June 18th, 2009
In another digital twist on the NFB’s challenge for change project, E-cinema comes to the island where it all began:
A scene from The Children of Fogo Island, which the National Film Board produced on the island in the 1960s and 1970s. (NFB)
A new project promises electronic delivery of films, including documentaries and dramas, to residents of Fogo Island, about eight miles off the northeast coast of Newfoundland.
It’s the first English-language test of a plan by the National Film Board to make thousands of films available to remote communities that do not have access to cinema.
The Fogo Island e-cinema theatre, to be operating by November, is a collaboration with the Shorefast Foundation, a charitable organization that works to promote economic sufficiency on Fogo.
Films will be made available electronically from the NFB’s collection of 13,000 productions, as they become digitized. All the NFB’s newest releases are available in digital format.
The films can be delivered overnight via a high-speed internet line, beamed to the Fogo screening room from a server in Montreal.
The Shorefast Foundation foresees film clubs or other community associations getting together to choose what they want to see, and setting up a screening night in the e-cinema.
That will initially be a conference room near the centre of the island, but later could be in a new community arts centre.
Fogo Island doesn’t currently have a cinema, Shorefast’s Zita Cobb told CBC News, and it got reliable internet access just a few months ago.
That’s why the foundation was eager to bring islanders this chance to get together and see films, she said.
“Cultural vitality is a key to keeping rural communities vibrant,” she said, adding that the island is facing great transitions as it adapts to disappearing fisheries and today’s economic problems.
It is not the first NFB collaboration in Fogo, which has a population of 2,700 in just 11 small communities.
Back in the late 1960s, a series of NFB films made on Fogo examined isolation and poverty on the island. Filmmaker Colin Low worked with island residents to create 28 short films about their lives in a media program called Challenge for Change.
People can see themselves
Those films led to a groundbreaking process of community development that continues to this day.
“It was a time of great crisis, the provincial government was thinking of relocating the population,” Perlmutter said. “It allowed them to understand common problems and solutions and the fish processing plant was built and it created an economic reliability and it was done through film.”
With the e-cinema set to open in November, the people in those groundbreaking films can see themselves.
“Now we have them all, and they’re beautiful now that they’re digitized,” Cobb said of the Fogo Island films. “It gives us our stories back.”
The film project in the 1960s “provided an opportunity for us to get to know each other and to see the outside world,” Cobb said. She believes the e-cinema will do the same thing for the small communities of Fogo.
The NFB’s e-cinema network began as a pilot project in five French-speaking Acadian communities in 2007.
The NFB plans to build a chain of e-cinemas to provide a forum for showing Canadian films to Canadians.