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National Film Board of Canada.

The creation of the National Film Board in 1939 is the central event in the history of Canadian cinema. Set up by Mackenzie King's Liberal government in the months just prior to the start of WWII, the Board almost immediately became an important tool in mobilizing the nation for the war effort. Canada's first Film Commissioner, John Grierson, a self-styled propagandist who had spearheaded the documentary movement in Britain, directed his filmmaking team to show Canada to Canadians while stirring them into action to support British efforts to end the Nazi threat in Europe. Grierson established partnerships with Famous Players theatres in Canada and March of Time in the U.S., to distribute the Board's films, a strategy that paid immediate dividends when the Board won its first of 10 Oscars for Stuart Legg's Churchill's Island in 1941.

The post-war period proved to be a time of grave uncertainty as Grierson left the Board to set up the film unit for the United Nations and was subsequently implicated in the Gouzenko spy scandal. Although the charges were unfounded, the scandal left the Board with a "pink" hue during the Cold War epoch and when it came time to create Canada's first TV network in 1952, the task was given to CBC Radio and not the NFB. In a move designed to distance itself from the political heat of Ottawa, the NFB opened its new headquarters in suburban Montreal in 1956, building the largest sound studios and most complete production facilities outside of Hollywood.

The NFB hit its stride during the late 1950s and 1960s, producing important and stylistically revolutionary documentaries, shorts, animation and feature films. Animator Norman McLaren led the way with the Oscar-winning Neighbours, and his proteges, Colin Low, Wolf Koenig, Roman Kroitor and others, combined to produce innovative and award-winning documentaries like City of Gold, Corral and Universe for Tom Daly's Unit B. The new headquarters provided a focal point for a new generation of talented quebecois filmmakers--Pierre Perrault, Michel Brault, Gilles Groulx, Bernard Gosselin, Claude Jutra, Denys Arcand--who created many of their early works in the cinema verite style. Jutra's Mon oncle Antoine, produced by the Board in 1971, is still considered the finest feature ever shot in this country.

Expo 67 provided an opportunity for the Board to become involved in multi-screen productions and the projection of ultra-wide films which led directly to the creation of the IMAX format by two NFB alumni, Roman Kroitor and Graeme Ferguson. The 1970s saw the flowering of two remarkable producers: Kathleen Shannon, who was chosen to head the Board's first unit for women filmmakers, Studio D, and Derek Lamb who was brought back to head the animation department. These units excelled and brought more glory to the Board with films like Terre Nash's If You Love this Planet, Beverly Shaffer's I'll Find a Way, Weldon and Macaulay's Special Delivery and Eugene Fedorenko's Every Child--Oscar winners all.

Many of the Board's most successful films of the past few years have been co-productions with the private sector, or in conjunction with CBC-TV--The Boys of St. Vincent, The Valour and the Horror, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. Recent cuts in staff and the closing of the Montreal lab have put the Board on notice that it cannot continue to rely on the level of public support it has enjoyed in the past. Despite its central role in the creation of a film culture in Canada, the NFB is having to rely increasingly on creating challenging and distinctly Canadian work for the global television market in the "500-channel" universe.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Canadian Independent Film & Television Publishing Association
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Marc Glassman
Publication:Take One
Date:Jun 22, 1996
Previous Article:Three directors: Claude Jutra.
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