Thursday, May 20, 2021

A George Romero Short 27 Years in the Making

Jacaranda Joe was initially envisioned as a feature-length mockumentary. As the Orlando Sentinel reported back in the summer of 1994, George A. Romero had engaged with the students of Valencia Community College to begin putting it all together.

The author of the piece, Catherine Hinman, also suggested Romero in person was as approachable as Mr. Rogers!

At 6 feet 3 inches, Romero is almost as tall as Joe, the shaggy-haired Bigfoot character that will be unnerving the fictional Florida town of Jacaranda in his VCC film. Make no mistake, Romero aims to have the audiences for this film unnerved as well.

Jacaranda Joe, which Romero wrote, is an experiment. In the faux documentary, a Geraldo Rivera-like TV talk show host investigates an encounter with the alleged monster on a hunting show. Romero wants to know if audiences can be scared by a documentary format, if they can be frightened when they don't know much about the story's characters.

Romero hoped to return to VCC in 1995 to expand and complete the mockumentary, after lining up some sort of studio backing for the project. But various factors derailed this endeavor, leaving just the 17 minutes shot at Valencia that first summer month. All these years later, some 35mm reels have been discovered and all signs point to the belated original-format resurrection of what amounts to a pitch presentation for a never-made mockumentary.

Incredibly, Jacaranda Joe was a re-imagined version of a long-gestating feature project Romero had first hatched in the early 1970s called The Footage. Per a University of Pittsburgh Library System post, there was a most unusual person considered along the way for the supporting role of a local Seminole tribesman:

One of the actors considered for this role was the great horror novelist Owl Goingback, who had then not yet published his first book. Romero, who became a fan of Goingback's work, would later work with him to attempt to produce an adaptation of his book Evil Whispers. According to Goingback, they were in talks with a studio but a writers strike put the brakes on any possible deal.

That would be the writers strike of 1988. University of Pittsburgh professor and horror films clinician Adam Charles Hart (whose recent tweet is embedded above) says the truncated Jacaranda Joe is 'a playful experiment that's funny and pointed and takes the premise in unexpected directions. In other words: a George Romero movie.'

[Jacaranda Joe's 35mm Negative]

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