Great news for Fogo Islanders:
The FOGO ISLAND FILM HOUSE is one of the first e-cinemas in Canada. The cinema is completely digital: films are downloaded onto a server and then you get to watch them in HD, with superb image and sound quality.
More than 40 years after using film to spur social change in the impoverished fishing communities of Fogo Island, the National Film Board is returning with another arts project aimed at revitalizing the region.
This time, the board has teamed up with community and arts leaders to spur tourism on the remote island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland.
Next month, officials break ground on a new five-star inn, open the first of six studios for visiting artists around the world, and launch an all-digital NFB movie theatre.
It all comes decades after a collaborative project led by the NFB and Memorial University shed light on the day-to-day struggles of the region’s far-flung outport.
At the time, the government had been thinking of relocating residents, many of whom had been forced onto welfare by the downturn in the fishery. The film series was later credited with revealing common problems and spurring community action to keep the region alive.
Entrepreneur and community leader Zita Cobb notes the fledgling population is now just of 2,700 — down from roughly 3,500 in the late ’60s — while just 10 communities remain after one small town voted to relocate about five months ago. She says a re-energized tourism industry could help stave further erosion.
“Our fishery is the only thing we have, really, so we’re trying to add another leg on the economy,” Cobb, a native Fogo Islander who founded the Shorefast Foundation and Fogo Island Arts Corporation to drive revitalization, said by phone from just outside Gander, N.L.
“And we want to do it in a way that fits the people, fits the place. Fogo islanders and most outport people have a genetic predisposition to hospitality so it didn’t take a very smart person to figure out we really should have a beautiful inn that represents us as a people.”
The $16-million project includes the construction of six artists studios positioned on walking trails along the island, the restoration of several churches, and the inn, which will be located on the back-western shore.
The province has committed $5 million to the plan, while the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency has put in $5 million and Cobb has kicked in $6 million.
The NFB theatre will be the island’s first cinema, notes Cobb, adding Fogo only started getting high-speed Internet about a year-and-a-half ago and electricity in the late ’70s.
NFB chair Tom Perlmutter said from Montreal the agency regarded the project as an extension of “activist filmmaking.”
“It’s in all the history books now in terms of how film can transform lives,” Perlmutter said. “One of the great lessons for me is that ability to listen to communities.”
He said he hoped that lending the NFB’s name to the project would add also weight to the revitalization projects.
“The simple fact of a great national institution saying, ‘You’re important,’ brings a sense of validity as well to a range of activities,” he said.
Cobb says population has steadily declined on the island from a peak of 5,000 in 1860. On nearby Change Islands, there are just 240 people and only one girl began school last year.
“Most don’t want to leave but there’s not enough to do,” says Cobb. “Behind the projects is this idea of doing something in a way … that allow us to continue being who we are. What can we do and how should we do it to allow more people to stay home? So that more people can live this life and carry on.”
Elisabet Gunnarsdottir, director of the Fogo Island Arts Corporation, adds that in July it plans to begin bringing artists from around the world to collaborate on art projects that would stay with the community.
Perlmutter, along with NFB director Colin Low, are slated to open the Fogo Island Film House on June 1 with Low’s short film, “The Children of Fogo Island.”
The e-cinema will be the NFB’s sixth, in addition to five francophone outlets that already run in Acadian communities.
Ground breaks on the Fogo Island inn with a rock-turning ceremony and traditional ‘boil-up’ dinner June 2. Slated to open in 2012, the inn will also hold the relocated film house as well as an art gallery and library.
NFB director Colin Low, who helmed “The Children of Fogo Island,” will be among those taking part in events.
The first of the six artists’ studios, the Long Studio, will also open June 2.