Rekindling an intimate relationship through film

The ‘People and the Sea’ film festival is here to remind us who we are and how we’ve survived in the North Atlantic for so long

It’s an ancient, intimate relationship that predates the “discovery” of the Americas, the arrival of European settlers to the Island, and even the life of Jesus Christ, by thousands of years.

Those who have inhabited the territories we now call Labrador and Newfoundland, our ancestors, knew that to survive here required, above all things, that we sustain a relationship with the sea – the provider of infinite food, passageway to new worlds, remorseless taker of lives. Now, most of us spend so little time with that ‘significant other’ that our relationship is changing and we could soon forget how we came to be here and how the water that surrounds us has fundamentally shaped who we are.

At least that’s one of the chief concerns of those who have put together the People and the Sea film festival, now underway in St. John’s before moving on to Corner Brook and Bonne Bay.

Last year, to mark the northern cod moratorium’s 20th anniversary and test the waters for a festival that would explore that ages-old relationship, Memorial University sociologist Barb Neis took the lead in organizing the Fishing for the Future film festival. The event brought local and international films that explored fishing and ocean-related themes to audiences in St. John’s and Norris Point.

This year organizers have revamped the name to reflect the festival’s direction in exploring the human relationship with the sea. The People and the Sea film festival is already underway in St. John’s with screenings throughout the weekend, and will move on to Corner Brook and Norris Point later this month.

“Our changing relationship to the sea has been a defining feature of Newfoundland and Labrador’s societies and cultures since people began living on our shores,” says Neis, explaining the reason for developing the festival into an ongoing, annual event.

“Our fishery is changing rapidly and there is a lot of controversy about some of those changes. Many coastal communities are in decline and there is some risk that we will lose both the knowledge and the culture associated with making a living in those places – as well as the jobs,” she continues.

“Climate change and ocean acidification are changing and potentially threatening both our ocean ecosystems and coastal areas (due to the effects of sea level rise and extreme events). Offshore oil and gas development is becoming an increasingly important part of our economy and is moving into deeper water. There are also proposals to start fracking in Western Newfoundland. We have a rapidly developing aquaculture industry and to an increasing extent the people of the province are losing their historical ties to the ocean and knowledge of how it works.

“For all of these reasons, we need a festival of this kind to promote discussion about our changing relationship to the sea and changes taking place in the sea and along our coast, so that we can learn from films made elsewhere about other people’s relationship to the sea and so that we can encourage the production of more films here – including documentaries, animations, dramas, et cetera – that focus on the sea and our relationship to it.”

A four-person committee, including Neis, developed the program for this year’s festival.

“The feature films we have selected deal with controversies around aquaculture development and its impacts on wild salmon in British Columbia (Salmon Confidential), the global relationship between human society and the ocean (Planet Ocean), the Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (The Big Fix), oil development and climate change in the Arctic (Arctic Challenge: The Battle for the Pole) and efforts to stop fishing in the Ross Sea in Antarctica (The Last Ocean),” Neis explains.

“In Corner Brook and Norris Point, we are screening Hard Light—Justin Simms’ excellent film about Michael Crummey’s set of short stories about the disappearance of outport culture. In Corner Brook, we are screening The Pipe – an Irish film about local reactions to the establishment of an oil pipeline in a small community. We also have some lovely regional and national shorts.”

Neis says she hopes the festival will grow to include more workshops, speaking engagements with filmmakers and other events. A fisheries ecologist specializing in aquaculture spoke at the Salmon Confidential screening earlier this week. Following the Hard Light screening at the Grenfell campus in Corner Brook a panel of researchers and filmmakers will lead a discussion “about the loss of outport culture,” Neis explains. “There will also be a Skype session with the director of The Pipe.”

2013 People and the Sea Film Festival Schedule

St. John’s

Nov. 19 – Salmon Confidential
Co-presented with Cinema Politica
MUN, Arts & Admin Rm 1046 (Donations accepted)

Nov. 22, 7 p.m. Qalupalik; Crab Fishery-Petty Harbour; Planet Ocean (Free Screening)
Bruneau Innovation Centre, Room 2001

Nov. 23, 2 p.m. – Well Fished; The Big Fix
Bruneau Innovation Centre, Room 2001

Nov. 23, 7 p.m. – Climate Change in Atlantic Canada
Joint screening with the Suzuki Foundation
Speaker: David Suzuki
Tickets $22
Gower St United Church

Nov. 24 – Arctic Circle: Battle for the Pole; The Last Ocean
Bruneau Innovation Centre, Room 2001

Corner Brook

Co-presentation with Environmental Policy Institute’s Reel Green Film Series
All at Grenfell Campus, Arts & Science Room 2026

Nov. 28, 7 p.m. – Well Fished; The Big Fix
Nov. 29, 12 noon – Hard Light (Free Screening & Panel)
Nov. 29, 7 p.m. Qalupalik; The Pipe (followed by a conversation with Director Risteard O’Domhnaill)

Norris Point

All at Bonne Bay Marine Station

Nov. 30, 7 p.m. – Qalupalik; The Big Fix
Dec. 1, 7 p.m. Crab Fishery, Hard Light: Arctic Circle

For more information visit the festival’s Facebook page:

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