In March 2012, I participated in the International Doc Challenge with the Squire Entertainment team and a few others to make a documentary in 5 days. The idea to do a doc about Captain John's Seafood Restaurant, which is located on Queen's Quay in Toronto, came up and it seemed like the perfect idea.
Unsinkable was completed, we became one of 12 finalists in the competition and had our screening at the 2012 Hot Docs, receiving a POV Special Mention.
We were incredibly proud of the documentary especially because it revealed a short glimpse into the life of the man behind Captain John's, John Letnik, who started the restaurant in 1975. With all businesses, there are ups and downs which we focused on with the doc's theme "cycles". I was always curious about the restaurant and who owned it, and was excited to finally enter the space. When I finally went aboard to do sound for the doc and met Mr. Letnik, my heart fell. Here was a man who had invested his entire life into this business, still preparing dishes everyday, devoting his time to charity meals. I sat on the holding the mic for his interview as he spoke about his life and the restaurant. I left the shoot deflated and sad, with the knowledge of the unspoken reality--likely no one will buy this ship, which at that point had a "for sale" sign on the bow, and the road to retirement is going to be very difficult I imagine.
Sure, the food quality has decreased and the restaurant decor is a time warp back to the 70s-80s. And yes, the restaurant business is tough and if you can't take the heat, well, you know. We must still present honest opinions, and I'm not saying one should lie about the food or the state of Captain John's boat, but this situation reminds me of why we made Unsinkable. The film reminds us of the human side of this business, this ship, this person.
This eviction comes at a terrible time for Captain John's, especially when just days ago a charity dinner event was announced and planned to take place on July 25. I was excited. It seemed like one last hurrah before the ship perhaps was eventually sold or the restaurant was closed. I guess that won't be true (although Chef Soto has stated on his Twitter feed that the show will go on but at a different venue).
I think why this event really hits home for me is because it seems very similar to the family farm--the fact of seeing one side of a business coming to an end and watching it happen before your eyes. The exact same week we shot Unsinkable was the demolition of the farm in Whitby. The difference was that in March I saw a business end and also a business in decline. I would never imagine that only 4 months after making Unsinkable, when Captain John's has sat there for so many years, that I would see its eviction so soon.
View the Unsinkable doc: http://www.docchallenge.org/2012-Finalists/unsinkable.html
News Articles on closure:
BlogTO - A Fond Farewell to Captain John's Seafood Restaurant (link) TheStar.com - Captain John's Restaurant Ordered to Shut Down (link) CBC - Captain John's Floating Restaurant Shut Down (link) National Post - Floating Restaurant Left High and Dry as City Cuts Off Water Supply (link) Grid TO - That Sinking Feeling (link)
Past Articles: The Grid - I Spent New Year's Eve Alone at Captain John's (January 3, 2012) (link)
Wikipedia page - Captain John's Harbour Boat Restaurant (link)