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Film festival aims to bring fisheries and oceans back into focus

By Emilie Bourque Whittle

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 announcement which closed the northern cod and other groundfish fisheries in Atlantic Canada. Coinciding with this sombre occasion will be the first Fishing for the Future Film Festival, taking place at Memorial from July 5-7.

The festival will provide an opportunity to view and discuss a broad selection of historical and contemporary films from Newfoundland and Labrador and other parts of the world. Films will include feature length and short documentaries, dramas and animations about oceans, fisheries, aquaculture, offshore oil and gas development, coastal management and coastal communities.

Festival co-ordinator Ruth Lawrence hopes the festival will start a dialogue between multiple generations of people from Newfoundland and Labrador, filmmakers and researchers.

"When you consider how vocal people have been in the social movements, you can't help but wonder why we aren't talking about the fishery anymore," she said. "It's been 20 years. Maybe we've forgotten?"

Ms. Lawrence also said that because it is still a very large part of our culture and the daily lives and livelihoods of many people, it is surprising how little focus the fishery gets within the arts. Although some recent great dramatic and documentary work has been rooted in the fishery, she says "for the most part it hasn't been figuring largely in the scene – or in the conversations of young people – since the moratorium."

The idea for the festival came from Barbara Neis, principal investigator on the Community-University Research for Recovery Alliance (CURRA). It is being organized by the CURRA in partnership with the Nickel Independent Film Festival and is supported by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

"One of my jobs has been to work with researchers, students and community groups to promote awareness and discussion in the wider community about what is happening in our fisheries and marine ecosystems," said Dr. Neis, "and what options might be available to us to protect our heritage and to rebuild our fisheries and threatened coastal communities."

Dr. Neis said Newfoundland doesn't currently host any environmental, oceans or fisheries-related film festivals. Even globally, there are few festivals that deal specifically with those topics.

"Film is, in my view, one of the most effective ways to make visible things that are largely invisible to most about our oceans and coasts," said Dr. Neis. "Some extremely powerful documentaries were made in Newfoundland and Labrador around the time of the northern cod closure, 20 years ago this July."

While the festival will launch in St. John's, a second screening will take place in Norris Point Sept. 28-Oct. 1, in conjunction with the Rebuilding Collapsed Fisheries and Threatened Communities Symposium also being organized by CURRA. The organizers hope to have the Fishing for the Future Film Festival become a recurring feature in the series of Newfoundland and Labrador film festivals.

Beyond the screenings in St. John's and Norris Point, a curated online portion of the festival will be available at This website will bring together links to online films, videos and radio documentaries, and provide commentary on both the material that is out there and on what is missing.

"Our own internationally-renowned and award-winning radio documentary maker, Chris Brookes, is the curator," said Dr. Neis. "The result should be a tremendous, freely available resource for teachers, students and the general public looking for a place on the web where they can find resources and learn about the past and present of local and global fisheries, coasts and oceans."