CAMP TAMAKWA STARS IN A HOLLYWOOD FILM
Mike Binder — who wrote and directed INDIAN SUMMER — attended TAMAKWA as a child (during the summers of 1966-75) and it was that experience that inspired him to capture the feeling and the impact of the camp in a feature film. “Camp Tamakwa is a very fond place for me where I developed a lot of my youthful adult tendencies,” says Binder. His other films include COUPE DE VILLE, CROSSING THE BRIDGE, and BLANKMAN.
As the cinematography of INDIAN SUMMER gloriously shows, CAMP TAMAKWA is nestled on a quiet lakeshore in the pristine forest of Algonquin Provincial Park, (about 175 miles north of Toronto). The physical place is but one of the true-to-life facts in the part-fact/part-fictional screenplay. The film’s portrayal of TAMAKWA traditions, lore, songs, pranks, and even the expressions are all true-blue TAMAKWAN in origin. Words like “How How”, “Biffy”, and “Shreck” will seem alien to most movie-goers, but to a large group of “insiders”, they will evoke nostalgic memories of a place close-to-the-heart. The same goes for the trademark black with white stripe canoes, the enduring symbol of TAMAKWA canoeists as they have traversed the lakes of Algonquin Park.
Most sentimental to the thousands of loyal TAMAKWA alumni is the film’s one and only true-to-life character — Lou Handler, the former prizefighter from Detroit who founded the camp and directed it for most of his life. In the film, he is portrayed by Alan Arkin, who is a cinematic reincarnation of Lou in character, look, and apparel (including some of Lou’s actual clothing).
Lou established CAMP TAMAKWA in 1936 with the help of his close friend Omer Stringer, the legendary Canadian canoeist and craftsman, who physically built the first camp facilities on the shores of South Tea Lake. (In the years before his death in 1988, Omer was best known for designing the Beaver Canoe.)
Lou and Omer created the program, patented the lifestyle, and set the traditions which have carried on and impacted the lives of over five thousand men and women — young and old — who spent summers at TAMAKWA and now live in Detroit, Toronto, and throughout the continent and beyond.
For most of them, TAMAKWA’s spirit was embodied in the patriarchal figure of Lou Handler, known endearingly throughout his career as “Unca” Lou, . He was a multi-faceted man with a passion for nature, camping, music, and sports…particularly boxing. Alongside his life in camping, Lou had a professional boxing career as a fighter, referee, and promoter. He refereed some legendary bouts which included Joe Louis, Rocky Graziano, and the championship fight of the “Raging Bull” himself, Jake LaMotta. Lou’s boxing career was celebrated in 1989 when he was posthumously inducted into the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Unlike Alan Arkin’s movie portrayal, the REAL Lou Handler ran TAMAKWA together with his sister Esta Kraft until their deaths in 1974 and 1972 respectively. But where fiction DOES slightly parallel fact is Lou’s succession by longtime loyal camp alumni. In 1980, the camp was purchased by investor Howard Perlmutter of Toronto together with native Detroiters Vic Norris and David Bale, all of whom felt strongly about perpetuating Handler’s legacy and the TAMAKWA tradition.
Similar to the characters in INDIAN SUMMER, Norris and Bale were young professionals faced with some serious soul-searching when they contemplated carrying on the torch of TAMAKWA. Both had spent their formative years at TAMAKWA, but they were each committed to other lives that had to be weighed against their commitments to TAMAKWA and its continuation. Prior to buying TAMAKWA, Norris was an attorney in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office and Bale had lived in Jerusalem where he reported for Israel Radio.
Both agree that TAMAKWA has always engendered strong devotion and emotional attachment, and that it was therefore fitting to portray that loyalty in a film about the camp. “Just as Mike Binder has done with this film”, says Bale, “there is a strong sense among alumni to give back to TAMAKWA something in return for what the place gave to them at a young age. And many do this through their professional lives.” Some notable examples he gives are: the late Gilda Radner, Sam Raimi (filmmaker of A SIMPLE PLAN, THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, DARKMAN, EVIL DEAD I & II, and ARMY OF DARKNESS), and the owners of ROOTS Clothing — Michael Budman and Don Green.
A few other notable TAMAKWANS over the years have been: comedian Chevy Chase, U.S. Senator Carl Levin and Congressman Sander Levin, NASA Space Shuttle Astronaut Jerry Linenger, U.S. Federal Judge Avern Cohen, Patrick Watson (former chairman of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), Amy Sky (singer/songwriter), Herb Gray (Canadian Liberal Party Minister), Dr. Paul Steinhauer (Canada’s leading child psychiatrist), and David Stringer (Broadcast personality at TVOntario and son of Omer Stringer).