The last few years have seen a national resurgence in audience appreciation for documentary films. From Spellbound and Capturing the Friedmans to Fahrenheit 9/11 and An Inconvenient Truth, cinemagoers have been willing to spend their leisure time (and money) on what was once derisively referred to as ‘educational programming’. This trend is as much a testament to the power and importance of the individual stories told as it is to the creative forces behind the films.
While it is great that Hollywood has finally warmed to the merits of non-fiction cinema, the truth remains that the vast majority of documentaries still struggle to reach an audience. These smaller films may not be able to compete with the polished and well-financed documentaries that make it to our cinemas but they are no less worthy of our support and attention. For their stories and messages are equally as compelling, thought provoking, and vital.
One More Dead Fish is one such film that may never play at your local multiplex but deserves as wide an audience as possible. This modest and unassuming film is a powerful and provocative tale about the personal and environmental impact of globalization on one small Canadian coastal community.
In 1996, six handline fishermen seized a Federal building in rural Nova Scotia in an environmental protest that galvanized people across Canada. Barricading themselves inside a Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) building for 26 days, these men demanded government response to new fishing regulations that threatened both their small community’s livelihood and the fragile ecosystem of the North Atlantic.
The crux of the protest concerned new DFO regulations and licensing fees that were overly restrictive and cost prohibitive to individual coastal fishermen. Corporate consolidation and government laxity had led to outsized power and influence from the large multinational organizations that control the fishing industry. Essentially, the independent handline fishermen were being systematically “phased out” by these new DFO policies in favor of the giant fishing trawlers, which yield larger catches and higher profits (at the expense of both individual fishermen and the ocean’s intricate ecology).
Sympathetic men and women, in a sign of solidarity with the original six fishermen of Woods Harbor, seized six more Federal buildings over the course of several weeks as news of their protests spread across Canada. Barely living above the poverty line these simple, hard working men are threatened with fines and jail time, but refuse to back down until they are promised cooperative talks with DFO officials and government ministers.
As tensions mount between the two sides the threat of violence is palpable. True to life, the solutions reached between the fishermen and the DFO officials are not perfect and fraught with complications.
Personalizing the (often damning) effects of globalization is a familiar narrative convention in documentaries, but One More Dead Fish is unique in that it also explores the damaging effects of corporate policy on the environment. While limited to the small coastal town of Woods Harbor, Nova Scotia, the film speaks to the great damage brought about when government policies bend to cavalier businesses.
Directed by the father and son team of Allan and Stefan Forbes, the film shows how corporate disregard for individual workers directly affects the natural ecosystem of our oceans. For it is not just the redundancy of jobs that results from corporate consolidation but also, more importantly, the history of generational experience and first hand knowledge that is lost forever. Much like the plight of the modern independent farmer, the problems facing handline fishermen of the Canadian Atlantic are myriad and complex. While sympathetic to the fishermen, the filmmakers do a fine job of examining the issues and presenting a balanced analysis of all involved. Interviews with the individual fishermen, family members, government officials, industry CEO’s, and environmental scientists provide a thorough and evenhanded account of the inherent difficulties involved in solving this issue.
Supplemental extras are fairly standard and include a brief filmmaker Q&A session, previews, and an informational section on ways to get involved in environmental issues discussed in the documentary. And it is there, in that tacit call for action, where the filmmakers most succeed. For they know that the real achievement of One More Dead Fish lay not in box office receipts, but in simple acts of personal involvement. Their portraits of these straightforward fishermen show that the tentacles of corporate power may reach far into our daily lives but it is still within our power to raise our voices and affect change.
One More Dead Fish is an important and absorbing documentary about the personal, environmental, and social effects of globalization. You cannot come away from this film without feeling anger, sadness, and, hopefully, a dedicated resolve to change.