'Great friend, an incredible wit, a great mind': Remembering Mike Jones, film pioneer

When you hear the name Mike Jones, you may wonder if he was related to Andy and Cathy — he was — but you should know he helped create the province's film industry.

Filmmaker and NIFCO co-founder, Jones died last week at 73

Mike Jones was a talented, pioneering filmmaker who died in St. John's at 73. (CBC Archives)

In his death, filmmaker and film industry pioneer Mike Jones, 73, leaves behind far more than a legacy of movies capturing Newfoundland's culture. 

"There'd be no Little Dogs or Caughts now if it wasn't for pioneers like Mike," says writer Ed Riche, a close friend of Jones for decades. 

"I mean there may be those films, but they wouldn't be produced in Newfoundland. They'd be being produced elsewhere."

Jones is famous for establishing "the true independent co-op" known as NIFCO, the Newfoundland Independent Film Makers Co-Op, along with David Pope and John Doyle. 

"It was the only way that a Newfoundland artistic community was going to make its own films with its own voice," said Riche.

NIFCO operates inside these four jellybean row houses on King's Road in downtown St. John's. (Paula Gale/CBC)

The writer said their philosophy was to build the organization while preparing for the day when there was no more funding from bodies like the Canada Council, the CBC or National Film Board. 

"So that we could always have a redoubt down there on King's Road [in St. John's], for Newfoundlanders to make Newfoundland films about Newfoundland stories."

Now, the province boasts a multimillion dollar film industry employing hundreds of people. 

Riche said Jones was sought for his skill as a director of photography, when people were using actual film cameras, but also for "his energy and capacity to rally a team."

Capturing culture, capturing laughs

He also directed the first Newfoundland feature film in 1986, The Adventure of Faustus Bidgood, with his brother, comedian and actor Andy Jones.

A talented family, sister Cathy Jones joined her brothers in the Codco comedy group, and now stars in CBC TV's This Hour Has 22 Minutes.

Riche said The Adventure of Faustus Bidgood is "one of the most, if not the most important work of art, Newfoundland art," because of its lasting significance.  

"It busts national myths" and connects old Newfoundland of the Smallwood era to the next generation. 

"Brilliant satire, moments of the film will be remembered forever.It's developed sort of catchphrases that are in the culture," Riche told CBC Radio One's On the Go

Ted talks with writer Edward Riche and actor and writer Mary Walsh about their friend and colleague. 14:22

"It was a monumental achievement."

The next feature film Jones made was Secret Nation, written by Riche

Ed Riche is a well-known writer whose novel Rare Birds — published in 1997 — was adapted to a film shot in N.L., for which he also wrote the screenplay.

Beyond his work, Jones is encapsulated in the memories of the many people who knew and loved him. 

"A great friend, an incredible wit, a great mind, great conversationalist," said Riche, who sent the late drafts of every novel to Jones for notes. 

"Long, long chats. Travelled all over making films.… A guy that made me laugh, I'm very much going to miss him," he said. 

"He was a great friend."

With files from On the Go