Filmmaker Rachel Bower went fishing and caught a whopper of a story
— Telegram image
Bill Molloy still laughs when he’s called a “movie star.” The 67-year-old fisherman, one of three remaining inshore cod fisherman in St. Lawrence, is profiled in Rachel Bower’s award-winning documentary, “In the Same Boat,” which was released last year.
“She asked if she could tape me and I said yes. Why wouldn’t I?” asks Molloy. “I figured I would just tell her the rights and wrongs of fishing and show her what hardships we go through.”
It was the beginning of a very special relationship, and a very special profile.
The film compares the small-scale cod fishermen in Newfoundland with the small-scale farmers in southern Alberta. Molloy is the focus for the fisherman, and the Watmough family, who own a small farm in Lethbridge, Alta, are the farming example.
“I was having a conversation with a friend from southern Alberta and she was very upset about the state of her family farm,” Bower says from her home in Halifax. “Development and oil infrastructure was ruining the farmland in her area. And I had a friend from St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, who told me about how the fishery had collapsed, and how she used to just go out on the boat and get cod, but now there’s no community there, and no jobs. And I thought that it might be interesting to compare the two situations.”
So she began researching the fishing industry in Newfoundland and the farming industry in Alberta.
“I know that there was more than trawlers that destroyed the fishing industry,” she says, “but I started out comparing the trawling industry to the oil industry in Alberta, which, for example, uses so much water that it has turned farmland into desert.”
She found Molloy through friends and flew out to St. Lawrence, where he lives with his wife, Donna. Her intent was to capture footage of him fishing, but bad weather conditions prevented her from going out with him. She flew back out again the next year and, again, the weather was awful. So she returned in 2010.
By that time, she and the Molloys were so close, she was staying in their house.
“She was like our own family,” says Molloy. “We treated her to the best of our ability and she really enjoyed St. Lawrence. She really fell in love with the place.”
Donna Molloy, who fished with her husband until an accident left her with a back injury, also developed a special relationship with Bower.
“(Rachel) is so down to earth and so friendly, and she made us feel so comfortable,” she says. “And I learned a lot from her, too. I learned that other people have an interest in real people like Bill and I. In fact, I still email back and forth with her.”
During Bower’s last visit, the weather finally let up enough for her to get out on the water with Molloy.
“We ended up having to turn around because it was too windy and he was concerned for my safety,” she says. “I bet he would have soldiered on if I hadn’t of been there. It was the first time I had ever felt seasick, and I just kept thinking, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you get up at 3 a.m. every morning to do this.’”
Bill Molloy even contributed footage to the film. After just one good day of fishing weather, Bower left a camera with Molloy so that he could take a few videos. His contributions, says Bower, are spectacular.
“He really contributed something amazing to the film,” she says.
His contributions went beyond footage. Bower’s relationship with the Molloys became so close and mutually respectful that they decided to share a very private, pivotal moment with her, and let her include it in the documentary.
“(Mrs. Molloy) called me up in January of 2011 and said, ‘If you need anything more, you better come get it,’” says Bower. “She was he was finally going to do it — he was going to sell his licence.”
“It was very personal,” says Molloy. “It was very hard for me. But it had to happen.”
Bower says she was surprised and honoured to have been included in that moment in his life.
“It came as a complete surprise,” she says. “It was so powerful. I learned so much from him. He really believes that the fishery can be saved, if only policies would change. He was never angry at the forces behind the destruction of the fishery, and that really amazed me. He always took things day by day and just kept going, saying that things would work out. And somehow, they did, and he and Donna managed to keep going each year.”
In the end, she felt that the focus of her documentary had to change.
“It turned into a lesson about what that the small-scale food industry has to teach us,” she says. “It’s not just about good quality food, it’s about communities and society and diversity of community, and the ecosystem. It’s about what we are giving up when our food and agricultural industries get too big.”