Each year, hundreds of millions of herring return to the Salish Sea, their spawn painting a milky turquoise collar along its shores. For a few chaotic days, the sea is transformed. GO FISH asks the question, if the herring set the table, who comes for dinner?
A video tryptich
14 minutes | 3 channel output
SCOTT SMITH + NETTIE WILD
Editor and Sound Designer – MICHAEL BROCKINGTON
Cinematographer – SCOTT SMITH
Composer – OWEN BELTON
GO FISH takes viewers inside the annual herring migration when hundreds of millions of herring return to the Salish Sea. The spawn initially captivated us in different ways, with two very different images.
For Scott it was the three-dimensional wall of milt in the water marking the start of the spawn, at once massive and illusive, hanging off the shores of Hornby Island which he calls home.
For Nettie, it was the dazzling patterns of a seiner pursing its net full of herring…and 100 barking, roiling, hungry sea lions.
We set out to capture the abstract patterns found in the chaos and wonder of the herring spawn. Our decision to create a triptych grew out of an impulse to make art that was as compelling and immersive as the spawn itself. No narration. No interviews. Our job was to observe, not to comment. So, we leaned into the abstract – in pursuit of framing the familiar in an unfamiliar way. We figured if we could surprise ourselves as filmmakers, we stood a chance of surprising you, our audience.
GO FISH was made with the participation of both environmentalists and members of the fishing fleet. Our hope is to get everyone in the same room together with our fish…. wondering at the beauty and power of the spawn, and pondering our relationship to it. GO FISH seeks to bring a curious lens to capture the poetry and complexity of one of the greatest shows on earth.
Scott Smith | Co-Producer, Co-Director, Cinematographer:
A graduate of the Canadian Film Centre, Scott Smith launched his career in Canada with two award winning feature films, Rollercoaster (2000) and Falling Angels (2003) — and has since developed a broad-based directing career in television. He has worked as an EP/Director and/or Pilot Director on a wide spectrum of series, including the HBO Canada comedy Call Me Fitz (winner of two Canadian Screen Awards for Best Comedy Series), the remake of the hit British teen drama series Skins, as well as the Syfy network’s highest rated show in 2016, season one of the fantasy series The Magicians. Most recently, Scott directed the pilot of the new CBC drama Moonshine, created by Sheri Elwood and serves as its lead director. Moonshine was recently nominated for the Canadian Screen Award for Best Drama Series for the second year in a row. In addition, he has been collaborating with filmmaker Nettie Wild on the three-screen documentary installation GO FISH, which is set inside the annual herring spawn.
I am a filmmaker because someone put a camera in my hands as a young man and it became the way through which I saw the world, and my first love. In the 35 years since, my experience however, has predominantly been in the entertainment industry, as a dramatic film director straddling the worlds of television and my own independent feature films. Every once in a while, I get a chance to return to my first love, when a real-world story emerges for me to tell, by getting behind the lens of the actual camera again. Such was the case for my 2009 documentary As Slow as Possible, which sent me on a journey to Germany following a blind friend on a pilgrimage to something called the John Cage project, and it was the case again for GO FISH. My second love is probably Hornby Island, from the shores of which I first became aware of (and quickly enamored with) the herring spawn. It was one thing to experience the spawn from the shores of Hornby and Denman Islands, but as soon as I took to the sky and looked down with a camera…well that’s when I really began to see what was going on. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to pick up the camera again to find and tell this story from right out my front door. – Scott Smith
Nettie Wild | Co-Producer, Co-Director:
A recipient of this year’s Governor General’s Award in Media Arts, Nettie is recognized as one of Canada’s leading documentary filmmakers. Her production credits include KONELINE: our land beautiful (2016), FIX: The Story of an Addicted City (2002) and A Place Called Chiapas (1998). Nettie’s more recent work embraces digital art installations. She recently directed Uninterrupted, projecting images of wild salmon onto Vancouver’s Cambie bridge. The international art magazine Wallpaper called Uninterrupted “one of the world’s must-see public art installations of 2017.” In 2021, Nettie and her crew moved into virtual reality to create UninterruptedVR.
My first political documentaries took me behind the headlines and front lines of revolutions and social change. Extraordinary people leading complicated lives taught me to lean into the contradictions, not avoid them. Most importantly, I learned to embrace the unknown. More recently in collaboration with my colleagues, I have moved into abstract installations to more fully explore the complexity and cinematic poetry of our stories. This is a leap into the unknown in form as well as content. With Uninterrupted we used eight projectors to digitally map images of salmon onto a bridge. And now with GO FISH, my co-director Scott Smith and I are creating an immersive and kaleidoscopic environment, allowing our herring to swim across three screens. Once again, I have discovered that documentary storytelling flourishes in the abstract and in the unknown – because that is where the surprises lie. – Nettie Wild
This presentation is part of the convergent program:
in | at | on : RETURN TO WATER 2023