The NFB was originally designed as a modestly staffed advisory board, but the demands of wartime production, together with John Grierson's personality, led to a shift into active production by absorbing (1941) the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau (formerly the Exhibits and Publicity Bureau, established in 1919). By 1945 the NFB had grown into one of the world's largest film studios with a staff of 787. More than 500 films had been released (including 2 propaganda series, The World in Action and Canada Carries On, shown monthly in Canadian and foreign theatres), an animation unit had been set up under the supervision of Scottish-born animator Norman MCLAREN, non-theatrical distribution circuits were established and many young Canadian filmmakers trained.
John Grierson resigned in 1945 and was replaced by his deputy, Ross McLean, who faced considerable difficulties in the postwar years. Budgets and staff were reduced and the NFB came under attack for allegedly harbouring left-wing subversives and as holding a monopoly that threatened the livelihoods of commercial producers. McLean's replacement (1950), Arthur IRWIN, calmed the storm, initiated a new National Film Act, restructured the NFB along modern bureaucratic lines and planned to move the NFB from Ottawa to Montréal (completed 1956 under Irwin's successor, Albert TRUEMAN).
Also during the postwar decade, production expanded into new areas: the first dramatic films were made, new techniques were explored in animation, and the information film and production for TV were initiated. Filmmakers paid more attention to style and technical polish, and new approaches emerged, more intimate in tone than the didactic approach of the war years. These were clearly evident in the films of one production group, Unit B, headed by Tom DALY, whose work led in the late 1950s to the world's first consistent use of direct cinema in the Candid Eye TV series (14 films produced for and broadcast on the CBC, 1958-61).
In Québec the NFB was viewed for some years as a federalist agency that denied Québec's cultural aspirations. French-language production was minimal until the late 1950s when the demands of TV and the move to Montréal provided catalysts for expansion. Many young Québec filmmakers - Pierre PERRAULT, Gilles CARLE, Michel BRAULT, Gilles GROULX, Claude JUTRA, Denys ARCAND and others - were hired; they played seminal roles in the flowering of Québec cinema in the 1960s, both within and outside the NFB. These filmmakers refused to accept the anglophone domination of the NFB's administration.
After a series of protests, the appointment of the first French-speaking commissioner, Guy Roberge, initiated a series of changes that culminated (1964) in a total separation of production along linguistic lines.
Women filmmakers made major contributions during the war years but were then virtually absent from active production until the early 1970s. Encouraged by such series as En tant que femmes (1972-75) and Working Mothers (1974-75), and the development of Studio D under Kathleen SHANNON, women have since made significant contributions both as directors and technicians. Indigenous peoples objected for many years to the folkloric and condescending images of themselves projected in NFB films. Only in the late 1960s, in such programs as Challenge for Change, did a truer portrait emerge. At the same time, First Nations people were given access to NFB equipment to produce their own films. These initiatives later led to such films as Gil CARDINAL's Foster Child (1987), Alanis OBOMSAWIN's Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993), and Zacharias KUNUK's award-winning feature ATANARJUAT - THE FAST RUNNER (2001), a co-production of the NFB and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.
This initial impetus towards an increasing accessibility to the means of production was continued through the 1970s as the NFB established regional production centres across Canada. Animation has always been an NFB priority and, though the work of such pioneers as Norman McLaren is widely recognized - his Neighbours won an Oscar for short documentary in 1953 - it has been the Board's continuing commitment to encourage new talent that has maintained the vigour of this section and made it one of the most admired in the world (see FILM ANIMATION). NFB film animators continue to win major festival prizes, such as those for Richard CONDIE's La Salla in 1997, Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis's When the Day Breaks in 1999 and Cordell BARKER's Strange Invaders in 2001.
Production of dramatic feature films for theatrical release began in 1963 with Don Haldane's Drylanders and has continued, despite debate about the appropriateness of such production within a state institution. Many NFB feature films have won international awards and have had wide release, such as Claude Jutra's MON ONCLE ANTOINE (1971; consistently ranked by critics as the best Canadian feature film ever made), Jean BEAUDIN's J.A. MARTIN, PHOTOGRAPHE (1977), and Denys Arcand's Oscar-nominated LE DÉCLIN DE L'EMPIRE AMÉRICAIN (The Decline of the American Empire) (1986); however, severe reductions in the NFB's budgets in the 1990s virtually eliminated this aspect of its program. The same budget cuts also forced the NFB to eliminate other programs and reduce its staff. A major review of its mandate in 2002 under a new film commissioner, Jacques Bensimon, emphasized digital production and distribution, the mentoring of young filmmakers, a renewed commitment to community involvement, and expanded partnerships with commercial producers. About half of all NFB productions and co-productions are now by emerging filmmakers. The NFB is also making extensive use of the Internet, winning a Webby Award in 2010 for its co-production, Kevin McMahon's Waterlife.
The once dominant position of the National Film Board has been significantly reduced since the 1960s by the growth of the commercial film industry and the expansion of television production. The Board's role in Canadian film has been further eroded by recent cuts to its budget. But it has been able to adapt to changing realities, attract talented new filmmakers, emphasize high qualities of production, and maintain its position as the world's most widely respected national film agency. NFB films have won nearly 70 Academy Award nominations and have been honoured with 12 Oscars, the first in 1941 for Stuart Legg's Churchill's Island and the most recent in 2005 for Chris LANDRETH's Ryan and in 2007 for Torill Kove's The Danish Poet. In 1989, the NFB won an honorary Oscar in recognition of its 50th anniversary and its record of filmmaking excellence.
Author PETER MORRIS Rev: WYNDHAM WISE
Donald Bidd, ed, The NFB Film Guide: The Productions of the National Film Board of Canada from 1939 to 1989 (1991); Gary Evans, In the National Interest: A Chronicle of the National Film Board of Canada from 1949 to 1989 (1991); D.B. Jones, Movies and Memoranda (1982); C. Rodney James, Film as a National Art: NFB of Canada and the Film Board Idea (1977).
Links to Other Sites
National Film Board of Canada
Watch full-length films, clips, and trailers - all free for home viewing. Scroll down the page to see links to online animated shorts and films in other categories. From the National Film Board of Canada.
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
A blog powered by the diverse and immensely creative filmmakers who have worked with the National Film Board on films old and new that explore the full range of human experience.
Toronto International Film Festival
The website for the Toronto International Film Festival. Check out the latest film news and links to the Bell Lightbox, the Film Reference Library, Cinematheque Ontario, Sprockets, Reel Learning, Film Circuit, Canada's Top Ten, and related features.
Explore this Webby award-winning website about the ills besetting the waters of the Great Lakes. From the National Film Board of Canada.
Oscar Winners - It's Oscar Time
Watch all of the remarkable Oscar-winning films produced by the National Film Board.
Canadian Film Institute
The CFI website profiles notable Canadian filmmakers and showcases various film genres. Also provides information about Canadian film festivals.
Check out the latest news about funding programs in support of quality Canadian productions - e.g. feature films, drama series, documentaries, children's shows, variety/performing arts programs, and new media products - that reflect Canadian society, including its linguistic duality and cultural diversity.
The Second World War and the NFB: On all fronts
View a selection of historical and contemporary Canadian films about the Second World War. Also, check out the glossary of terms referred to in the films. From the National Film Board of Canada.
Chris Landreth’s animated NFB film “Ryan” is dedicated to the talented Canadian animator Ryan Larkin.
View images and other multimedia from the NFB's extensive film collection.
NFB: John Grierson
An NFB profile of John Grierson, father of the documentary film genre and first film commissioner of the National Film Board.
Check out the biographies of the many outstanding filmmakers and other professionals who have been associated with the National Film Board.
A profile of Jacques Bensimon, visionary broadcaster, filmmaker, and former government film commissioner and chairperson of the National Film Board of Canada.
Guy Maddin inspired by railway man film for NFB anniversary short
An interview with Winnipeg-based director Guy Maddin about "Night Mayor," a film made in commemoration of the National Film Board's 70th anniversary.
The website for “Filmmaker-in-Residence,” an award-winning multimedia documentary project featuring filmmaker Katerina Cizek in collaboration with frontline health care workers in St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. Sponsored by the National Film Board of Canada.
Canadian Journal of Film Studies
See abstracts of current articles and a searchable archive consisting of every article and book review published in CJFS/RCEC since 1990. A fascinating treasure trove of stories and information about Canadian film and filmmakers.
"Bear 71" offers an interactive close-up tour of Banff National Park narrated by a female grizzly bear. From the National Film Board of Canada.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...