Jonah is a poem by London based Californian Robert Peake; the poem has an mesmerising tale behind it, a tale of two lost sons and beautiful black bear: prior to London, Robert lived in a small town full of artists in the foothills of the Santa Barbara mountains called Ojai (a Chumash Indian name meaning either “moon” or “nest”). He lived next to the directors of the local theatre company on one side, and a metal sculptor called Mark Benkert and his wife Marcia on the other. One morning just before dawn, a 400-pound black bear wandered through the theatre directors’ yard and out onto Robert’s street. He then climbed into a tree and became stuck.
Robert takes up the story: “he drew us all out, awed us with his presence, and brought us together as neighbours. Sadly, because it was also the first day of bear hunting season, he was shot out of the tree that night and killed by the wildlife “authorities.” Benkert swung into action, welding and cutting all night to produce a half-ton metal outline of a bear in rusted iron sheeting. Early the next morning, a capable rock climber, he hauled himself and the statue up the tree and placed it there–his bulletproof metal bear defying all. As far as I know, it is still in the tree. Mark and I became closer, and finally discovered that we held in common losing a son: my James in infancy, his Jonah gone at thirty-two from drugs and mental illness leading to suicide. The town commissioned Mark to create a bigger second statue to be displayed prominently.”
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed meeting Robert and developing this filmpoem; it has been a pleasure to make, the kind of story that makes me love my job as a filmmaker. The binaural sounds are recorded in Russia by my friend and colleague Vladimir Kruytchev and if you have headphones, watching the film with these on will be worth it. The sounds you hear are relevant to the tale and if you are a welder, you’ll feel right at home! I do hope you enjoy it.
Jonah was premiered at the Felix Poetry Festival in Antwerp as part of a Filmpoem Live event on 15th June.