Type Federal agency
Government Film Commissioner and NFB Chairperson Claude Joli-Coeur
Founded 1939, Ottawa, Canada
Leader Claude Joli-Coeur
Official language English, French
Founder John Grierson
Headquarters Montreal, Canada
|Purpose Film and interactive media producer and distributor|
Parent organization Department of Canadian Heritage
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 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. The NFB reports to the Parliament of Canada through the Minister of Canadian Heritage. It has English-language and French-language production branches.
- Partial timeline
- Cinma vrit and Direct Cinema
- Challenge for ChangeSociet Nouvelle
- Giant screen cinema
- Alternative drama
- Drawn on film animation
- Pinscreen animation
- Stop motion animation
- Computer animation
- Traditional animation
- Sand animation
- Paint on glass animation
- Virtual reality
- Indigenous filmmaking
- Womens filmmaking
- Studio D
- Gender parity initiatives
- Theatrical documetaries
- Branches and studios
- Still Photography Division
- Public access facilities in Montreal and Toronto
- Government Film Commissioners
- Film and television awards
- Genie Awards
- Academy Awards
- Peabody Awards
- Annie Awards
- Interactive awards
- Webby Awards
- NFB on TV
- NFB in popular media
The National Film Board currently 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. The NFB HQ building is also named for McLaren, and is home to much of its production activity.
In the fall of 2017, the NFB is scheduled to move to its headquarters to Montreal's Quartier des Spectacles, in a new building being constructed by the city of Montreal, adjacent to the Place des Festivals square. The NFB will occupy the first four floors of the structure, which will allow the NFB to closer contact with the public, and expanded digital media research and production facilities.
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. In June 2011, the NFB appointed a producer to work with film and digital media makers across Saskatchewan, to be based in Regina.
Outside Quebec, French language productions are also made in Moncton (Studio Acadie) and Toronto (Canadian Francophone Studio). 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.
As part of the 2016 Canadian federal budget, the NFB will receive an additional $13.5 million in funding, spread out over a five-year period.
In 1938, the Government of Canada invited John Grierson, a British documentary film pioneer who coined the very term "documentary," 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. The success of Canada Carries On led to the creation of The World in Action, which was more geared to international audiences.
In this period, other NFB films were issued as newsreels, such as The War Is Over (1945), intended for theatrical showings. These films were based on current news and often tackled wartime events as well as contemporary issues in Canadian culture.
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. 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.
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.
During the ’40s and early ’50s, the NFB employed 'travelling projectionists' who toured the country, bringing films and public discussions to rural communities. A revision of the National Film Act in 1950 removed any direct government intervention into the operation and administration of the NFB.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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. The NFB eliminated 73 full and part-time positions.
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, and an NFB documentary about the film board's early years, entitled Shameless Propaganda.
Cinéma vérité and Direct Cinema
In the post-war era the NFB became a pioneer in new developments in documentary film. The NFB played a key role in both the Cinéma vérité and Direct Cinema movements, working on technical innovations to make its 16 mm synchronized sound equipment more light-weight and portable—most notably the "Sprocketape" portable sound recorder invented for the film board by Ches Beachell in 1955. Influenced by the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, the NFB's Studio B production unit experimented with cinema verite in its 1958 Candid Eye series. Candid Eye along with such NFB French-language films as Les Raquetteurs (1958) have been credited as helping to inspire the cinéma vérité documentary movement. Other key cinéma vérité films during this period included Lonely Boy (1961) and Ladies and Gentlemen... Mr. Leonard Cohen (1965).
Challenge for Change/Societé Nouvelle
Running from 1967 to 1980, Challenge for Change and its French-language equivalent Societé Nouvelle became a global model for the use of film and portable video technology to create community-based participatory documentary films to promote dialogue on local issues and promote social change. Over two hundred such films were produced, including 27 films about Fogo Island, Newfoundland, directed by Colin Low and early NFB efforts in Indigenous filmmaking, such as Willie Dunn's The Battle of Crowfoot (1968).
NFB documentarians played a key role in the development of the IMAX film format, following the NFB multi-screen experience In the Labyrinth, created for Expo 67 in Montreal. The film was the centrepiece of a $4.5 million pavilion, which attracted over 1.3 million visitors in 1967, and was co-directed by Roman Kroitor, Colin Low and Hugh O'Connor, and produced by Tom Daly and Kroitor. After Expo, Kroitor left the NFB to co-found what would become known as IMAX Corporation, with Graeme Ferguson and Robert Kerr. The NFB continued to be involved with IMAX breakthroughs at subsequent world's fairs, with NFB director Donald Brittain directing the first-ever IMAX film Tiger Child for Expo 70 in Osaka, and with the NFB producing the first full-colour IMAX-3D film Transitions for Expo 86 in Vancouver and the first 48 fps IMAX HD film Momentum for Seville Expo '92.
In the 1980s, the National Film Board also produced a number of "alternative drama" films, which combined documentary and narrative fiction filmmaking techniques. Generally starring non-professional actors, these films used a documentary format to present a fictionalized story and were generally scripted by the filmmakers and the cast through a process of improvisation, and are thus classified as docufiction.
The alternative drama films were The Masculine Mystique (1984), 90 Days (1985), Sitting in Limbo (1986), The Last Straw (1987), Train of Dreams (1987), Welcome to Canada (1989) and The Company of Strangers (1990).
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's French-language animation unit was founded in 1966 by René Jodoin.
When McLaren joined the NFB, his first film at the film board was the drawn-on-film short, Mail Early. He would go on to refine his technique make a series of hand-drawn films at the NFB during and after the Second World War, most notably Boogie-Doodle (1940), Hen Hop (1942), Begone Dull Care (1949) and Blinkity Blank (1955).
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.
McLaren's Oscar-winning Neighbours popularized the form of character movement referred to as pixilation, a variant of stop motion. The term pixilation itself was created by NFB animator Grant Munro in an experimental film of the same name. In 2015, the NFB's animation studios were credited as helping to lead a revival in stop-motion animation in Canada, building on the tradition of NFB animators such as McLaren and Co Hoedeman.
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. Staff at the Centre d'animatique included Daniel Langlois, who left in 1986 to form Softimage.
The NFB was licensed by IMAX Corporation to develop new artistic applications using its SANDDE system for hand-drawn stereoscopic computer animation, with the NFB producing a number of films including Falling in Love Again (2003) and Subconscious Password (2013).
Traditional animators included Richard Condie, John Weldon, Allison Snowden, Janet Perlman, Cordell Barker, Brad Caslor, Michael Mills, Paul Driessen among others (some draw on paper rather than cels).
Paint on glass animation
Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbes perfected the paint on glass technique (mixing oil paint with glycerine) on films such as Strings and Wild Life. This technique was also used on Caroline Leaf's film The Street.
As of March 2013, the NFB devotes one quarter of its production budget to interactive media, including web documentaries. The NFB is a pioneer in interactive web documentaries, helping to position Canada as a major player in digital storytelling, according to transmedia creator Anita Ondine Smith, as well as Shari Frilot, programmer for Sundance Film Festival's New Frontier program for digital media.
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.
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.
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. As of May 18, 2013, the NFB's digital platforms have received approximately 41 million views.
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. In January 2010, the NFB added high-definition and 3D films to the over 1400 productions available for viewing online. The NFB introduced a free iPad application in July 2010, followed by its first app for the Android platform in March 2011. When the BlackBerry PlayBook launched on April 19, 2011, it included a pre-loaded app offering access to 1,500 NFB titles. In January 2013, it was announced that the NFB film app would be available for the BlackBerry 10, via the BlackBerry World app store.
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. 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. NFB documentaries are also available on Netflix Canada.
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." As of April 2015, NFB.ca offered VOD films from partners Excentris and First Weekend Club along with NFB productions, with over 450 English and French VOD titles scheduled to be added in 2015.
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. 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.
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.
The NFB has been a leader in films by women, with the world's first publicly funded women's film's studio, Studio D, followed subsequently by its French-language equivalent, Studio des femmes. Beginning on 8 March 2016, International Women's Day, the NFB began introducing a series of gender parity initiatives.
In 1974, in conjunction with International Women's Year, the NFB created Studio D on the recommendation of long-time employee Kathleen Shannon. Shannon was designated as Executive Director of the new studio—the first government-funded film studio dedicated to women filmmakers in the world— which became one of the NFB's most celebrated filmmaking units, winning awards and breaking distribution records.
Notable films produced by the studio include three Academy Award-winning documentaries I'll Find a Way (1977), If You Love This Planet (1982) and Flamenco at 5:15 (1983), as well as Not a Love Story (1982) and Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives (1992). Studio D was shut down in 1996, amidst a sweeping set of federal government budget cuts, which impacted the NFB as a whole.
As of 8 March 2016, researchers and librarians at the University of Calgary announced an archival project to preserve records of Studio D.
Gender parity initiatives
On 8 March 2016, NFB head Claude Joli-Coeur announced a new gender-parity initiative, with the NFB committing that half of all its production spending will be earmarked for films directed by women. The following year, the NFB announced that it also plans to achieve gender balance by 2020 in such creative positions as editing, scriptwriting, musical composition, cinematography and artistic direction. As of 2017, 53% of its producers and executive producers are women, as well as half of its administrative council.
NFB training programs include:
Hothouse, a program for emerging animators that marked its tenth anniversary in 2015. Notable Hothouse alumni include Academy Award nominee Patrick Doyon, part of its 2006 edition. Cinéaste recherché(e) is a similar program for French-language emerging animators. Past graduates include Michèle Cournoyer, who took part in the program's 9th edition in 1989.
A collaboration with the Canadian Film Centre on a theatrical documentary development program. First launched in January 2009, the program has led to the production of Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, Yung Chang‘s The Fruit Hunters and Su Rynard’s The Messenger. In May 2015, the CFC and NFB announced a new version of the program entitled the NFB/CFC Creative Doc Lab.
Branches and studios
As of 2015, the NFB is organized along the following branches:
With six regional studios in English Program:
And four regional studios in French Program:
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.
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.
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.
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. They ceased to operate as of September 1, 2012. In September 2013, the Université du Québec à Montréal announced that it had acquired the CineRobotheque for its communications faculty.
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 2014, the 16th commissioner of the NFB is Claude Joli-Coeur, who first joined the NFB in 2003 and had previously served as interim commissioner.
Film and television awards
Over the years, the NFB has been internationally recognized with more than 5000 film awards. 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.
The National Film Board of Canada has received 12 Academy Awards to date. It has received 74 Oscar nominations, more than any film organization in the world outside Hollywood. 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." 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). 55 of the NFB's 74 Oscar nominations have been for its short films.
Nominated: (incomplete list)
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).
NFB Annie Awards nominations include:
Nominated: (incomplete list)
In June 2011, NFB received the Award of Excellence in Interactive Programming from the Banff World Media Festival. In August 2011, the NFB received an outstanding technical achievement in digital media award from the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.
As of 2016, NFB web documentaries have won 17 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. In 2010, the NFB website Waterlife, on the state of the Great Lakes, won in the Documentary: Individual Episode category. 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. In 2012, the NFB received two more Webbys, for Bla Bla (best web art) and God's Lake Narrows (best use of photography). In 2013, Bear 71 received the Webby for best net art. In 2014, the interactive photo essay The Last Hunt received a People’s Voice Award Webby for best navigation/structure. In 2015, the NFB-co-produced webdoc Seven Digital Deadly Sins received three People's Voice Awards, chosen by the public online, at the 2015 Webby Awards.
At the 2016 awards, the NFB received six more Webbys: Way to Go received the Webby and People's Voice awards in the Web/NetArt category as well as the Webby for Online Film & Video/VR: Gaming, Interactive or Real-Time. The Unknown Photographer won the People's Voice award in the Online Film & Video/VR: Gaming, Interactive or Real-Time category, while Universe Within received the Webby for Online Film & Video/Best Use of Interactive Video, and Cardboard Crash VR for Google Cardboard won in the category of Online Film & Video/VR: Gaming, Interactive or Real-time (Branded).
In addition to Neighbours, other NFB productions have been the source of controversy, including two NFB productions broadcast on CBC Television that criticized the role of Canadians in wartime led to 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.
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.
Other controversial productions included the 1981 film Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography, a 1981 Studio D documentary critiquing pornography that was itself banned in the province of Ontario on the basis of pornographic content. Released the following year, If You Love This Planet, winner of the Academy Award for best documentary short subject, was labelled foreign propaganda under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 in the United States.
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. As of 2010, many of the NFB children's shows are available on the children's IPTV service Ameba.
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.