Jacaranda Joe

Jacaranda Joe

In June 1994, George Romero traveled to Valencia College in Florida to make a short film called Jacaranda Joe. It was a re-imagined version of a movie he'd tried to make in the 1970s called The Footage, about a TV show in which a famous athlete learns to hunt alongside a handful of experienced outdoorsmen that stumbles onto a bigfoot community. But while that story was entirely focused on the film shoot, with the footage never actually being seen by anyone (one version ends with the bigfeet throwing the film reels into the air like streamers), Jacaranda Joe takes place after a clip from a similar TV show has leaked out. It was very much a proto-found footage movie, about which Romero told a local paper that he "wants to know if audiences can be scared by a documentary format." But it was also pre-Blair Witch Project, and so that footage makes up only a few seconds of the running time. 

Joe is set at a Geraldo Rivera-like talk show called Remington, on which the sleazy host is discussing footage of a swamp-dwelling bigfoot-like creature (what Floridians call a "skunk ape") that had been captured on video by the TV crew. In the aftermath of that footage getting out, the small town of Jacaranda had become overrun by tourists and aspiring hunters and filmmakers hoping to find "Joe" themselves. The talk show panel debates whether Joe is real or a hoax, with a representative of a local Seminole community who claims to have seen Joe also talking about tribal customs and the cruelty and destruction of white American society. (Amazingly, one of the actors considered for this role - who was not cast, alas - 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. In the archive, we have a letter from Goingback to Romero hoping to clarify innacuracies in the Jacaranda Joe script that unfortunately do not seem to have been corrected.)

The talk show builds to a reveal of the footage of Joe, slowed down to give the audience a better look at the creature. It ends with Remington teasing further discussion and revelations on the rest of the episode. The film was conceived to leave open the potential for Romero to return the following year to expand it, possibly into a feature-length production. There is a VHS workprint contained in the Pitt collection that runs about 17 minutes, with no credits or titles. It does, however, conform perfectly to scripts and storyboards, so we can presume this to be a complete version.

The film was shot over the course of ten days, using a cast and crew mixing students, faculty, and local industry professionals. Our materials include preliminary cast and crew lists and correspondence, largely between Romero and the film's producer, Valencia's Ralph Clemente

Little has been written about Jacaranda Joe, and it's unclear whether it was ever screened publicly, even at Valencia. Because none of Romero's customary collaborators worked on it, and because it was such a quick shoot, there was not much knowledge of it even among people who knew Romero well. It's a fascinating film! It's a playful experiment that's funny and pointed and takes the premise in unexpected directions. In other words: a George Romero movie. 

Endless thanks to Elizabeth Tobin Kurtz, Gregg Hale, Owl Goingback, and Bruce Wood for their assistance!!!



-Adam Charles Hart