'Truly a special place': Fogo cod fishing documented in TIFF premiere

Director Justin Simms latest film Hand.Line.Cod. premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on Wednesday.

Hand.Line.Cod. part of the lineup at Toronto International Film Festival

Director Justin Simms premieres Hand.Line.Cod. about the traditonal fishing methods on Fogo Island, at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 14. (submitted by NFB)

Director Justin Simms' latest film Hand.Line.Cod. premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on Wednesday.

Produced by The National Film Board, the 13-minute short follows fisherman working with Fogo Island Fish, highlighting their traditional fishing method of hand line cod fishing, and the demand for the fish at high-end restaurants.

Simms said he was inspired to make the film because he was "impressed by the initiative that the fishers out there have really been able to eliminate the middle man in so far as selling directly to chefs on the mainland."

Hand.Line.Cod is an NFB short about the fishing methods of Fogo Island Fish. (Submitted by NFB)

In 2015, Fogo Island Fish began shipping Northern cod from the Fogo Island Co-op as part of a pilot program.

Local fishermen are paid top dollar for their catch and in return, top-quality Newfoundland codfish makes it to the on plates in premium restaurants in Toronto.

Religious quality

Simms, a native of Mount Pearl, said the first time he'd ever been out fishing was during filming, and he found a greater connection with nature from the experience.

"It's truly a special place to find yourself, as the sun is coming up and you're out bobbing in a boat, no real land in sight and pulling in these tremendous codfish that are just huge," he said.

"There was almost a religious quality to it in so far as you're really in the cradle of something. We certainly tried to convey that in the film so that people watching the film can have that experience as well."

Fisherman hand line cod off the coast of Fogo Island. (Submitted by NFB)

Making a change

Simms, who also directed Danny, the documentary about former Newfoundland and Labrador premier, Danny Williams, hopes that his latest film will teach people the difference between hand line and trawled cod.

He's optimistic the fishing industry will move away from factory trawlers to help increase the quality and the price of the Nothern cod.

"Even though we're taking less fish, we're actually raising the price of fish which is something we say in the film is something that hasn't really happened in about half a century."

Transformative to the economy

There is a long history of the NFB working on Fogo Island. In the late 1960s, director Colin Low made a series of films, including Children of Fogo Island and Billy Crane Moves Away, about the social issues of the island.

A cod dish, made with Fogo Island cod, served at Ruby Watchco. in Toronto. (Lora Kirk)

Tony Cobb is one of the founders of Fogo Island Fish. He said given the rich history of NFB and Fogo Island, this latest project can only help spread the benefits of hand line fishing.

'We've always seen film and art as a transformative undertaking. Not just transformative to the way we see our place, but transformative to our economy."

Hand.Line.Cod. premieres at TIFF on Sept. 14 during the Short Cuts program.

With files from The Broadcast