ANNAPOLIS ROYAL - An hour-long feature documentary on the lives of Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq, the arrival of Europeans, and establishment of Port-Royal is in the early development stage, Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald said Dec. 20.
The town has signed an agreement with Ben Proudfoot of Breakwater Studios in Halifax and Los Angeles and $50,000 in funding will start the project in the new year. Proudfoot expects to have a pitch presentation ready by mid-2018.
The project, with the working title Cradle of Our Nation, was initially a response to the CBC’s Canada: The Story of Us 10-part mini-series that aired in early 2017 but failed to even mention the arrival of Pierre Dugua de Mons and Samuel de Champlain at Port-Royal where in 1605 they established the first permanent European settlement in what is now Canada. Instead, Champlain’s establishment of Quebec in 1608 was given the nod by CBC as the first permanent European settlement.
The faux pas created a national controversy led by MacDonald who was soon joined by Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, West Nova MP Colin Fraser, and Annapolis County Warden Timothy Habinski in asking CBC to fix the problem.
“We collectively wrote to the president of the CBC during the controversy asking him to create an additional episode, a prequel as it were, to tell the story leading up to Champlain establishing Quebec; to tell the story of the establishment of Port-Royal in 1605,” said MacDonald. “CBC declined to do that.”
“I think anyone who has lived here for long enough knows there’s a million stories around the province. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. Our people are natural storytellers. For me, obviously I’m biased in that I was born here in Nova Scotia, but I find the stories here endlessly fascinating and endlessly under-told. I come across stories all the time that I can’t believe that I hadn’t heard before.” -- Ben Proudfoot
MacDonald’s response was that Annapolis Royal would make it’s own film. Proudfoot heard about MacDonald’s plans and got in touch.
“Originally I had read an article in which the mayor was commenting upon CBC’s production The Story of Us and how he was interested in making a documentary to set this story straight,” Proudfoot said. “I vehemently agreed with him and I reached out and said if there’s anything I can do at all to help, let me know. And that struck up a conversation.”
While the planned film was originally a rebuttal to CBC’s mini-series mistake, both MacDonald and Proudfoot said the Breakwater documentary has moved beyond that and will stand on its own.
“I think the CBC getting it wrong lit the fire,” said Proudfoot. “It was the spark that started the whole conversation, but really when the mayor and I and others started talking about it, we quickly came to the conclusion that it’s an incredible story that deserves something far more than a rebuttal to something else. It’s its own tale, it’s its own saga that should be told correctly.”
“From the perspective of telling the story, what’s happened now and what the Cradle of Our Nation project really is – it tells much more than just the prequel,” said MacDonald. “This tells the story of the foundation that was here. That the bedrock of this Cradle of Our Nation was Mi'kma'ki, the Mi’kmaq Nation that was here.”
He said the film will then lead into the arrival of Champlain, the establishment of Port-Royal the Habitation, and then explore the birth and growth of Acadie and the Acadian people. MacDonald also expects the film will tell the story of the wars between the French and English where at Annapolis Royal 13 battles were fought and the town changed hands seven times, making it the most fought-over place in North America. “Battles between global empires,” MacDonald said.
And it will tell the story of Charles Fort, the Scottish settlement on the edge of what is now Fort Anne.
“It’s proposed that the film will end with the deportation of the Acadians,” MacDonald said. “There were 1664 deported from Annapolis Royal on the eighth of December in 1755.”
He said the film will also talk about Cornwallis and his relationship and conflict with the Mi’kmaq people in regards to the settlements and that important part of the history.
Although the Town of Annapolis Royal won’t control the filmmaking process, it will have input.
“I think from the outset it’s been expressed to the filmmaker the town certainly has an interest in insuring the depictions and the storyline and the representations are historically accurate,” the mayor said. “So the Town of Annapolis Royal in this agreement will act as a consultant. But it’s certainly my understanding in conversations with Ben Proudfoot that he will be reaching out to a number of consultants – Mi’kmaq historians, Acadian historians, British historians -- to get the history accurate.”
MacDonald said the challenge will be in weaving all the stories together in a way that really captures a significant period of time but touches on all the relevant issues and underscores and clearly illustrates why Annapolis Royal is the cradle of our nation.
“In making the film it wasn’t enough just to say that the Habitation was established in 1605. Quebec was established in 1608,” said MacDonald. “We needed to tell the story that indeed this was a habitation and a settlement that survived and continued, and continues to this very day. And to rebut the suggestion, or the implication of CBC’s portrayal that Quebec was established as the first permanent European settlement in Canada.”
“As a filmmaker you’re always looking for that tug toward a project that you can’t shake, that you keep coming to, that you think you can bring something special to, and that you are exited to spend multiple years with,” said Proudfoot. “This is one of those projects. There are so many incredible stories in Nova Scotia’s history and this is one of them and it needs to be told, and it needs to be told now.”
Proudfoot is an award-winning filmmaker whose 2011 live action short film Dinner With Fred qualified for Oscar consideration and won numerous film festival awards and was an official selection in four other film festivals. Proudfoot wrote and directed the 23-minute film that has been described as unprecedented in scope.
MacDonald said Proudfoot’s skill as a filmmaker is evident in his work.
Funding for Breakwater’s development of the film comes from the province’s Ministry of Communities, Culture and Heritage’s Creative Industries Fund with a $25,000 contribution. That money was matched by the Town of Annapolis Royal that contributed $10,000, the Nicholson Foundation that added another $10,000, and $5,000 from another government agency that is expected to announce that funding in the near future.
Proudfoot said he and MacDonald have discussed incorporating local talent from all of the appropriate constituencies into the film. The fact that existing sites like the Habitation are already built will also be a huge asset to the film, he said.
MacDonald said there are many historic sites still in place in Annapolis Royal, and the recreated Habitation in Port Royal is an accurate depiction taken from the journals of Champlain himself.
“It serves as a standing set for that time and place and I certainly expect the filmmaker would want to approach Parks Canada to use it,” he said. “Likewise when you stand on St. George Street at the amphitheatre and look out across the water towards Goat Island and the basin, that vista is unchanged all these centuries. So again an opportunity to use the actual lands and places to tell the story.”
Proudfoot said Breakwater will start immediately researching and putting on paper what the film will look like, what it will feel like, and which parts of the story are necessary to include.
“It’s more about choosing specific moments that illustrate a time, illustrate people, illustrate conflict, resolution, harmony etc. that spark an interest in people watching it to go and learn more,” he said.