HOT DOCS 2018: MR. FISH: CARTOONING FROM THE DEEP END
If you love the iconic editorial cartoonist Donato from the Toronto Sun, then there is no doubt you will have an appreciation for Mr. Fish. The documentary Mr. Fish: Cartooning From The Deep End by director Pablo Bryant which made its Canadian premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival here in Toronto is an up close and personal look at the trials and tribulations of a controversial political cartoonist whose occupation is soon coming to a close. As the demand for his art continues to recede due to the decline of the print business, Mr. Fish seeks out other freelance opportunities in hopes to continue his career. Unfortunately, the responsibilities of raising a family forces him to make some tough decisions. Above all, Mr. Fish: Cartooning From The Deep End is a documentary that is well suited to the Hot Docs mantra because his art is outspoken and outstanding. FERNTV spoke to director Pablo Bryant about the film Mr. Fish: Cartooning From The Deep End and his first thoughts about his festival run.
FERNTV: What was it about Mr. Fish that fascinated and inspired you to make a documentary about him?
Pablo: It really was just his art that drew me in. I got his book after hearing him on the radio, it was his first book called Go Fish and it was cartoons and essays. The cartoons were in every imaginable style of art, from beautifully rendered drawings, to line drawings, to fifties era advertising style, and they were about the tragic absurdly of modern life, and they varied from silly and dirty and whimsical to disturbing, outraged and somewhat broken hearted. Many of them had all of those colors and tones in just a single panel cartoon. In essence he was sounding an alarm about the state of the world, but it was not in the heavy handed way so many well intentioned people do, it was provocative in the best sense of the word, and I thought I want to make a film about this guy, and I hadn’t even met him yet. When I did meet him and discovered that he was great on camera and actually a really delightful and funny and nakedly honest person, I just went forward with the project.
FERNTV: There have been many documentaries on artists like Mr. Fish that have been screened here at Hot Docs. Did you watch a couple of documentaries on artists before doing this film?
Pablo: My editor Adam Lichtenstein is a big fan of the film CRUMB, as am I, so we sat down early in the process and watched it together, and talked about the differences and the similarities between the artists. We also watched the film Far Out Isn’t Far Enough, the Yomi Ungerer story to see how they dealt with a counter culture artist. Besides that I just looked at character driven documentaries.
FERNTV: When you pitched the film to Mr. Fish, what do you think was his reasoning to agree to be filmed about his life and work?
Pablo: I can only speculate his reasons. We had a great connection the first time I went out to shoot. I don’t think the film would have gone all the way if he and I didn’t get along so well. Also, though he is well respected in the editorial cartoonist world, he has not received a lot of notoriety outside that world, so I’m guessing he thought the film would expose him to a larger audience.
FERNTV: Tell us your favourite sketch from Mr. Fish and why?
Pablo: I have included one that is mostly words, and is stunning to me. But I don’t really have a favorite one, he is constantly creating new pieces that I could consider my new favourite.
FERNTV: What did you learn most about Mr. Fish after putting this documentary together?
Pablo: To take the hard nocks with grace.
FERNTV: What was your biggest challenge in putting this film together?
Pablo: Creatively it was just figuring out what the story would be. I shot for a few years just looking for the story to reveal itself to me and struggling to figure out what that would be. Logistically Fish lives in Philadelphia and I live in Los Angeles, so access was limited and funds were limited, so being there as much as I could have if we were in the same town was tough.
FERNTV: Can you comment on what it was like to be a prize winner at Slamdance?
Pablo: I was really touched. My film is very much a handmade film, for a while I thought that maybe I was crazy for making it because Fish is not famous, and he is counter culture, and he is not commercial, and he is sometimes quite dirty in his imagery, and I thought that this might be very tough to get out there, but we have had a great festival run so far, with more to come, and winning Slamdance was just really touching. It meant the film was meaningful to people besides my team, and the Slamdance staff are really great, because you get the sense that a they really care about independent filmmaking, that meant even more to me.
FERNTV: How does it feel to be part of Hot Docs this year?
Pablo: I have been hearing about Hot Docs for a long time. I love being in documentary festivals the most, and this is the high mark for those festivals. It was our first screening outside the U.S. and the audience really responded with passion to the film, so that was great. I don’t really know how to put it in words, but its amazing to be here.