Thursday December 14, 2017

How filmmakers and fishers saved Fogo Island

A still from the National Film Board movie, "The Children from Fogo Island" ©1967

A still from the National Film Board movie, "The Children from Fogo Island" ©1967 (National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.)

Listen to Full Episode 53:59

Fifty years ago, while the rest of the country was celebrating Canada's Centennial, the friendly folks on Fogo Island — most of whom were fishers — were ordered to abandon their homes and resettle in larger communities on the larger island of Newfoundland. Memorial University's Extension Department invited the National Film Board of Canada to visit Fogo, and interview people about their future. At the end of what is now called The Fogo Process, they voted to stay put, form a cooperative, and take over the fish plant. It became a model for alternative democracy around the world.


"When the Fogo process came together, it became the pinnacle of listening. So to me, one of the characteristics of the Fogo Process is what I would call "deep listening." – George Lee

"As soon as people start to think in a real way about their predicament, their ability to see it, and see it clearly, and do something to alter it, is much enabled. Art does that, because art asks those questions that often get overlooked by the rest of us." – Zita Cobb

Fogo is an island off the north-east coast of Newfoundland, roughly half-way between St. John's and the tip of the Northern peninsula. Although it's perhaps only 15 or 20 km from the main island, it can sometimes feel almost like it's lost in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and in time. In 1967, electricity had just recently come to Fogo, and only a rough road connected all ten communities scattered around the edge of the island. 

Paul Kennedy recently travelled to Fogo, where he met with people who played a part — as university extension workers; as film board support staff; and as subjects of important NFB documentaries like The Children of Fogo Island and A Wedding and A Party — in addition to Fogo Islanders celebrating the fiftieth anniversary today.

Donald Snowdon and Colin Low were widely considered to be the founding geniuses behind The Fogo Process. Snowdon came to Fogo from the high Arctic, where he'd pioneered the distribution of soapstone sculptures and Inuit Art prints around the world. He worked for the Extension Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland where he considered it his job to give people in outports a political "voice". Colin Low worked for the National Film Board of Canada. He came to Fogo Island direct from Expo '67 in Montreal, where we was widely credited with the invention of split-screen cinema. He and Snowdon fundamentally agreed about the need to empower disenfranchised communities, which is how Challenge for Change and The Fogo Process evolved.

Guests in this episode:

  • Phil Barnes has been the General Manager of the Fogo Island Cooperative Society, since 2007.
  • Harvey Best was born on Fogo Island. He was working for the National Film Board of Canada when The Fogo Process first started.
  • Zita Cobb is the Inn Keeper of the Fogo Island Inn, and  CEO of the Shorefast Foundation.
  • Roy & Christine Dwyer were the young couple being married in the NFB short called A Wedding and A Party. They're still married, and live in the community of Tilting, where they serve as ambassadors of the Fogo Island Inn.
  • Richard Gwyn is a retired political commentator who worked for every major Canadian newspaper, at one point or another. He's the author of Smallwood: The Unlikely Revolutionary,  and a lover of everything Newfoundland.
  • George Lee was working as a teacher in Labrador when he first met Donald Snowdon and learned about Challenge for Change. During his first few weeks on the job at the MUN Department of Extension, he viewed all the the NFB films shot in Fogo.
  • Paul MacLeod was working in the distribution department of the National Film Board when he learned about The Fogo Process and became more involved with production and community involvement.
  • Aubrey & Marie Payne are lifelong fishers and founding members of the Fogo Island Cooperative Society. The are also contemporary ambassadors for the community of Shoal Bay, on behalf of the Fogo Island Inn.

Web Extra | Watch the NFB's Introduction to Fogo Island, The Children of Fogo Island & A Wedding & A Party

Introduction to Fogo Island, Colin Low, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

The Children of Fogo Island, Colin Low, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

A Wedding and Party, Colin Low, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Related websites:

**This episode was produced by Paul Kennedy.