A new documentary, Hard Rock and Water, directed by Barbara Doran, was recently shown to a St. John's audience. A town hall discussion hosted by the CBC, which will later be used for a special feature in the documentary's DVD followed. The film will be shown this week at the Gimli Film Festival.
The documentarychronicles Giller Prize finalist Lisa Moore on acomparative journey between Iceland and Newfoundland.The film opens with actor/comedian Mary Walsh and Moore going downthe aisles of a Canadian Tire store to see if they can find any items thatwere made locally. After much searching, they finally comeacross some topsoil.
The scene then shifts toMoore lamenting at a going-away party for Newfoundlanders whocan't find jobs at home.
In 1944, Iceland, a desperately poor place, became independent from Denmark. Five years later, Newfoundlanders went in the opposite direction and voted to join Canada.
After a great deal of thinking, Moore starts to wonderwhether Canada has held Newfoundland back. The mismanagement of the cod fishery and the subsequent loss of the cod was the federal government's responsibility and yetNewfoundland is often perceived in the rest of the country as seeking ahand-out when it requires compensation.
The film goes back as far as World War I and recountsthe cost of many lives and millions ofdollars. Newfoundland was forced intobankruptcy during the Depression which ultimately led to the colony joining the Canadian confederation.
Debate ensues on the issue of provincialautonomy and how natural resources such asfish, oil and nickel have been exported to other places for processing and refining. Manufacturing of finished goods, consequently, also takes place elsewhere.
Iceland, with its similar terrain, is shown as havinga lifestyle quite to the contrary. Small shops ownedby Icelanders are shown vs. the big box stores ofCanada. No mansions or great displays of wealth areseen. Three hundred thousand tourists visit each year. With apopulation of 280,000 people, Iceland publishes 1,000books per year. There are many bookstores and artgalleries.
In Iceland, everything gets utilizedincluding small pieces of cod for cat food andfertilizer and geo-thermal power for hot water springspas!
(The irony about Iceland's progress is the role William Coaker, a legendary Newfoundlander, played by providing a list ofreforms which he had formulated for the fishing industry in the 1920s through his Fishermen's Protective Union. Newfoundland abandoned his reforms, but Newfoundland's chief competitors Norway and Iceland adopted similar reforms. The reforms of the competitor countries forced Newfoundland out of its prime European markets, causing a reduction in the European consumption of Newfoundland fish. Back home unfortunately, he didn't getlistened to.)
Overall, Icelanders have a verystrong sense of identity, pride and independence,which they attribute to their high quality of life.One Icelander in fact, equated the concept of Newfoundland beingpart of Canada as living at your mom's place.
CBC town hall meeting looks at film
Barbara Doran, Lisa Moore, and the Icelandicfisheries consultant Sigfus Jonsson accepted questions and comments about the film. There was much discussion about what makes Iceland so different from Newfoundland. One ofthe factors was that in spite of the fact that it gained independence from Denmark only in 1944, Iceland has had adistinct history and culture since 923 AD.
There was a comment about the perception ofnegativity that was surrounding Newfoundland in thefilm. Thefeudalistic merchant-fishermen relationship was alsoseen as a significant factor in Newfoundland's development.
As much of a Valhalla as Iceland appears however, itis not without its problems. Rural depopulation isoccurring and farms are closing down. The cost ofliving is high and the higher education of the naturalized population has ledto the lack of desire for a rural settlement. It hasalso led to the importing of immigrants for low-incomelabour because the locals are not interested.
It may be that there is a historic problemNewfoundland has faced since the time of theBritish with its impermanent fishing colony mentality a habit of not making straightforward plans for its future.
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