National Film Board of Canada, Eight Decades of Wonderful Filmmaking
In May 1939, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) was established to share the culture and creativity of Canadians with our own country and the world.
Film and video are a way of life in this era of Canadian life, on television, the Internet, on DVDs and a range of video players. Under the Federal government’s Heritage Department, the National Film board of Canada has a mandate “to produce and distribute and to promote the production and distribution of films designed to interpret Canada to Canadians and to other nations,” said the National Film Board of Canada.
NFB, From Advisor to Producer
The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) was established in Ottawa, Ontario on May 2, 1939 by an Act of Parliament, initially called the National Film Commission. At first, the agency was an advisory board with a small staff. The NFB’s goals were to provide direction and to help find funding to filmmakers. A governing council was organized, with three civilian members (not in the civil service), two Privy Council members and three members from the civil service or the military. The Governing Council held its first meeting on September 21, 1939.
World War Two brought a surge in film requirements and the NFB as advisory board turned into the NFB as film producer. Under the direction of John Grierson, the agency absorbed the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau in 1941. Within four years, “the NFB had grown into one of the world’s largest film studios with a staff of 787,” according to the Canadian Encyclopedia’s entry by Peter Morris on the “National Film Board of Canada”, with both men and women creators. Several units were set up within the agency to produce animation, propaganda series, and training units to teach new filmmakers. A success, over 500 films were made by the NFB by 1945.
National Film Board Moved to Montreal
The same year also was the start of post-war budget cuts, staff cuts and accusations of “harbouring left-wing subversives” and having a monopoly on filmmaking. Ross McLean took over the agency during the time of turmoil and he was replaced in 1950 by Arthur Irwin. The NFB was restructured under Irwin’s guidance; the National Film Act was initiated on his watch. Irwin also made the major step of moving the organization to Montreal. Along with film directors, the agency also employed music directors, such as Robert Fleming from 1955 to 1970. It seems that after the War, the women filmmakers evaporated from the NFB, not to appear again in numbers until the 1970s.
French Filmmakers and Director
New techniques evolved in the ‘50s and ‘60s, providing more polish to the productions. The move to Montreal enabled Quebec filmmakers to have French culture introduced into the NFB, rather than seeming as an English-dominated institution. In 1964 after much protest, the first French director of the NFB was hired, Guy Roberge. Today, the head office is located in Ottawa and headquarters of operations is in Montreal, Quebec.
Awards for the National Film Board of Canada
The National Film Board of Canada underwent many changes in mandate and strategy, in leaders and support. The booming commercial film and television industry caused a slow-down in film board work. By 2008, a new Strategy for the Digital Age brought the NFB into the future of film. The NFB was nominated for over 70 Academy Awards over the years, winning 12 prestigious Oscars, and an Honourary Oscar in 1989 for Filmmaking Excellence and as celebration of the Board’s 50th Anniversary.
The National Film Board has over eight decades of marvelous work to share. There is renewed emphasis on “digital production and distribution, the mentoring of young filmmakers, a renewed commitment to community involvement and expanded partnerships with commercial producers,” said Morris. There are NFB offices across the country producing captivating documentaries, entertainment, enchanting and surprising animation and biographies, bringing Canada to Canadians and the world.
Here’s to many more years, National Film Board of Canada!
This article first appeared on Suite101.com in May 2010. (C) Susanna McLeod