Man converts Tesla into film studio for journey to recount love story in the North

A man making a film based on his experiences living in northern Canada in the early 1970s has found an unusual way to work on his project while travelling in the region. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Johnathan Zoesman)

A man making a film based on his experiences living in Northern Canada in the early 1970s has found an unusual way to work on his project while travelling in the region.

Johnathan Zoesman converted a Tesla into a travelling film studio and drove the electric vehicle from his home in Petersburgh, N.Y., all the way to the Arctic Ocean in the middle of winter. He had taken photos where the story took place five decades ago and spoke to people along the journey.

“The Tesla seemed like the perfect thing to do it in,” he said. “I wasn’t going to arrive into the world as a great filmmaker in an old beater. If I was going to arrive it would be in a self-driving car.”

Zoesman said his film centres on the “very intense and tragic love story” between himself and his late partner, Maggie Goldberg, after they moved to the North from Quebec.

“This was the late ’60s, early ’70s, and we were just so disappointed in the world that we lived in,” he said, pointing to the horrors of the Vietnam War as an example.

“We wanted to live and create some kind of paradise. We wanted to go out and find a different way to live in the natural world and have a life that was very different than everything that was going on around us.”

The young couple first lived in a log cabin on the McQuesten River in Yukon where Zoesman said their son Aurora was born under the northern lights. However, Aurora died soon after he was born.

They then moved to the Northwest Territories where they lived by the Liard River. In the spring, Zoesman said they were travelling on the river in a raft they had made when they found and boarded a boat.

However, after a fire broke out they swam to an island, Zoesman said. They were left stranded there as the boat drifted away.

When the couple tried to cross the frigid and fast-moving water to get to shore, Zoesman said Goldberg disappeared and he never saw her again.

“I could never really accept that,” he said. “It has been something that has occupied my mind much all these years.”

The RCMP said a missing person file from Fort Liard in 1972 states Goldberg was washed away in the river undercurrent and her body was never found.

Zoesman recently travelled to his son’s gravesite in Whitehorse for the first time. There he said a Jewish prayer and placed two stones his mother had collected from the shore of the Liard River after Goldberg went missing.

He said he has wanted to make a film sharing his story for several years and dedicated himself to the project completely about three years ago.

“I’m hoping that people will see young people just so much in love with each other, but also more important, even in love with the idea of life and everything that it could possibly be,” he said.

Lots of attention

Zoesman said driving a Tesla in the North has attracted a lot of attention. Some are pointing to his feat of driving to the Arctic in the winter as an indication of a promising future for electric vehicles in the region.

An article published in Northern News Services Limited detailing Zoesman’s drive has been widely shared. Zoesman said Tesla and the Yukon government’s Climate Change and Energy Solutions Centre have been championing his effort.

Zoesman noted Yukon has a network of electric vehicle charging stations where it’s free to plug in.

“I can fill up my battery and go camp almost any place,” he said. “I can keep the car as warm as I want.”

When he travelled through areas where there were no public charging stations, Zoesman said he relied on help from people he met to charge the vehicle.

“The people I’ve been meeting have been remarkable,” he said. “It has been healing for me to meet so many kind-hearted, open, caring people who just want to share their lives with you and want to talk with you.”

The federal government has committed to a mandatory 100 per cent zero-emission vehicle sales target by 2035 for all new light-duty vehicles. It has set interim targets for at least 20 per cent of sales by 2026 and 60 per cent by 2030.

The N.W.T. government plans to develop a vehicle charging corridor between the Alberta boundary and Yellowknife, while Yukon plans to install more fast-charging stations.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2023.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Netflix gets behind big-budget comedy series set in Nunavut, CBC News

Finland: Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay brings film crew to Finnish Lapland, Yle News

Greenland: Nunavut children’s books translated for circulation in Greenland’s schools, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Walt Disney Animation Studios to release Saami-language version of “Frozen 2”, Eye on the Arctic

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