already, was really wacky. As a Canadian? I’ve been in most Canadian cities many times. But I’d never been to Churchill. It really defines the soul of the rest of the country. We all know it exists, that true Canadian northern soul. Subconsciously, we celebrate it as Canadians. But to be there was something else.
T & C: Last thoughts, Matt, on your part in the National Parks Project?
Matt: I knew going into this project that I was in for something special. If a good trip is a combination of getting to see beautiful things, meet beautiful people and have beautiful experiences – then the check marks on a list like this would be huge!
***Want a DVD of the National Parks Project? Here’s your chance. Comment below and convince us which national park we need to visit next and why. Deadline for comments is October 5.
Congrats to Philippe for putting the Yukon’s Vuntut National Park and Baffin Island’s Auyuittuq National Park on our hit list. Nice work, Philippe…DVD of the National Parks Project in the mail shortly. Thanks to everyone for your great comments. Hope to see you all on our pages again!