A trio of documentary filmmakers travelling across Canada stopped in Steinbach and Marchand last month to get a taste of the Southeast’s vibrant music scene.
Daniel Connolly, Enora Sanschagrin, and Keast Mutter set off from Cape Breton, N.S. on June 4 with a piece of driftwood tied to the roof of their SUV.
In a phone interview, they explained their goal is to shine a light on folk musicians and instrument-makers carving out a sustainable existence off the beaten path.
"We try to dig up people that are great musicians that are often hidden in the country," Sanschagrin said.
The interviews and outdoor performances they capture are unscripted, as is their itinerary. Musicians tell them who they should visit next. They’ve dubbed the improvised route the Driftwood Trail.
"It’s all based on word of mouth," Sanschagrin said. "It’s part of what we’re researching and just interested in—it’s something I’ve been calling the ecology of hand to hand relationship."
The self-financed project is supplemented by crowdfunding and was inspired in part by American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax (1915-2002), whose famed field recordings documented the sound of early 20th century folk music.
"It’s the values that those small villages and communities have, about working together and helping each other out, that we’re trying to focus on and learn from," Connolly said.
This week, the filmmakers arrived back home to the East Coast, where they will edit their footage into a series of documentaries they hope to begin releasing next year via their company Driftwood Productions.
In the meantime, they’re releasing snippets of footage on their social media platforms.
When the pandemic began, Connolly and Sanschragrin were hunkered down in hard-hit Montreal.
"The situation was getting kind of serious there, so we decided to leave Montreal and go to rural Nova Scotia to do writing," Connolly said.
After a two-week quarantine, they found work on an organic farm where they met several talented folk musicians.
"Over lunch one day on the farm, we had the idea of filming the musicians, making outdoor videos of them," Connolly said.
A violinist handed them a list of other musicians to interview. The trio loaded up their equipment and set off.
To comply with pandemic restrictions that varied by province, they camped and filmed all their footage outdoors.
"We kind of avoided major cities and followed the regulations of masks and handwashing and stuff when we did have to go into a city," Connolly said.
The trio stopped in Steinbach and Marchand twice: once in mid-August on their way west, and again on Oct. 16 on their way back east.
Winnipeg artist Charlie Rae Walker recommended they meet Jakobi and Seth Heinrichs. Jakobi, who plays banjo, and Seth, a mandolinist, reside in Marchand—Jakobi in a converted school bus and Seth in a tiny home on the same property.
The filmmakers quickly bonded with the brothers over a shared love of simpler, more sustainable lifestyles.
"We became friends," Sanschagrin said.
The Heinrichs brothers referred the filmmakers to Richard Inman, a singer-songwriter raised in Grunthal, and Dana Lee Doerksen, a Steinbach singer-songwriter who performs as Dana Lee.
"We started off with just one person in Winnipeg and thinking we’d spend just a few days in Manitoba," Connolly said. "We ended up spending two, three weeks and going back and made what seems to be lifelong friends."
Sanschagrin said she too was impressed.
"There’s really a wealth of musicians in Manitoba. It’s really a tight-knit community."
They departed the Southeast with a keepsake: a kitten named Lentil adopted in Marchand.
Pandemic permitting, the Driftwood crew hopes to venture out on another cross-Canada trip next year to film a second season.
Connolly said they’ve yet to visit Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
"Our list keeps exponentially growing and we want to continue this," he said.
For more information on the project, visit driftwoodproductions.ca.