Thursday, October 6, 2011

VIFF 2011: “Sushi: the Global Catch”

In my VIFF survival guide, I mentioned some of the dining options for those attending the Vancouver International Film Festival, and in particular the literally dozens of Japanese restaurants within inches of the theatres. Given the vast appetite for sushi from locals, Japanese expats and exchange students, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the food would itself become one of the subjects of the film festival.

Mark Hall’s non-fiction Sushi: the Global Catch documents the sushi industry from the moment the fish are caught to the time it is served on a diner’s plate (that sounds like a horror version of Finding Nemo, but I can assure you it is not). We follow fishermen around the globe as the fish are caught. We pay a visit to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market, the world’s single largest fish seller, where a quality assurance professional assesses a new tuna once every 17 seconds on average, checking for oxidation, eye clarity, oil content and clarity for export. We encounter Iron Chef America contestant Tyson Cole, the executive chef of the famed Texan sushi bar Uchi. We discover that the tuna industry is cannibalizing itself by overfishing and unfortunately reducing the global supply of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna to less than 10% of what it was just fifty years ago. There’s a visit to a fish farm facility in Port Lincoln, Australia, to combat the decreasing supply of wild tuna, and also a trip to Tataki Sushi, a San Francisco sushi restaurant that boasts of serving the world’s first sustainable sushi by using alternatives to overfished product. And of course, apprentice sushi chefs and the code of conduct, skill and etiquette required from the master chefs. For those of you considering an alternative career, just remember that it takes seven years to train a sushi chef, the same amount of time it takes to train a lawyer. Word.

Sushi: the Global Catch is to the tuna industry what An Inconvenient Truth is to big oil and environmental wastefulness. Hall does an excellent job capturing the market, its practices, its demands, and how we can take better care of the ecosystem without sacrificing or going cold turkey on sushi. (As someone who eats it at least once a week, you can imagine how relieved I am.) Although essentially a project to raise awareness of our limited ecosystem, this should not be treated as a tree-hugging manifesto. Ocean ecosystem sustainability is a goal shared by veteran Japanese fishermen, who recognize that overfishing would mean that their livelihood will cease to exist, and they share a simple piece of wisdom: don’t stop eating tuna, just don’t eat it until you are full. Sometimes, common sense fails us, but is the best advice. And it would be a shame to lose the art of sushi-making, since it is in of itself artful and masterful.

Thankfully, the filmmakers have provided information on Seafood Watch, an initiative of the Monterey Bay Aquarium that lists endangered seafood, and suggests eco-friendly but no less savoury alternatives. Heck, they even have an app for it, and as someone who has never enjoyed unagi, I am quite attracted to Tataki’s cod-based alternative named “pho-nagi”. Hall has captured some beautiful images of Atlantic Bluefin in their natural habitat, and the crispness of the images rival that of what you’ll find on the Discovery Channel’s HD feed. After watching this film, you will likely crave sushi and choose to partake in one of the many Japanese restaurants along Granville Street, next to or within quick walking distance of the theatre. And you’ll wonder, and ask, just what kind of fish they serve there.

Sushi: the Global Catch will play on October 8, 10 and 14 at Empire Granville Cinema during VIFF, in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund. The documentary is presented in English and Japanese, with English subtitles. For more information on the film, visit the website, and visit the VIFF website for ticket information.