1939: The Government of Canada under Prime MinisterWilliam Lyon Mackenzie King proposes the creation of a National Film Commission to complement the activities of the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau. The legislation stipulates that the NFB was to “make and distribute films designed to help Canadians in all parts of Canada to understand the ways of living and the problems of Canadians in other parts.” Legislation also stated that the NFB would co-ordinate the film activities of federal departments.
1950: Canada's Parliament passes the National Film Act, which states that NFB's mandate is "to produce and distribute and to promote the production and distribution of films designed to interpret Canada to Canadians and to other nations." This act also stipulates that the NFB is to engage in film research.
1965: As a result of a report written by producer Gordon Sheppard on Canadian cultural policies and activities, the NFB began regionalizing its English production activities, with producers appointed in major cities across Canada.
1984: Minister of Communications Francis Fox released a National Film and Video Policy, which added two new elements to the mandate, with the NFB also tasked with being "a world centre of excellence in production of films and videos" and "a national training and research centre in the art and technique of film and video."
2008: The NFB announces a Strategic Plan that includes its first digital strategy.
Since the spring of 2019, the National Film Board has been headquartered at the Îlot Balmoral building in Montreal's Quartier des spectacles. The NFB occupies the first six floors of the building, allowing it to have closer contact with the public, and features expanded digital media research and production facilities. The NFB was previously headquartered in the Montreal borough of Saint-Laurent, at the Norman McLaren Building, named in honour of the NFB animation pioneer.
The former NFB Toronto branch. The ground-floor Mediatheque was closed in April 2012.
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.
Albert William Trueman was NFB commissioner from 1953–1957
In 1938, the Government of Canada invited John Grierson, a British documentary film producer who introduced the term "documentary" to English-speaking film criticism, to study the state of the government's film production. Up to that date, the 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.
In 1939 (83 years ago) (1939), the Act led to the establishment of the National Film Commission, which was subsequently renamed the National Film Board (NFB). The NFB was founded in part to create propaganda in support of the Second World War.
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-speaking and the few French Canadians in production worked with English-speaking crews. There was a French Unit that 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.
During the 1940s and early 1950s, the NFB employed 'travelling projectionists' who toured the country, bringing films and public discussions to rural communities.
In 1950, a revision of the National Film Act removed any direct government intervention into the operation and administration of the NFB.
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.
In 1967, the creation of the Canadian Film Development Corporation (now known as Telefilm Canada) refined the mandate for the National Film Board. The Canadian Film Development Corporation would become responsible for promoting the development of the film industry. The Challenge for Change was also created the same year as a community media project which would develop the use of film and video as a tool for initiating social change.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the National Film Board produced several educational films in partnership with Parks Canada, 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 on 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).
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).
The Indian Film Crew was an early effort in First Nations filmmaking at the NFB, through its Challenge for Change program, initially proposed by the associate director of the CYC, Jerry Gambill, according to Noel Starblanket. George Stoney was brought in as the first executive producer of Challenge for Change. It was jointly sponsored by the Company of Young Canadians and the Department of Indian Affairs. Barbara Wilson, Tom O’Connor, Noel Starblanket, Roy Daniels, Morris Isaac, Willie Dunn, and Mike Kanentakeron Mitchell were on Canada’s first all-Indigenous production unit, making groundbreaking work that helped galvanize Indigenous movements across the continent.
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.
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.
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, the Oscar-nominated 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.
Caroline Leaf used this technique on films such as The Metamorphosis Of Mr. Samsa and The Owl Who Married A Goose. The Sand Castle was the first (and so far only) sand animation to win an Oscar.
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.
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.
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.
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. By mid-2013, the NFB's digital platforms had 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.
On June 20, 2017, the NFB announced a three-year plan entitled "Redefining the NFB's Relationship with Indigenous Peoples" that commits the organization to hiring more Indigenous staff, designating 15% of its production spending for Indigenous works and offering cross-cultural training to all employees. The plan also sees the NFB building on its relationships with Canadian schools and organizations to create more educational materials about Indigenous peoples in Canada.
One of the most notable filmmakers in the history of the NFB is Alanis Obomsawin, an Abenaki director who will be completing her 50th film with the NFB in 2017.
One of the earliest programs were the Indian Film Crews (1968-70, 1971-73) under the Challenge for Change program, mentioned above also.
In 2005, the NFB introduced its "First Stories" program for emerging Indigenous directors from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Twelve five-minute films were produced through the program, with four from each province. First Stories was followed by "Second Stories," in which three filmmakers from the previous program—Gerald Auger, Tessa Desnomie and Lorne Olson—were invited back to create 20 minute films.<
The NFB was a founding partner in Wapikoni Mobile, a mobile film and media production unit for emerging First Nations filmmakers in Quebec.
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 March 8, 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.
As of March 8, 2016, researchers and librarians at the University of Calgary announced an archival project to preserve records of Studio D.
Gender parity initiatives
On March 8, 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.
While it is claiming success, directing credits and budget shares have barely changed. In 2016–2017, 44 per cent of NFB productions were directed by women (compared to 51 per cent directed by men and five per cent by mixed teams). Budget-wise, 43 per cent of production funds were given to projects led by women (vs. 40 per cent to projects directed by men and 15 per cent to ones overseen by mixed teams). In 2018–2019, 48% of NFB works were directed by women (38% by men and 14% by mixed teams), and 44% of the NFB production budget was allocated to works created by women (41% for works by men and 15% for works by mixed teams). Production personnel are between 10 and 25%.
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.
Human Resources: Director General: François Tremblay
With six regional studios in English Program:
Digital Studio in Vancouver, headed by Executive Producer Rob McLaughlin
Animation Studio based in Montreal, headed by Executive Producer Michael Fukushima and Producers Maral Mohammadian and Jelena Popović
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 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.
With small satellite offices in Winnipeg and St. John's.
And four regional studios in French Program:
Interactive Studio in Montreal, headed by Executive Producer Hugues Sweeney
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
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
Former studios and departments
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, July 2008.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 75 Oscar nominations have been for its short films.
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).
2012: Digi Awards (formerly Canadian New Media Awards), Best in Canadian culture Burquette (with Attraction Images and Turbulent Media)
2012: Digi Awards (formerly Canadian New Media Awards), Best in web series, non-fiction Bear 71
2014: FITC, Winner, Experimental, The Last Hunt
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 Senate of Canada.
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.
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.
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 1968, 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.