Visiting filmmaker barely escapes Manson murders

John Walker was almost murdered on Charlie Manson's farm. And the award-winning filmmaker forgot all about it - until he started making his most recent release, A Drummer's Dream.

John Walker was almost murdered on Charlie Manson’s farm.

And the award-winning filmmaker forgot all about it – until he started making his most recent release, A Drummer’s Dream.

Part of next week’s Available Light Film Festival in Whitehorse, the movie features drummer greats who get together for a masters retreat on a remote farm in rural Ontario.

At first glance, it seems like a niche-market film for drummers.

But it’s not, said Walker.

“It’s not really a film about drumming at all,” he said.

“It’s a film about how to enjoy your life.”

And it inspires everyone who sees it, he said.

Walker’s even had a request from an 85-year-old woman who wanted two copies of the DVD, after her 83-year-old friend showed her the movie.

With the current political climate, environmental damage and economic collapse, there’s lots of negative energy, said Walker.

“And this film gives you an incredible lift,” he said.

“It reminds you not to forget the joyful part of your life.”

While he was making it, the film also began to remind Walker about a long-lost part of his life.

Walker used to be a drummer in a band in Montreal.

When he was 17, the band was invited to go out to California by Frank Zappa, who liked what he heard.

But Walker had just been offered a summer job in a film studio.

“And I’d been carrying a camera around my neck since I was eight,” he said.

Torn, Walker was rescued by his 23-year-old band leader.

“He told me to throw the I Ching,” he said.

The Chinese fortune told Walker: “You have two roads in front of you, and whatever road you choose is for life.”

After three sleepless nights, Walker put down his drumsticks and didn’t look back.

At least, not until he was plunked in front of a drum kit decades later, filming A Drummer’s Dream.

“I suddenly realized I never had to give up drums,” he said.

“I could have played just for fun all along.”

But giving up drums at 17, to spend the summer mixing chemicals in a film lab, probably saved Walker’s life.

The band went to California without him. And after meeting with Jim (Roger) McGuinn from The Byrds, the young group was offered a slot at an upcoming summer festival that turned out to be Woodstock.

But the group held out, waiting instead to hear from Zappa.

Bumming around in California, they were getting tight on cash, and were about to get booted out of the place they were staying, when they met these two cute girls.

The girls were staying on a farm owned by a guy named Charlie, and they invited the band to come stay with them.

But the bassist didn’t want to go.

“If I’d been there, I know I would have convinced him to go,” said Walker.

“I love farms.

“And I have strong power of persuasion.”

A few weeks later, back in Montreal, the cute girls were on the cover of the local paper – murdered by Charlie Manson.

Walker had left all these stories behind, “buried deeply with the story about giving up the drums.”

Now, he’s back in touch with his old bandmates and he’s getting the kit from the movie.

Picking up the sticks was like getting back on a bike, he said.

“But I need to start practicing again.”

A Drummer’s Dream, featuring superstars who’ve played with Carlos Santana, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, opens the festival in Whitehorse on Monday night.

Walker will be in attendance.

Director Charles Officer is also coming to the festival to screen his feature, Mighty Jerome, about the world’s fastest man in the 1950s making an incredible comeback.

This year’s festival is the most international yet, said festival director Andrew Conners.

There’s a drama from Kyrgyzstan, a documentary about Uzbekistan art, three films from Latin America and a crowd-pleaser from Brazil called Waste Land, about a Brazilian artist who makes portraits out of garbage of Rio de Janeiro garbage pickers.

There’s also a Russian thriller, How I Ended This Summer, that was shot on the Bering Sea, but could have been shot in the north Yukon, said Conners.

The landscape is almost identical, he said.

Other circumpolar films include an environmental documentary from Nunuvut and a Norwegian drama, called North.

Ron Sexsmith was hoping to get to the festival for the screening of Love Shines, a documentary about his depression, music and career shift, after hiring Metallica’s producer. But Sexsmith’s agent has him in the UK instead, to coincide with the release of his most recent album.

Because Conners was booking high-definition video instead of 35-millimetre prints, he managed to bring in a bunch of festival winners this year, including Incendies, a drama out of Quebec about two sisters traveling to the Middle East, which is nominated for an Oscar.

Tickets and five-film passes are available at the Yukon Arts Centre, Arts Underground and online at

For more info on the festival visit

Contact Genesee Keevil at