Review: ‘A Place of Tide and Time’

Hot Docs 2019

7 mins read

A Place of Tide and Time
(Canada, 78 min.)
Dir. Sébastien Rist, Aude Leroux-Lévesque
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World Premiere)

Audiences at Hot Docs 2016 should remember Sébastien Rist and Aude Leroux-Lévesque’s extraordinarily moving feature debut Living with Giants. The doc, which won a special jury prize from Hot Docs, transported audiences to Inukjuak, Quebec where the filmmakers observed the life of a young Inuk man, Paulusie, and the everyday reality he experienced in the remote village. The filmmakers’ new doc, A Place of Tide and Time, is a fine companion piece to Living with Giants as it whisks audiences to another isolated community in northern Quebec, this time on the eastern side of the belle province. Rist and Leroux-Lévesque provide a portrait of life in the small fishing community of St. Paul’s River, which has become all but a ghost town since the 1992 cod moratorium gutted the local fishing industry and froze the community in time. Stuck in limbo, the film observes the community at a crossroads as the younger generation takes stock of its future.

The filmmakers once again look at the experiences of young Canadians as they turn their camera towards the stories of three St. Paul’s River residents. There’s 17-year-old Ethan, who is one of nine students of his school’s graduating class. Born into the town shortly after the cod moratorium, Ethan shares his experience of growing up without a father, as his dad was constantly absent because the scarcity of work in the community forced him to go north to provide the family with a stable income. Ethan reflects upon his sense of loss and a feeling of inadequacy that haunted him throughout his childhood and adolescence. He acknowledges that, like his father, the only option might be to leave.

Ethan might be the primary voice in A Place of Tide and Time and the doc conveys that his situation isn’t unique among the 30-odd students who comprise the local high school’s modest population. His girlfriend, Brittney, lives in the nearby fishing village of Old Fort and is one year below Ethan in high school, and therefore may be feeling more alone than before given that both her parents have left town for work. Whitney, on the other hand, is a member of Ethan’s graduating class and she hopes to go to Montreal to further her studies and return to the community. She’s an optimist and envisions a future in which the community thrives in a second life, while many of her peers take a pragmatic approach and admit that they only future they envision takes place far from the shores of St. Paul’s.

However, the doc intertwines the stories of the young generation with those of the village elders, and the film captures the struggle to keep the community in motion as few efforts to bring jobs and funding to St. Paul’s prove successful. For example, Garland, a former fisherman who makes ends meet as a sort of everyman, tries to work with the youths to ensure they have every opportunity for a sustainable future in the community. In between his sessions fishing small quantities of crabs and cockles from the bay, the filmmakers follow his indefatigable efforts to secure funding for tourism and projects that help students like Whitney gain experience in her community.

Like the other elders featured in the film, particularly the men, Garland speaks of surviving through piecemeal work and scraping by with seasonal gigs combined with bouts of unemployment. The film shows the remaining residents all but aged out from jobs that provide security. More than anything, they want the next generation to escape this terrible situation of precarious employment. It might be selfish to stay if the community is living on borrowed time.

Exquisitely shot to capture the breathtaking beauty of the remote landscape as well as the unforgiving sense of isolation of St. Paul’s River, A Place in Tide and Time presents an intimate portrait of a community at a crossroads. Rist and Leroux-Lévesque chronicle the erosion of the town over time by currents of urbanization and industrialization, offering a study of a community that has essentially been left for dead by the country of which it is a part. The English-speaking community is far removed geographically from much of the population, and detached from Quebec from a cultural and linguistic perspective. The town struggles to make itself viable when all roads lead elsewhere. There’s a bittersweet element of nostalgia in A Place of Tide and Time as the filmmakers ask if some of the most beautiful corners of this nation will be abandoned, and their residents, communities, and histories forgotten. With few solutions in sight, and life in urban centres increasingly becoming prohibitively expensive for Millennials, what common ground is there in this vast and evolving landscape?

A Place of Tide and Time screens:
-Sat, Apr. 27 at TIFF Lightbox at 3:45 p.m.
-Sun, Apr. 28 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 8:00 p.m.
-Sat, May 4 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 12:00 p.m.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival!

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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