Snoopy, of Peanuts fame, couldn’t have put it better when he started off his master opus with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” That pretty much covered the two days I was on the set of Rezolution Pictures’ latest documentary, The Last Explorer.
When I arrived it was raining and when I left it was raining. I think the cast saw the sun once or twice but it was a total no-show to short timers such as myself.
I had flown in to cover the latest in a long line of Rezolution documentaries and found myself with a bit part as a Hudson Bay outpost manager. I quite enjoyed my role, in a weird sort of way. When you see the film you’ll understand my meaning.
The story is amazing. Two non-Natives attempt to explore one of the last places on Earth to be seen by non-Aboriginal eyes, and, predictably, their voyage of discovery ends in tragedy. Two years later, thewould-be explorer’s widow comes along, hires the survivor of the first trip and completes it. It’s a true story that happened between 1903 and 1905. Of course, there is a lot more involved but I don’t want to ruin the story for you beyond saying the survivor was related to one of the documentary’s two directors, Neil Diamond and Ernest Webb. I chose to interview his descendent and here’s what Neil Diamond had to say in a tongue-in-cheek interview. We respect Diamond for his candor and patience.
The Nation: Mr. Diamond, your latest film, the Last Explorer, does that mean there is nothing left to explore? What does the title actually mean to you?
Diamond: The title means that this Cree guy and this white woman were the last explorers of the continent of North America. After that it was just the North Pole, the South Pole and the Amazon left to be explored.
And what part of North America are we talking about?
We’re talking about Labrador and Ungava Bay. There’s this long strip which was basically the barrens, the areas where the Naskapi and the Montagnais traditionally hunt.
Now, I understand this story involves an ancestor of yours. Was this documentary merely just a narcissistic move upon your part or was the story really that interesting?
Well, I guess it was part narcissistic, yeah. I don’t know, maybe. But the story is that interesting.
The story is one of love, death, betrayal and a search for a secret diary.
Did you find the diary?
No, but as soon as I find it I’ll let you know. You’ll be the first person to find out.
So, did you write the story or did you report the story?
Well, I reported the story. There have been several books written, including a bestseller written called The Lure of the Labrador Wild. There was one written in 1906 by a certain Mina Hubbard and more in the 1980s. I can’t give you all the titles. Mina Hubbard was the widow of one of the explorers?
Yes, she was married to Leonidas Hubbard, who organized the expedition in 1903 that went horribly wrong.
Was there betrayal?
In certain peoples’ eyes there was betrayal of the major characters in the story. For sure there were.
In your eyes? The eyes of one possibly having an ancestor as one of the betrayers?
Yes, yes. Actually, according to Dillon Wallace. And Mina Hubbard felt betrayed too. I think George felt betrayed because he lost the love of his life. He felt betrayed by the system at the time which would not allow him to…
To experience his love fully?
Yes. It was the love that dared not speak its name, at that time.
So, we’re looking at the same problems that mixed marriages in southern states experienced back then?
Exactly. It was a half-breed and a white woman, that type of situation. This was heavily frowned upon.
So, what I’m getting is this guy goes out to explore Ungava and Labrador. He dies. The guide who took them out there manages to survive. Then two years later the widow of one the explorers shows up and finishes the trip with him?
Exactly, that was what happened. Though I wouldn’t exactly say they were his buds. He was hired help, a beast of burden, as it were.
And you know this how?
Just from research and what I read.
And how long have you been thinking of making this documentary?
Five or six years.
Did your co-director call you narcissistic?
Possibly behind my back but [chuckles] not to my face.
Give me some of the names of the people in this film.
The film stars Nathaniel Arcand of North of 60 fame, Pathfinder, Tonto and a few local actors from Nemaska: Robert Capissisit, Steve Visitor and Jean-Marie Herodier. There were three other actors from Ottawa and Montreal who play the white explorers. And then, of course, the brilliant, always brilliant Will Nicholls, who plays his part so well as a corrupt and drunken Hudson Bay trader.
So do you think he drew upon his own experiences?
I’m sure he did. That’s why we hired him – he descended from such people. That’s why we knew he would do such a great job with it. The only direction we had to give him was, “Be yourself.” He was brilliant.
So, you have some more shooting to do. Heading out to Ungava Bay, some shots in October or November. When is this documentary going to come out?
Well, we have shooting to do in Ungava Bay and the Labrador interior. Some in St. John’s, possibly New York and Montreal. With all that I would think early summer or late spring.
Has anyone bought it yet?
Bought our story, [laughter] Yes, APTN, they have the first window as they say. I hope to put this story in festivals the world over…, [humble pause] which I hope to attend with… much gusto.
So after this do you have any other plans?
Yeah, working on a film called Reel Indian. What I like to call Reel Injun, which looks at Native Americans in film history and how they were portrayed. Also the people who portrayed Indians like Elvis Presley, Raquel Welch, Paul Newman, Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis…
I don’t notice many Italian names in that list?
Well, there’s Ricardo Montalban but I think he was Hispanic. I think there are a few Italian names. The crying Indian, I can’t remember his name. Grey Owl, you know…
The one who cried at the garbage, had a tear roll down his face?
Wasn’t that a true stereotype, though?
Yeah, but he was Italian. He did play Indians like Crazy Horse and other chiefs in B movies. He was Italian.
Weren’t the Italians the kings of B Westerns?
You mean the spaghetti westerns? There weren’t too many Natives who played in them. At best they were part of the scenery, the background.
One final question… what was the story of your screaming match with one of your stars?
[Laughing] I think it was the fault of the weather and that a certain actor, a great Cree actor, who shall remain nameless, who was praised by actors and crew alike just stole the show…
But you’ve kissed and made up?
Yeah, made up though not exactly kissed. We have remained good friends. We’ll continue to shoot in November and it won’t be rainy. It will be cold and snowy. I’m looking toward that actually to see how people hold up.
Was shooting in all that rain difficult?
It wasn’t that difficult. It was just wet. I like wet. I wear hip waders. I have raingear. When I shoot I’m quite comfortable.