National Film Board of Canada

National Film Board of Canada
Office national du film du Canada
National Film Board of Canada logo.svg

National Film Board of Canada logo
Abbreviation NFB
Formation 1939
Type Federal agency
Purpose Film and interactive media producer and distributor
Headquarters Montreal
Official language English, French
Government Film Commissioner and NFB Chairperson Claude Joli-Cœur (interim)
Website NFB.ca

The National Film Board of Canada (or simply National Film Board or NFB) (French: Office national du film du Canada, or ONF) is Canada’s twelve-time Academy Award-winning public film and digital media producer and distributor. An agency of the Government of Canada, the NFB produces and distributes documentary films, animation, web documentaries and alternative dramas. In total, the NFB has produced over 13,000 productions which have won over 5,000 awards.[1] The NFB reports to the Parliament of Canada through the Minister of Canadian Heritage. It has English language and French language production branches.

Purpose

NFB headquarters building, Montreal.

The organization’s purpose and mission have been re-defined numerous times throughout its history. In 2000, the NFB’s mandate was defined as follows:

The overarching objective of the National Film Board is to produce and distribute audio-visual works which provoke discussion and debate on subjects of interest to Canadian audiences and foreign markets; which explore the creative potential of the audio-visual media; and which achieve recognition by Canadians and others for excellence, relevance and innovation.Sheila Copps, Minister of Canadian Heritage (2000)

Operations

The National Film Board maintains its head office in Saint-Laurent, a borough of Montreal, in the Norman McLaren electoral district, named in honour of the NFB animation pioneer.[2] The NFB HQ building is also named for McLaren, and is home to much of its production activity.

The NFB’s offices in Toronto. The ground-floor Mediatheque was closed in April 2012.

In addition to the English and French-language studios in its Montreal HQ, there are centres throughout Canada. English-language production occurs at centres in Toronto (Ontario Centre), Vancouver (Pacific & Yukon Centre, located in the Woodward’s Building), Edmonton (North West Centre), Winnipeg (Prairie Centre), and Halifax (Atlantic Centre). As of October 2009, the Atlantic Centre also operates an office in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.[3] In June 2011, the NFB appointed a producer to work with film and digital media makers across Saskatchewan, to be based in Regina.[4]

Outside Quebec, French language productions are also made in Moncton (Studio Acadie).[5] The NFB also offers support programs for independent filmmakers: in English, via the Filmmaker Assistance Program (FAP) and in French through its Aide du cinéma indépendant – Canada (ACIC) program.

The organization has a hierarchical structure headed by a Board of Trustees, which is chaired by the Government Film Commissioner and NFB Chairperson. It is overseen by the Board of Trustees Secretariat and Legal Affairs.

Funding is derived primarily from government of Canada transfer payments, and also from its own revenue streams. These revenues are from print sales, film production services, rentals, and royalties, and total up to $10 million yearly; the NFB lists this as Respendable Revenues in its financial statements. As a result of cuts imposed by 2012 Canadian federal budget, by 2015 the NFB’s public funding will be reduced by $6.7 million, to $60.3 million.[6]

History

Norman McLaren at work, 1944

In 1938, the Government of Canada invited John Grierson, a British documentary film-maker, to study the state of the government’s film production. Up to that date, the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau, established in 1918, had been the major Canadian film producer. The results of Grierson’s report were included in the National Film Act of 1939, which led to the establishment of the National Film Commission, which was subsequently renamed the National Film Board. In part, it was founded to create propaganda in support of the Second World War. In 1940, with Canada at war, the NFB launched its Canada Carries On series of morale boosting theatrical shorts.[7] The success of Canada Carries On led to the creation of The World in Action, which was more geared to international audiences.[8]

Early in its history, the NFB was a primarily English-speaking institution. Based in Ottawa, 90% of its staff were English and the few French Canadians in production worked with English crews. There was a French Unit which was responsible for versioning films into French but it was headed by an Anglophone. And in NFB annual reports of the time, French films were listed under “foreign languages.” Screenwriter Jacques Bobet, hired in 1947, worked to strengthen the French Unit and retain French talent, and was appointed producer of French versions in 1951.[9] During that period, commissioner Albert Trueman, sensitive to how the Quiet Revolution was beginning to transform Quebec society, brought in Pierre Juneau as the NFB’s “French Advisor.” Juneau recommended the creation of a French production branch to enable francophone filmmakers to work and create in their own language.[10]

In 1956, the NFB’s headquarters was relocated from Ottawa to Montreal, improving the NFB’s reputation in French Canada and making the NFB more attractive to French-speaking filmmakers. In 1964, a separate French production branch was finally established, with Bobet as one of its four initial executive producers.[9]

During the ’40s and early ’50s, the NFB employed ‘travelling projectionists’ who toured the country, bringing films and public discussions to rural communities.[11][12] A revision of the National Film Act in 1950 removed any direct government intervention into the operation and administration of the NFB.[13] In 1966, the French language Animation Studio was created, led by René Jodoin.[14]

With the creation of the Canadian Film Development Corporation (now known as Telefilm Canada) in 1967, the mandate for the National Film Board was refined. The Canadian Film Development Corporation would become responsible for promoting the development of the film industry.[15] 1967 also saw the creation of Challenge for Change, a community media project that would develop the use of film and video as a tool for initiating social change.[16] The National Film Board produced several educational films in partnership with Parks Canada during the 1960s and 1970s, including Bill Schmalz’s Bears and Man.[17]

In the early 1970s, the NFB began a process of decentralization, opening film production centres in cities across Canada. The move had been championed by NFB producers such as Rex Tasker, who became the first executive producer of the NFB’s studio in Halifax.[18]

Main article: Canada Vignettes

During the 1970s and early 1980s, the National Film Board produced a series of vignettes, some of which aired on CBC and other Canadian broadcasters as interstitial programs. The vignettes became popular because of their cultural depiction of Canada, and because they represented its changing state, such as the vignette Faces which was made to represent the increasing cultural and ethnic diversity of Canada. In 1996, the NFB operating budget was cut by 32%, forcing it to lay off staff and to close its film laboratory, sound stage (now privatized) and other departments.

In 2006, the NFB marked the 65th anniversary of NFB animation with an international retrospective of restored Norman McLaren classics and the launch of the DVD box set, Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition. The NFB budget has since been cut again. The six-storey John Grierson Building at its Montreal headquarters has been unused for several years – with HQ staff now based solely in its adjacent Norman McLaren Building. In October 2009, the NFB released a free app for Apple’s iPhone that would allow users to watch thousands of NFB films directly on their cell phones. In 2010, the NFB released an iPad version of their app that streams NFB films, many in high definition.

In March 2012, the NFB’s funding was cut 10%, to be phased in over a three-year period, as part of the 2012 Canadian federal budget.[19] The NFB eliminated 73 full and part-time positions.[6]

Beginning May 2, 2014, the NFB’s 75th anniversary was marked by such events as the release of a series of commemorative stamps by Canada Post,[20] and an NFB documentary about the film board’s early years, entitled Shameless Propaganda.[21]

NFB studios and divisions

As of March 2014 the acting commissioner of the Claude Joli-Coeur, while the interim heads of the NFB’s English and French production branches are Michelle van Beusekom and Colette Loumède, respectively.[22][23]

As of 2013, the NFB is organized along the following branches:[24]

  • Office of the Assistant Commissioner and Corporate Services (Acting Commissioner: Claude Joli-Coeur)
  • English Program (Director General: Michelle van Beusekom) (interim)
  • French Program (Director General: Colette Loumède) (interim)
  • Accessibility and Digital Enterprises (Director General: Deborah Drisdell)
  • Finance, Operations and Technology (Director General: Luisa Frate)
  • Marketing and Communications (Director General: Jérôme Dufour)[25]
  • Human Resources (Director General: François Tremblay)

With six regional studios in English Program:

  • Animation Studio based in Montreal, headed by Executive Producer Michael Fukushima[26] and Producers Maral Mohammadian and Jelena Popović[27]
  • Atlantic Centre based in Halifax, headed by Executive Producer Annette Clarke and Producer Paul McNeill
  • Quebec Centre based in Montreal, also headed by Executive Producer Annette Clarke
  • Ontario Centre based in Toronto, headed by Executive Producer Anita Lee[28] and Producer Lea Marin
  • North West Centre based in Edmonton, headed by Executive Producer David Christensen and Producer Bonnie Thompson
  • Pacific and Yukon Centre based in Vancouver, headed by Executive Producer Shirley Vercruysse.[29]
  • With small satellite offices in Winnipeg, Saskatchewan (Cory Generoux) and Newfoundland.[30]

And four regional studios in French Program:

  • Ontario and West Studio based in Toronto, headed by Executive Producer: Jacques Turgeon
  • Quebec Studio based in Montreal, also headed by Executive Producer: Jacques Turgeon
  • French Animation and Youth Studio based in Montreal, headed by Executive Producer: Julie Roy and Producer: Marc Bertrand[27]
  • Studio Acadie/Acadia Studio based in Moncton, headed by Executive Producer: Jacques Turgeon and Producer: Maryse Chapdelaine
  • René Chénier, formerly head of French Animation, is Executive Producer of Special Projects[27]

Animation

When Norman McLaren joined the organization in 1941, the NFB began production of animation. The animation department eventually gained distinction, particularly with the pioneering work of McLaren, an internationally recognized experimental filmmaker. The NFB was a pioneer in several novel techniques such as pinscreen animation, and as of June 2012, the NFB is reported to have the only working animation pinscreen in the world.[31] Most of the NFB’s Oscars and other animation awards have been for its traditional cel animation films.

McLaren’s Oscar-winning Neighbours popularized the form of character movement referred to as pixillation, a variant of stop motion. The term pixilation itself was created by NFB animator Grant Munro in an experimental film of the same name.

The NFB was a pioneer in computer animation, releasing one of the first CGI films, Hunger, in 1974, then forming its Centre d’animatique in 1980 to develop new CGI technologies.[32] Staff at the Centre d’animatique included Daniel Langlois, who left in 1986 to form Softimage.[33]

Interactive

Platforms

In January 2009, the NFB launched its online Screening Room, NFB.ca, offering Canadian and international web users the ability to stream hundreds of NFB films for free as well as embed links in blogs and social sites.[34][35][36] As of May 18, 2013, the NFB’s digital platforms have received approximately 41 million views.[37]

In October 2009, the NFB launched an iPhone application that was downloaded more than 170,000 times and led to more than 500,000 film views in the first four months.[38] In January 2010, the NFB added high-definition and 3D films to the over 1400 productions available for viewing online.[39] The NFB introduced a free iPad application in July 2010,[40] followed by its first app for the Android platform in March 2011.[41] When the BlackBerry PlayBook launched on April 19, 2011, it included a pre-loaded app offering access to 1,500 NFB titles.[42][43] In January 2013, it was announced that the NFB film app would be available for the BlackBerry 10, via the BlackBerry World app store.[44]

In September 2011, the NFB and the Montreal French-language daily Le Devoir announced that they would jointly host three interactive essays on their websites, ONF.ca and ledevoir.com.[45] The NFB is a partner with China’s ifeng.com on NFB Zone, the first Canadian-branded web channel in China, with 130 NFB animated shorts and documentary films available on the company’s digital platforms.[46] NFB documentaries are also available on Netflix Canada.[47]

In April 2013, the NFB announced that it was “seeking commercial partners to establish a subscription service for Internet television and mobile platforms next year. The service would be available internationally and would feature documentaries from around the world as well as the NFB’s own catalogue.”[48]

Interactive works

As of March 2013, the NFB devotes one quarter of its production budget to interactive media, including web documentaries.[49][50] According to transmedia creator Anita Ondine Smith, the NFB is a pioneer in interactive web documentaries, helping to position Canada as a major player in digital storytelling.[51] From January 2010 to June 2011, NFB interactive works reached over 2.2 million users, in both English and French.[52]

Welcome to Pine Point received two Webby Awards while Out My Window, an interactive project from the NFB’s Highrise project, won the IDFA DocLab Award for Digital Storytelling and an International Digital Emmy Award.[53][54]

Loc Dao is the executive producer and “creative technologist” responsible for NFB English-language digital content and strategy, based in the Woodward’s Building in Vancouver. Jeremy Mendes is an interactive artist producing English-language interactive works for the NFB, whose projects include a collaboration with Leanne Allison (Being Caribou, Finding Farley) on the webdoc Bear 71.[52][55]

Dao’s counterpart for French-language interactive media production at the NFB is Hugues Sweeney, based in Montreal. Sweeney’s recent credits include the online interactive animation work, Bla Bla.[56][57]

Aboriginal filmmaking

In November 2006, the National Film Board of Canada and the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation announced the start of the Nunavut Animation Lab, offering animation training to Nunavut artists.[58] Films from the Nunavut Animation Lab include Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s 2010 digital animation short Lumaajuuq, winner of the Best Aboriginal Award at the Golden Sheaf Awards and named Best Canadian Short Drama at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival.[59]

In November 2011, the NFB and partners including the Inuit Relations Secretariat and the Government of Nunavut introduced a DVD and online collection entitled Unikkausivut: Sharing Our Stories, which will make over 100 NFB films by and about Inuit available in Inuktitut and other Inuit languages, as well as English and French.[60][61]

Former studios and departments

Studio D

In 1974, in conjunction with International Women’s Year, the National Film Board of Canada, on the recommendation of long-time employee Kathleen Shannon created Studio D, the first government-funded film studio dedicated to women filmmakers in the world. Shannon was designated as Executive Director of the new studio which became one of the NFB’s most celebrated filmmaking units, winning awards and breaking distribution records.[62][63]

High profile films produced by the studio include:

Studio D was shut down in 1996, amidst a sweeping set of federal government budget cuts, which impacted the NFB as a whole.

Still Photography Division

Upon its merger with the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau in 1941, the NFB’s mandate expanded to include motion as well as still pictures, resulting in the creation of the Still Photography Division of the NFB.

Montreal CineRobotheque, closing in September 2012.

From 1941 to 1984, the Division commissioned freelance photographers to document every aspect of life in Canada. These images were widely distributed through publication in various media.

In 1985, this Division officially became the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography.[64]

The division’s work is the subject of a 2013 book by Carleton University art professor Carol Payne entitled The Official Picture: The National Film Board of Canada’s Still Photography Division and the Image of Canada, 1941-1971, published by the McGill-Queen’s University Press.[65]

Public access facilities in Montreal and Toronto

As part of the 2012 budget cuts, the NFB announced that it was forced to close its Toronto Mediatheque and Montreal CineRobotheque public facilities.[6] They ceased to operate as of September 1, 2012.[66] In September 2013, the Université du Québec à Montréal announced that it had acquired the CineRobotheque for its communications faculty.[67]

People

A brief list of some key NFB filmmakers, artisans and staff.

Government Film Commissioners

As stipulated in the National Film Act of 1950, the person who holds the position of Government Film Commissioner is the head of the NFB. As of December 10, 2013, with the resignation of Tom Perlmutter, the interim NFB Commissioner is Claude Joli-Cœur.[68]

Past NFB Commissioners

Awards

Film and television awards

Over the years, the NFB has been internationally recognized with more than 5000 film awards.[82][83] In 2009, Norman McLaren’s Neighbours was added to UNESCO‘s Memory of the World Programme, listing the most significant documentary heritage collections in the world.[84]

Genie Awards

The NFB has received more than 90 Genie Awards, including a Special Achievement Genie in 1989 for its 50th anniversary. The following is an incomplete list:

Winners:

Nominated:

Academy Awards

The National Film Board of Canada has been recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their work and has garnered a total of 72 Academy Award nominations as of February 2012, more than any film organization in the world outside Hollywood.[22] The first-ever Oscar for documentary went to the NFB production, Churchill’s Island. In 1989, it received an Honorary Award from the Academy “in recognition of its 50th anniversary and its dedicated commitment to originate artistic, creative and technological activity and excellence in every area of filmmaking.”[85] On January 23, 2007, the NFB received its 12th and most recent Academy Award, for the animated short The Danish Poet, directed by Torill Kove and co-produced with MikroFilm AS (Norway).[86] 53 of the NFB’s 72 Oscar nominations have been for its short films.[87]

Winners:

Nominated: (incomplete list)

Peabody Awards

As of April 2014, the NFB has received five Peabody Awards, for the web documentary A Short History of the Highrise, co-produced with The New York Times; the Rezolution Pictures/NFB co-production Reel Injun (2011); Karen Shopsowitz’s NFB documentary My Father’s Camera (2002), the NFB/Télé-Action co-produced mini-series The Boys of St. Vincent (1995) and the NFB documentary Fat Chance (1994).[88][89][90]

Annie Awards

NFB Annie Awards nominations include:

Nominated: (incomplete list)

Interactive awards

In June 2011, NFB received the Award of Excellence in Interactive Programming from the Banff World Media Festival.[91] In August 2011, the NFB received an outstanding technical achievement in digital media award from the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.[92]

Webby Awards

As of May 2013, NFB web documentaries have won eight Webby Awards, presented International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for excellence on the internet. Filmmaker-in-Residence, a project by Katerina Cizek about St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, was named best online documentary series at the 2008 Webbys.[93] In 2010, the NFB website Waterlife, on the state of the Great Lakes, won in the Documentary: Individual Episode category.[94] In 2011, Welcome to Pine Point received two Webbys, for Documentary: Individual Episode in the Online Film & Video category and Net art in the Websites category.[95] In 2012, the NFB received two more Webbys, for Bla Bla (best web art) and God’s Lake Narrows (best use of photography).[96] In 2013, Bear 71 received the Webby for best net art.[97] In 2014, the interactive photo essay The Last Hunt received a People’s Voice Award Webby for best navigation/structure.[98]

Others

  • 2014:FITC, Winner, Experimental, The Last Hunt[98]
  • 2012: Digi Awards (formerly Canadian New Media Awards), Best in Canadian culture Burquette (with Attraction Images and Turbulent Media)[99]
  • 2012: Digi Awards (formerly Canadian New Media Awards), Best in web series, non-fiction Bear 71[99]
  • 2011: Sheffield Documentary Festival, Innovation Documentary Award Welcome to Pine Point
  • 2011: Bellaria (Italy) Documentary Festival, Best Cross Media Doc Welcome to Pine Point
  • 2011: The Favourite Website Awards (FWA), Site of the Day Highrise- Out My Window Jan 28, 2011
  • 2011: The FWA, Site of the Day Holy Mountain Jan 17, 2011
  • 2011: The FWA, Site of the Day Welcome to Pine Point Feb 22, 2011
  • 2011: The FWA, Site of the Day Crash Course Jan 9, 2011
  • 2011: FITC, Winner, Flash Narrative Welcome to Pine Point
  • 2011: FITC, Winner, Audio in Flash Highrise-Out My Window
  • 2011: Applied Arts Interactive Awards, Winner-Entertainment, Arts & Tourism Welcome to Pine Point
  • 2011: Applied Arts Interactive Awards, Winner-Entertainment, Arts & Tourism Main Street
  • 2011: Applied Arts Interactive Awards, Winner-Entertainment, Arts & Tourism This Land
  • 2011: Banff World Television Festival, Interactive Rockie Awards, Winner- Best Francophone – Documentary Holy Mountain
  • 2011: Banff World Television Festival, Interactive Rockie Awards, Winner- Best On Line Program – Documentary Welcome to Pine Point
  • 2011: Communication Arts Interactive Annual, Selected The Test Tube with David Suzuki
  • 2011: Communication Arts, Web Pick of the Day Welcome to Pine Point
  • 2010: IDFA Doc Lab, Winner-Digital Storytelling Highrise-Out My Window
  • 2010: BaKaFORUM, Winner- Youth Jury Prize Waterlife
  • 2010: SXSW Interactive, Winner-Activism Category Waterlife
  • 2010: Emmy Awards, International Digital Emmy, Non Ficton Highrise-Out My Window
  • 2010: SXSW Interactive, Winner, Activism Category Waterlife
  • 2010: The FWA, Site of the Day Waterlife June 24, 2010
  • 2010: The FWA, Site of the Day The Test Tube with David Suzuki Oct 5, 2010
  • 2010: The FWA, Site of the Day NFB Interactive Nov 11, 2010
  • 2010: CNMA (Canadian New Media Awards), Community Campaign of the Year The Test Tube with David Suzuki
  • 2010: CNMA (Canadian New Media Awards), Best On Line Program GDP
  • 2010: Applied Arts Interactive Awards, Winner – Experimental and Artistic Flub and Utter
  • 2010: Applied Arts Interactive Awards, Winner – On Line Video Flub and Utter
  • 2010: Applied Arts Interactive Awards, Winner – Experimental and Artistic The Test Tube with David Suzuki
  • 2010: Applied Arts Interactive Awards, Winner – Public Service Charity The Test Tube with David Suzuki
  • 2010: Applied Arts Interactive Awards, Winner – Net Art Holy Mountain
  • 2010: Applied Arts Interactive Awards, Winner – Entertainment, Arts and Tourism Holy Mountain
  • 2010: Applied Arts Interactive Awards, Winner – Entertainment, Arts and Tourism NFB
  • 2010: Applied Arts Interactive Annual, Selected The Test Tube with David Suzuki
  • 2010: On Line Journalism Awards, Winner- Multi Media Feature Presentation, Small Site This Land
  • 2010: Communication Arts Interactive Annual, Selected Waterlife
  • 2010: Communication Arts, Web Pick of the Week The Test Tube with David Suzuki
  • 2010: Adobe Site of the Day The Test Tube with David Suzuki
  • 2009: Hot Docs, Winner- Special Jury Prize Waterlife
  • 2009: CNMA (Canadian New Media Awards), Winner- Best Cross Platform Project Waterlife
  • 2009: Digital Marketing Awards, Winner- Best of Show Waterlife
  • 2009: On Line Journalism Awards, Winner- Best Multi Media Feature Presentation Waterlife
  • 2009: Adobe Site of the Day Waterlife
  • 2009: Applied Arts Interactive Annual, Selected Capturing Reality
  • 2009: Digital Marketing Awards, Winner-DMA Award Capturing Reality

Controversy

In addition to Neighbours, other NFB productions have been criticized for their content, for moral and social reasons or because the production presents an unpopular interpretation of widely held beliefs.

Two NFB productions broadcast on CBC Television criticizing the role of Canadians in wartime were the source of controversy, including questions in the Canadian Senate. The Kid Who Couldn’t Miss (1982) cast doubt on the accomplishments of Canadian World War I flying ace Billy Bishop, sparking widespread outrage, including complaints in the Senate subcommittee on Veterans’ Affairs.[100]

A decade later, The Valour and the Horror outraged some when it suggested that there was incompetence on the part of Canadian military command, and that Canadian soldiers had committed unprosecuted war crimes against German soldiers. The series became the subject of an inquiry by the Senate.

The 1982 film If You Love This Planet, which won an Academy Award for best documentary short subject, was labelled foreign propaganda under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 in the United States.[101]

Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography was a 1981 Studio D documentary critiquing pornography that was itself banned in the province of Ontario on the basis of pornographic content.[102]

During the height of the pro-rights and pro-life abortion debate of the 1980s, the NFB released the documentary film Abortion: Stories from North and South (1984).[103]

NFB on TV

The NFB is a minority owner of the digital television channel, Documentary in Canada. NFB-branded series Retrovision appeared on VisionTV, along with the French-language Carnets ONF series on APTN. Moreover, in 1997 the American cable channel Cartoon Network created a weekly 30-minute show called O Canada specifically showcasing a compilation of NFB-produced works; the segment was discontinued in favour of Adult Swim.[104][105] As of 2010, many of the NFB children’s shows are available on the children’s IPTV service Ameba.

The old NFB logo.

The Board’s logo consists of a standing stylized figure (originally green) with its arms wide upward. The arms are met by an arch that mirrors them. The round head in between then resembles a pupil, making the entire symbol appear to be an eye with legs. Launched in 1969, the logo symbolized a vision of humanity and was called “Man Seeing / L’homme qui voit”. It was designed by Georges Beaupré. It was updated in 2002 by the firm of Paprika Communications.[106]

NFB in popular media

See also

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