In 1970, production decreased but distribution in Canada reached record levels. On the English side, the films expressed the morose climate at the Film Board, while French Production was motivated by the political climate in Quebec. If some films by francophone directors were controversial or lacked objectivity, they were nonetheless borne of a sincere desire to talk about real problems and find solutions.
Deeply disappointed by all the austerity measures, Commissioner Hugo McPherson resigned in July to be replaced in August by Sydney Newman, who had been abroad for a lengthy period working in television, before joining the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Both he and André Lamy of Onyx Films, who became assistant commissioner, possessed considerable experience in film and TV. Their task was to re-stimulate the Film Board’s creative potential with the goal of giving Canada the renewed pace-setting leadership that only a free and publicly supported organization could give. Only public money could, for example, have realized the Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle program, which excited the imaginations of community groups, sociologists, politicians and cable companies across Canada and in the United States.
A new era began at the NFB, which undertook a detailed study of itself, re-evaluated its purposes and practices, did some reorganization and made plans for the future. Without sacrificing depth or sincerity, certain show-biz flair was to be injected into some of the films to appeal to mass audiences, and plans were made to get a balanced proportion of them seen on prime-time national television. This agreement with the CBC hinged on the NFB making certain concessions concerning commercials, an issue that was strongly opposed on ethical grounds, both by the NFB’s creative staff and by the board of directors. After months of self-analysis and discussion, the board members agreed to this concession so that the films could reach the widest possible audiences in Canada.
The NFB laid the groundwork for new film programming and new distribution methods and threw itself into new technology, making its films available for conversion to EVR (electronic video recording) for television sets. This was the largest library of films to be put on video cassette to date, and some 100 productions were released initially in this format under an agreement signed by the Film Board with Canadian and U.S. distributors.
The Film Board played a major role planning, developing and executing the exhibit produced by the Exhibition Commission for the Canadian Pavilion at the World Exposition in Osaka. The NFB coordinated the audiovisual aspect of the show and the production of three films: Canada the Land, The City (Osaka) and Super Bus, two of which – Canada the Land and The City (Osaka) – were made at the Film Board. The former, filmed in Panavision, is an eight-minute tour of the Canadian landscape in all its variety. The latter, an animation, provides a comic view of Canadians as urbanized people developing a vast wilderness with the aid of the latest technologies. It was projected on to a giant light board made up of thousands of small luminescent plates two inches across, forming the backdrop to a three-dimensional exhibit and light show on city life.
One of English Production’s outstanding films was Of Many People, a travelling multimedia show commemorating Manitoba’s entry into Confederation. The show was based on Gabrielle Roy’s novel Where Nests the Water Hen and used multi-image techniques produced by a fascinating combination of interlocked slide and film projectors.
Anglophone filmmakers seemed less able to work on restricted budgets than francophones, since they were accustomed to more conventional and costly fiction film such as Waiting for Caroline (1967), Don't Let the Angels Fall (1968) and Cold Journey, made in 1972. Still, some fiction features were nonetheless made on a tight budget, such as Prologue, in which a young woman has to choose between an anglophone lover in Vancouver and a francophone in Quebec, and between two contrary political ideas.
For their part, Québécois filmmakers were grappling with social issues and the rise of the separatist movement, leading to the October Crisis and the passing of the War Measures Act by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Many films exposed and denounced francophone reality. Un pays sans bon sens! (Wake up, mes bons amis) and L’Acadie, l’Acadie?!? (Acadia Acadia?!?) were a plea for Quebec independence and a hard look at the minority situation of francophones in Canada. On est au coton (Cotton Mill, Treadmill), Cap d’espoir and 24 heures ou plus all presented an anti-establishment view of Quebec. In the tense climate following the October Crisis, Commissioner Sydney Newman suppressed the three films.
The Challenge for Change series continued. In the Drumheller Valley of Alberta, which was a run-down mining area uncertain about its economic future, a community development worker from the University of Calgary had been trained by Challenge for Change in the techniques of using videotape and had been working to encourage the people in the valley to articulate their problems.
When a group of citizens in the town of Rosedale, four miles away, saw videotapes made in Drumheller, they quickly learned to use the video equipment and set out to interview other townspeople. Tapes of interviews were played back immediately after being filmed as well as at meetings of larger groups, and action committees were formed around issues raised, such as industrial development, recreation and the availability of gas, water and sewer facilities. Eventually, through the combined efforts of the townspeople, some results began to show. Challenge for Change helped set up similar efforts in Vancouver, Moose Jaw, Winnipeg, Hull, Ottawa, Saint John (New Brunswick) and St. John’s (Newfoundland).
In addition, as part of its collaboration with the Extension Department of Memorial University of Newfoundland, Challenge for Change helped produce six films: The Move, The Past - The Present - The Future, Introduction to Labrador, Urbain and Arthur Leblanc on Cooperatives, Tignish Cooperatives and The Specialists at Memorial Discuss the Fogo Films.
Société nouvelle, the French counterpart to Challenge for Change, undertook many exciting projects during the year: Un lendemain comme hier, filmed in Lac-Saint-Jean and Montreal, studied the conflicts that arise from moving from a rural to an urban environment; La noce est pas finie, a fiction feature made with the participation of New Brunswick citizens, was both a cultural experiment and a sociodrama; Qu’est-ce qu’on va devenir? presented a study of Baie-Saint-Paul, symbolic of all the small towns of Quebec; Mines d’or looked at the consequences of the abolition of government subsidies to gold mines; while Région 80 was about Quebec’s forests and involved both film and videotape. One of the Société nouvelle projects was to create a new communication structure by creating three community television channels: in Normandin (serving five towns), Dolbeau-Mistassini and Saint-Félicien.
The NFB made several underwater films, and Technical Services developed wide-range hydrophones (20 Hz to 150 kHz) for underwater sound recording. It also designed a reduction step-printer for 35 mm to 16 mm transfer using a standard additive colour light source (a mixture of red, green and blue in the required proportions), and perfected the Wobble Lens, enabling drop-shadows in titles to be exposed automatically.
Inaugurated in downtown Montreal, Vidéographe was a Société nouvelle project that provided Canada’s first video production and screening facility. The man behind the project, Robert Forget, along with a group of NFB filmmakers and producers, wanted to widen video production and distribution to everyone.
Vidéographe was a success right from the start. It combined under one roof a video production centre, screening facility and video consultation library. Young people who did not normally have access to filmmaking facilities could come in and use the video equipment. Twenty-six works were made and screened in its first year. In 1973, at the Canadian Film Awards, Robert Forget won the Grierson Award, given to a person whose work typified the ideals of the NFB founder. That same year, Vidéographe was incorporated as a non-profit organization and later set up an independent video distribution network. Thirty-five years later, in 2008, its video library has nearly 1,500 video tapes, which it distributes to festivals, museums, educational institutions and theatres, as well as television.
Three large conferences were held at Montreal headquarters. The first, Cinema Canada, was organized in cooperation with the Educational Film Library Association and the Film Library Information Council of the United States. William Sloan, editor of Film Library Quarterly, called the event “one of the great occasions of the non-commercial cinema.” The second was the International Council for Educational Media, an affiliate of UNESCO representing 21 countries, which met for the first time in its 21-year history on the North American continent and was opened by former prime minister Lester B. Pearson. The third major conference was for librarians of Canada’s public libraries and would have a marked effect on plans to expand the community distribution of NFB films over the coming years.
Claude Jutra had made a wide range of films over the last 20 years but his feature Mon oncle Antoine met with unprecedented success. It was filmed in a small village and was one of the few films to depict the unique atmosphere of Quebec. Scripted by Clément Perron, it tells of a boy learning about human frailty, sexuality, humour, depression and death. Mon oncle Antoine garnered many prestigious prizes, including eight Canadian Film Awards, and in 1984 the Festival of Festivals in Toronto proclaimed it “best Canadian film of all time.” Following a survey by the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois in 1992-1993, film experts rated the film number one in the top ten best Quebec films of all time.
Feature filmmaking by French Production operated under an arrangement that provided for cash advances from the commercial distributor against the anticipated box office receipts. The musical comedy IXE-13 was made by virtue of this type of agreement. Others include Le temps d’une chasse (Once upon a Hunt), screened theatrically in fall 1972, and Taureau, which was to be released in early 1973.
Finishing touches were put to three major documentaries to complete the series of films on Quebecers who had a profound impact on French-Canada: Québec : Duplessis et après… (Québec: Duplessis and After...) analyzed the influence of the former premier’s political doctrine on contemporary Quebec; Peut-être Maurice Richard depicted the life of one of the greatest hockey players of all time; and Je chante à cheval avec Willie Lamothe spotlighted this highly original “cow-boy canadien.”
Thirteen special one-hour films were sold to the CBC for prime-time broadcast, and two of them gave viewers a chance to meet Canadians of notable achievement: Norman Jewison, Filmmaker, a candid portrait of expatriate Canadian Norman Jewison at work on the $10 million production Fiddler on the Roof, and Jablonski, about the Polish-Canadian concert pianist. Others warned of persistent problems: Atonement and Death of a Legend about threats to our natural environment; Sad Song of Yellow Skin and The India Trip about what other nations need from the West; and A Matter of Fat, looking at the health hazard of obesity and what too much weight does to the spirit of a person.
Following the introduction of the federal government's multiculturalism policy, the NFB began producing 60 films to promote the learning of French and English as second languages, using drama, comedy, mystery and melodrama. The series Toulmonde parle français, Filmglish and Adieu Alouette demonstrated the advantages of learning another language.
Challenge for Change tried to overthrow the barriers to understanding and communication between people with shared interests and problems, and those between rulers and the ruled. Nell and Fred considered the problems of old age and whether current institutional care for the aged was adequate. Encounter on Urban Environment was the record of a one-week seminar bringing together specialists from different disciplines and a broad spectrum of citizens of the Halifax/Dartmouth area. The experts became catalysts to a community’s self-examination, causing it to question itself, its various government and private services, and the responsibility of citizens themselves in shaping the future of their community.
After an initial training experiment with an Aboriginal production team that began in 1968, English Production, in partnership with Indian Affairs, set up the Indian training program. Following various successes, six Aboriginals from various regions of Canada started a two-year course on film production and distribution.
The Animation Studio, the youngest department in French Production, made leaps and bounds in new techniques. Le hibou et le lemming : une légende eskimo (The Owl and the Lemming: An Eskimo Legend) was the pilot film of a new series on Aboriginal legends and won the approval of one of the sponsors, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Many shorts from the Studio screened theatrically, including The Little Men of Chromagnon/Les bibites de Chromagnon and Modulations, both bilingual.
The Animation Studio again collaborated with the National Research Council, applying computers to animation design and musical effects. Work began on a new field of experiment to design directly on 70 mm film with the aid of a device constructed by Jean de Joux and the Optical Systems Corporation of Los Angeles. Studio head René Jodoin hired Peter Foldès as art director for the project. A first result of tests was Metadata, which put the NFB and the NRC at the cutting edge of this technology, while another landmark of the technique was the 1973 film Hunger/La Faim.
The composer Maurice Blackburn created the Atelier de conception sonore to produce soundtracks with the help of acoustic instruments. It lasted until 1974.
The 27 NFB offices that lent films directly to the public were sorely tested as reservations reached 365,396, an increase of 60%. Schools were the heaviest borrowers, representing 60% of requests. To boost community film distribution across the country, the Film Board set up a new program giving a 50% reduction to libraries that bought a certain number of films and distributed them in their communities.
The most requested films in French were: Dimensions, Vertige, Vogue-à-la-mer, La Terre est habitée!, Un pays sans bon sens!, Au pays de King Size, Les animaux en marche, Hold-up au Far West and L’ours et la souris. In English they were Neighbours, Pas de deux, Nobody Waved Good-bye, Paddle to the Sea, I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, The Rise and Fall of the Great Lakes, What on Earth! and Cosmic Zoom.
In light of Canada’s new relationship with China, an “old” film enjoyed a remarkable second career: Bethune, about the Canadian doctor who became a legendary figure in China, was completed by the NFB in 1964 and first telecast by the CBC in 1965. Now, both the English and the French networks of the CBC carried the film again.
Cabinet accepted the government’s film policy, submitted by Secretary of State Gérard Pelletier. It suggested the decentralization of the NFB in favour of regional centres, more emphasis on educational film, sharing of sponsored film production with the private sector, and the establishment of a Festivals Office to support the marketing of Canadian films at home and abroad. These measures were a response to the complaints of private industry and brought the NFB back to its original, educational vocation so dear to John Grierson.
Decentralization began officially in the summer. The Vancouver office was the only regional production centre to survive the austerity crisis and became the Vancouver Production Centre. An office was opened in Halifax in early 1973, as were studios in Winnipeg and Edmonton in 1974, and one in Toronto in 1976.
The media spotlighted two controversial subjects. Firstly, the Halifax-Dartmouth division of the Monarchist League of Canada disputed the NFB’s withdrawal from its film libraries of three of its films on royal visits. In fact many films had been withdrawn, either because there was so little demand for them, or because they were no longer topical; they were simply moved to the Archives, where the public could request them if they wished. Secondly, Commissioner Sydney Newman had ordered production of the film 24 heures ou plus halted because of a disagreement with the independent director, Gilles Groulx, about its message. Newman felt the Canadian public would never forgive him for authorizing the production and distribution of a film calling for the overthrow of Canada’s political and economic systems. The film was still completed in 1973, but could only be distributed in 1976, once the six-year ban on two other films had been lifted: Cap d’espoir and On est au coton.
Over the last few years, increasing use of colour film reduced the need for black-and-white processing, which had now become unprofitable for the Film Board and accounted for a mere 20% of lab potential. It was decided to farm the black-and-white work out to labs in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. NFB staff and equipment would from now on be dedicated to colour processing, although a small black-and-white service was retained for highly specialized work.
Another trend was the growing preference for video over film for an increasing amount of shooting in black-and-white. Transfers of industrial type video to film were mainly done for the Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle program. Filmmakers particularly liked video because instant post-synchronization allowed them to assess the quality of the work immediately. With film, in case of doubt they had to re-film the scene, which of course increased costs.
NFB productions won 86 awards from international festivals, including the Grand Prix pour la technique for Laurent Coderre’s animation Zikkaron at the Cannes Film Festival. Special tributes to NFB staff and films poured in: Director Colin Low received the first Grierson Award for outstanding contribution to Canadian cinema at the Canadian Film Awards, and Norman McLaren was honoured for his pioneering work in animation with a salute at the first U.S.A.-International Animation Film Festival in New York as well as a retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Both Colin Low and Norman McLaren were further singled out for honorary doctorates, the former by the University of Calgary and the latter by York University.
To portray Canada abroad, the NFB and External Affairs wanted to squeeze every possibility out of film and accordingly, the Department sponsored a new film entitled Here Is Canada, recounting the country’s history, population, industry, arts and sciences. It was presented at the 12-day Canadian Trade Fair in Peking, and among all the NFB screenings, which attracted some 10,000 people daily, it was a clear hit. The Film Board then made a Chinese version of the film in a record time of three weeks.
On television, a series of 12 films entitled Adieu Alouette screened on CBC and proved very popular, the most successful including The Ungrateful Land: Roch Carrier Remembers Ste-Justine, on the novelist and playwright Roch Carrier; Why I Sing, on singer-songwriter Gilles Vigneault; Une Job Steady... Un Bon Boss, about comedian Yvon Deschamps; La gastronomie, about fine dining; as well as two episodes on Le Devoir, Part 1: 1910-1945, Do What You Must and Le Devoir, Part 2: 1945-1973, The Quiet Revolution.
John Grierson died on February 19, 1972 in Bath, England, aged 73. English Program paid homage to him with Grierson, on the life and work of this father of documentary, founder of the NFB, 20th century man, educator, director, propagandist and pioneer of modern communications. The film was telecast in May 1973.
In step with the growing success of Quebec feature films, three theatrical features were completed in 1972. Le temps d’une chasse (Once upon a Hunt) by Francis Mankiewicz is the story of three men and a boy on a hunting expedition that goes wrong. It took three Etrogs at the Canadian Film Awards in its original version with English subtitles. Clément Perron’s Taureau, a love story set in a village intolerant towards a certain family, screened all over Quebec, and a subtitled version was launched in Toronto. The third commercial feature, O.K.… Laliberté by Marcel Carrière, which was released theatrically in fall 1973, is about the struggles of a 40-year-old man who leaves his wife and job and tries to build himself a new life.
Two artists who were to become famous over the next few years, director André Brassard and writer Michel Tremblay, made a 30-minute fiction film, Françoise Durocher, waitress, written by both men and directed by Brassard. The story of 25 waitresses all called Françoise Durocher was telecast on Radio-Canada’s prime-time prestige series Les beaux Dimanches and also won a prize at the Canadian Film Awards.
The main issues examined by Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle in 1972 were problems of large cities, public transport and the impact of social change on women. Urbanose, a series on urban problems, enjoyed a prime-time showing on Radio-Canada and the ideas of the series were quickly put to work by civic groups. It was also one of the features of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ summer-long look at “The City.” In Quebec City, an NFB distributor directed the operation “Arrive en ville” using Urbanose on cable television and community screenings to awaken the population to the subject of urban renewal.
The efforts to create a dynamic French animation unit were amply rewarded as its work began to receive international acclaim. Balablok, a cartoon look at the futility of war when cubes or blocks and circles decide that everybody should look like them, was accepted in the short category competition at the Cannes International Film Festival and won the Palme d’Or. Another production, Le vent (Wind), about the wonders of childhood and the whims of the wind, took a Gold Medal at the first U.S.A.-International Animation Film Festival in New York, while Dans la vie... was judged the best animated film in the 1972 Canadian Film Awards.
Technical and Production Services had an unusually fruitful year with two world “firsts” among a number of major technical developments. The branch applied for patents on two inventions: a Time Index System and a process for the editing of half-inch videotape.
The Time Index System was one of the Film Board’s most important research projects. It was a silent and more accurate method of synchronizing audio and visual elements in filmmaking and was more flexible than the clapper board. Camera and sound recorder independently put down a time code on the film and tape during shooting. The time codes were read electronically during synchronization of picture and sound, providing exact sound-picture matching for the editor. News of the invention spread to Europe after a paper on it was presented at Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) meetings in Los Angeles, Toronto and Montreal, and the NFB was invited to demonstrate it in Britain in June.
The process for editing half-inch videotape recordings was designed to avoid the previous tedious and time-consuming procedure in which clean picture cuts at precisely the right time were too dependent on guesswork and good luck. The new process eliminated the guesswork and provided a system for automatic editing of the tape. The NFB presented papers on the subject before several section meetings of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.
Other innovations included a new process for filling in scratches, increasing the printing life and maintaining the quality of negatives from which many prints would be made, and the successful recording of a single frame on half-inch videotape. This allowed for immediate playback to test animation sequences, an advantage over the longer method of awaiting processing and printing of film.
In 1970 the NFB had devised wide bandwidth (20 Hz to 150 kHz) hydrophones for underwater sound recording. Now it produced an intercom and lighting system for this type of shoot. The new hydrophones improved communication between divers and between the surface and divers during underwater shooting and were successfully used on several productions, including sequences shot under the Arctic ice in Sub-Igloo, a fascinating film showing the delicate placement of an underwater observatory in the Arctic Sea.
Another interesting project was the design and development of mobile closed-circuit television systems for a Canadian International Development Agency program in Tunisia. The NFB would train local technicians to use these systems, designed to help the Tunisian government put practical and easily understood information into the hands of farmers to improve yield.
The Film Board frequently hosted official visitors from Canada and overseas at its Montreal headquarters, including governments officials, educators, students, filmmakers and film distributors. Among the important visitors this year was the Secretary of State of Canada, Hugh Faulkner, who inaugurated the John Grierson building, named in memory of the founder of the NFB, as well as Indira Gandhi, prime minister of India, and Lev Kulidjanov, president of the U.S.S.R. Association of Filmmakers and deputy of the Supreme Soviet. The latter two asked to be shown round the Film Board premises.
The Still Photography Division published books of photographs and staged exhibitions of works by Canadian photographers. The latest of these books, Canada, became a bestseller. The volume was prepared at the request of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s office for presentation to the Queen and heads of government attending the Commonwealth Conference in Ottawa, and a popular edition was published commercially and soon went into a second printing.
The Festivals Office of the Department of the Secretary of State requested the NFB Information and Promotion Division to coordinate promotion activities for all Canadian films at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. The project was so successful that the Secretary of State asked the NFB to repeat the service in 1974.
Britain’s Society of Film and Television Arts presented the NFB with the Robert Flaherty Award for the film Grierson as best feature documentary, and the prize for best short for Tchou-tchou. Also, the British Film Institute honoured the Film Board with a two-week retrospective of 60 NFB films produced over its 35-year life.
Until the 1970s, with a few exceptions, filmmaking was a male domain and women were relegated to the role of assistants. This imbalance came to an end with an important first series, En tant que femmes, produced by Anne Claire Poirier. These films about the female experience were directed by women, and it was women who were also actively involved in planning and distributing the films. The first four films in the series, broadcast on Radio-Canada, were about state-run daycare – À qui appartient ce gage?, different relationships between the sexes – J’me marie, j’me marie pas, a woman’s loss of identity when she lives for her family – Souris, tu m’inquiètes and the history of Quebec from a female point of view – Les filles du Roy (They Called Us "Les Filles du Roy"). A special switchboard was set up at the Film Board for viewers to phone in their comments. The response was unexpected and more than 200 calls were registered following the first telecast, resulting in overloaded telephone circuits. The telephone company insisted that additional lines be installed for the other evenings. A fifth film, Les filles c’est pas pareil, about the lives of teenage girls, was in production, and a final one, Le temps de l’avant (Before the Time Comes), on contraception and abortion, would complete the series in 1975.
Since its creation in 1964, the French Program had been helping young filmmakers from outside the Film Board with technical advice or with equipment to make their first films. In 1973, Jean Roy, in charge of the Camera Department, made this official by founding the program Aide artisanale au cinéma et à la formation. Although it changed directors several times and was renamed over the years (Programme d’aide à la production indépendante in 1985, Aide au cinéma indépendant [Québec] in 1989, Aide au cinéma indépendant [Canada] ACIC in 1994), it always fulfilled its mandate of offering know-how and services to filmmakers whose projects were particularly innovative in form and content.
Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle continued, now run by an inter-departmental committee of the NFB and nine government departments: Agriculture; Central Mortgage and Housing; Communications; Indian and Northern Affairs; Labour; Manpower and Immigration; Health and Welfare; Regional Economic Expansion; and Secretary of State (Citizenship). In the Toronto suburb of North York, a strike at the Artistic Woodworkers’ plant provided an opportunity to show how the program could help citizens. The strike committee asked the NFB representative to film the altercations between police and strikers, after which a short videotape was shown to the mayor of Toronto, local and metro councils and the Police Commission. As a direct result, action was taken to relieve and rectify a potentially explosive situation.
The Film Board extended its services to Halifax, where it created the Atlantic Production Centre, which opened in April l, 1974. Local filmmakers and technical facilities were used, except for films made in both English and French, which required resources from headquarters.
The numbers of staff were increased in the Vancouver production centre mainly because local directors were so interested in animation techniques. Production goals were reached and eight documentaries and five one-minute animations were made.
The year’s most popular film was unquestionably Cry of the Wild. First screened in northern Alberta, it met with dizzying success in the U.S. and Canada, on a saturation, multi-theatre basis. In November it screened in 235 theatres in the western U.S.A. and by the end of December, 165 theatres had booked it. In January it opened in 50 theatres in New York City and grossed over $1,000,000, second only to The Exorcist that same week. The success story was repeated in Quebec the following month, when the French version, Le chant de la forêt, was launched in 24 theatres simultaneously. By year’s end, total box office gross exceeded $4.5 million, and distribution continued in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere.
To meet growing demand and maximize distribution, the Distribution branch adopted a special taping policy and granted educational organizations the right to convert NFB films to video and show them over school TV systems. Contracts were signed with the departments of education in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.
The first five-year mandate of Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle was due to end in 1975, but the NFB was convinced of the value of the program and made plans to continue it. Arguments in its favour were as many as its accomplishments. In Halifax, for example, 24 prisoners in the Springhill Institution took part in a video project that created a new kind of dialogue between prisoners, guards and the community. In Thunder Bay, the CBC aired a tape about the shut-down of a single-base industry in Armstrong, which prompted a pulp company to open a timbering site in the area, creating new jobs.
The people in the Lower St. Lawrence region helped make Chez nous, c’est chez nous, dealing with the problems of closing down marginal parishes in Quebec, as well as the companion video, Les travaillants, showing how they wanted to improve their situation. La revanche, on business management in the Lac St-Jean area, was distributed to communities in the forest industry areas of Quebec and New Brunswick and among union groups.
French Production opened its first centres outside Quebec, in the major concentrations of French Canadians of Moncton and Winnipeg, and the following year in Toronto. In each of these offices, a line producer worked with a regional action committee to bring together filmmakers and artists, and launch production and training programs. This was a long-term effort to become more authentic by producing films with roots in the same location as the director.
English Production was more than usually preoccupied with the changing world. Two years of research on the role of film in awakening people to the ecology had culminated in the creation of an Environment Studio, directed by Roman Bittman. It already had over 40 films underway, providing Canada’s contribution to researching solutions to world food, energy and resource problems.
Two films, Hunger/La Faim and The Family That Dwelt Apart, were nominated for an Oscar® − proof that socially oriented NFB animation was held in high international esteem. The year’s honours also included a special jury prize for Hunger/La faim at Cannes, and the Robert Flaherty Award for best documentary, brought home for the fourth time in six years, presented by the British Society of Film and Television Arts to Cree Hunters of Mistassini.
After the subject had been broached the previous year by the series En tant que femmes, it was English Program’s turn to provide a platform for working women: director and producer Kathleen Shannon created the Working Mothers series, whose 11 films examined the difficulties and contradictions in women’s lives, raising questions of access to education and childcare, as well as equal wages.
After this series, Kathleen Shannon decided to set up Studio D, the world’s first women’s production centre. Six permanent directors, several producers as well as support staff joined the studio, of which nearly half the films were directed by independent directors from all over the country. For 22 years Studio D produced enormously successful films and became widely known internationally. Three of its productions were Oscar® winners: I'll Find a Way by Beverly Shaffer, the courageous story of a 9-year-old girl with spina bifida (1978); If You Love This Planet by Terre Nash, an outspoken call for nuclear disarmament, banned by the United States Justice Department as political propaganda (1983); and Flamenco at 5:15 by Cynthia Scott, a dance lesson given by Susana and Antonio Robledo (1984).
Films emanating from Studio D attracted controversy, few more so than the 1981 documentary Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography, a box office hit the world over. Perhaps one of the most honest and thought-provoking films on pornography ever made, it was however considered too much by the Ontario Censor Board, which banned it. A few years later, the release of Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives also elicited a strong response. The first major film to look at lesbian culture in Canada in the ’50s and ’60s, it was hugely successful both theatrically and on TV, and won the Studio its first Genie.
In 1986, Kathleen Shannon received the Order of Canada for her work at Studio D and her contribution to the feminist cause.
Despite these accomplishments, Studio D, which produced over 125 films and was admired and respected around the world, closed in 1996 following a period of restructuring at the Film Board. However, its films carry on its heritage, which survived in the work of hundreds of independent female directors across the country carving a way in the same spirit as the Studio D pioneers.
In 1971, English Production had set up a training program for Indians in partnership with the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The crop for 1974 comprised Our Land Is Our Life, about what was at stake for Native people in the land claims issue if they accepted the money granted by the government for the James Bay hydroelectric project. When a snowstorm held up the crew after they finished filming, they continued shooting and the result was Cree Hunters of Mistassini, which won the Robert Flaherty Award for best documentary in 1974. Both films were used in Cree meetings to help them decide on land claims, encourage them to exert pressure for better education for their children and oppose industrial and technical expansion on their lands.
An interesting film was produced for the Department of National Defence for use in travelling exhibitions. Called The Dual Role, it used for the first time the dual sound system, allowing English and/or French to be played as needed from the same print. This reduced the number of copies needed and allowed the film to be adapted immediately to audience requirements − a major breakthrough in bilingual service at minimal cost.
Operation G.A.T.E. and its French equivalent, Opération E.T.G.A., were produced by Don Virgo for Environment Canada, the Atmospheric Environment Service and the Fisheries and Marine Service. These two Canadian films on the very important Global Atmospheric Research Program premiered at the Seventh World Meteorological Congress in Geneva.
In 1974, Technical Services made advances in underwater photography and sound recording, as well as detecting items just below the surface of the water. The results of the research were widely disseminated and contributed to the success of the Arctic telecasts. To the underwater TV system developed the previous year, they added an underwater Fernseh colour television camera housing developed for the CBC.
Technical Services also devised a low-cost subtitling system. Subtitles were printed on a separate filmstrip and flashed on the screen by a separate filmstrip projector synchronized automatically with the main projector by a simple clip-on device. Languages could be provided at low cost, since only one print of the film was needed.
Part of this filmstrip device was adapted to provide a similar sound system, in which a moderately priced tape recorder was modified to synchronize with the projector. A second language could be added, again without the cost of making another print of the film. The Dual Role, mentioned above, used this system.
Assistant commissioner André Lamy was appointed commissioner in August, replacing Sydney Newman, whose mandate was not renewed by the government. In his first annual report of 1975-76, Lamy mentioned that it was time for the NFB to examine the future of Canadian film and the major role the NFB would have to play. With this in mind he drew up a five-year plan to renew and re-establish the National Film Board as the central energizing force in Canadian film.
The five-year plan targeted the progress of Canadian film in its entirety and guided the following principal sectors: regionalization, information on the films and their distribution, technical services, the Ottawa office, financial management and human resources. Each of these reflected not only the operational needs and goals of the NFB, but the conditions that shaped the entire cycle of film production, distribution and use in Canada.
One of Lamy’s priorities was to set up an integrated production program in every major region of Canada. In four years, the proportion of the budget devoted to the regions shot up from 20% to 50%. The idea behind regionalization was to diversify the concentration of cultural resources in Toronto and Montreal to represent more fully the diversity and experience that made up the country. The project would also boost development of new talents and local film projects.
Film distribution played a major part in Lamy’s plans, since it affected the whole Canadian industry. Given Canada’s low population and vast territory, it was almost impossible for any but a large company to distribute films across the country in the long term. Even the NFB, with its 27 offices scattered over the territory, was unable to meet demand for community film services. There was a pressing need to merge and coordinate activities to boost the distribution and screening of the best Canadian films as the NFB’s first choice. Within this objective, the NFB sought to establish a national, computerized distribution network to bring Canadian films to Canadians and to give Canadian producers and distributors some competitive advantage in the national and international marketplace.
In June, the NFB’s efforts bore fruit: The Challenge for Change Nouvelle program received a new mandate in June 1975 to continue for another three years, so communities could continue to benefit from video. In Toronto, for example, the program’s regional representative worked closely with Sheridan and Humber community colleges, making videotapes reflecting concerns such as employment, housing, day care and industrial and environmental pollution.
In Vancouver, video was used extensively to promote citizen awareness and action when a municipality was going to be rezoned from residential to heavy industrial. Ethelbert, a small farming community in Manitoba, was dying, but a Challenge for Change representative began discussions with the province’s agriculture officials to see what could be done. For the first time in years, the residents began thinking as a community. They started a newspaper and set up a chamber of commerce, a government building, a veterinary clinic, a senior citizens’ home and a skating rink.
French Production was making films casting a critical look at society. For example, what happens when a man is denied the right to live in his own house or on land that has been traditionally his? These questions were explored in two films, one by Georges Dufaux, Au bout de mon âge (At the End of My Days), the other by Pierre Perrault and Bernard Gosselin, Un royaume vous attend. For Pierre Perrault, this marked the beginning of a series of films, continuing with Le retour à la terre (1976) and Gens d’Abitibi (1980), in defence of the land and a more human way of life. One man in particular, Hauris Lalancette, spoke out for the Abitibi people, who believed in the promises held out to settlers there in the 1930s and were so disappointed when the lands were closed in the 1970s. In C’était un Québécois en Bretagne, Madame!, directed by Pierre Perrault, Lalancette drew a surprising comparison between two neglected regions. This colourful character appeared again, years later, in the film by Denys Desjardins, Au pays des colons (The Great Resistance) (2007), where three generations of Lalancettes continue to make a living from farming despite the pressures of globalization and the mining and lumber companies’ control of the land.
Non-theatrical films were the major fare of English Production in 1975. Studio D produced a series of short films to show differing lifestyles of children in various regions of Canada. Beverly Shaffer directed the first two in the series: My Name Is Susan Yee, where a young Chinese-Canadian schoolgirl describes her life in downtown Montreal, and My Friends Call Me Tony, where a blind boy takes us through a day in his life.
The main themes of International Women’s Year and the role Canada played as host of World Music Week inspired several new productions. At Studio D, Maud Lewis: A World Without Shadows introduced viewers to a great artist and her work, while Great Grand Mother was an appreciation of the women who settled the Prairies, from early immigration to the victory of being the first women in Canada to receive the provincial vote. Musicanada, an hour-long film on Canada’s musical life, was shown during World Music Week and focused on people and groups from across the country who had distinguished themselves in this field.
The Frobisher Bay 8 mm production workshop, which the NFB set up to train Inuit filmmakers, flourished, but in a totally new direction as a group of filmmakers formed a company to produce a weekly 15-minute TV program in their own language. The NFB gave them financial and technical support for the show, entitled Nunatskiakmiuit.
On the international scene, English Program provided personnel and equipment for media training in Africa, Asia, Central and South America to help nations make films for the UN Conference on Human Settlements in 1976. The international outlook continued with the release of the multimedia kit Spotlight on Development/Coup d’oeil sur le développement international, a study of lifestyles and cultures in Kenya, Malaysia and Algeria.
The Canadian Government Photo Centre, another division in the Ottawa Branch, produced as the year’s most impressive work a 24-by-30-foot map of Canada designed for the Law of the Sea Conference in Japan. The Centre also produced Canada’s gift to the United States for the American Bicentennial, the 336-page bilingual book Between Friends/Entre Amis. Produced at a cost of 1.2 million dollars, the album was to become one of the greatest publishing successes in Canadian history. The collection of 246 colour photographs depicting Canada and its people had an initial printing of 20,000 presentation copies. External Affairs presented 13,000, on behalf of the people of Canada, to the President, to legislators, public libraries and educational institutions in the U.S., while the other 7,000 copies were given to municipalities, public libraries and educational institutions in Canada. The publishers of the commercial edition, McClelland and Stewart, planned a 90,000-copy printing for the Canadian book trade. In 40 weeks on bestseller lists, Between Friends/Entre Amis exceeded $5 million in retail sales.
The Film Board studied a computerized booking system to give Canadians the best possible service at minimal cost. The current manual booking system had reached its capacity, but demands for services were increasing. So after a detailed study, a prototype computerized reservation system was tested in the Atlantic region to make film borrowing as easy as booking a seat on a plane.
During its Education Support Study, the Media Research team discovered that the biggest bottleneck in getting Canadian film to its potential audience, whether in education or in the general milieu, was the lack of an efficient and reliable method of finding out about films and where to get them. The Film Board proposed setting up a national computerized catalogue of films, linking both the public and private sectors and tying into the NFB’s computerized booking system under study. The Board of Governors accepted the proposal and the target date to have the information system in operation was 1980.
NFB productions, including many premieres, were aired for a record 34 hours of prime-time TV. Atlanticanada, a series of shorts about the people, places and points of interest in the Atlantic provinces, was the subject of a special two-and-a-half-hour TV broadcast that aired nationally.
The Heatwave Lasted Four Days was the first Canadian feature film sold to a U.S. commercial network, ABC. The film Action: The October Crisis of 1970 was telecast the same evening in English on CBC and in French on Radio-Canada. Also for the first time, an NFB film was bought by two networks: CTV aired Why Rock the Boat? and Radio-Québec broadcast Le soleil a pas d’chance, which was seen by 800,000 people. The total cumulative world audience for NFB productions broke the one billion mark for the second year running.
A cable company on Montreal’s South Shore experimented with television on demand. Six cable channels were freed so that customers could call and request any film in the catalogue to be shown on their individual TV sets at a time of their choice. The NFB had 200 titles available to the public in this experimental program.
As official cinematographer for Games of the XXI Olympiad, the NFB organized the largest group project in Canadian film history, involving an unprecedented number of creators and technicians from across the country. The mandate for the two-hour film, which recounted both the history and the human aspect of the Olympics, was jointly established with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Comité d’organisation des Jeux olympiques (COJO). The world premiere was held at the Cinéma Saint-Denis in Montreal. The next day, the film had its European premiere at the opening of the Marché international des producteurs de télévision (MIP-TV) in Cannes, and also screened for local residents at the request of the mayor of Cannes. It was then broadcast on Radio-Canada and the CBC, and Air Canada showed it on international flights. Screenings were planned around the country.
Commissioner André Lamy decided that times had changed since the October Crisis of 1970 and lifted the six-year-old ban on Cap d’espoir by Jacques Leduc. Ironically, this was the same André Lamy who, while he was deputy film commissioner, had drawn the controversial aspect of the film to the attention of NFB commissioner Sydney Newman, along with two other films that were censored at the same time, On est au coton (Cotton Mill, Treadmill) and 24 heures ou plus. The ban on screening the three films went completely against the NFB’s reputation for freedom and creativity. Moreover, Lamy learned that the Conseil québécois pour la diffusion du cinéma had decided to distribute a pirated copy of the Denys Arcand film On est au coton. Although he was legally entitled to prohibit the distribution, he chose not to do so to avoid sullying the NFB’s reputation. As for 24 heures ou plus, filmmaker Gilles Groulx finally agreed to management’s request to make some changes to the narration in exchange for Lamy’s promise to put two copies in distribution. In 1977, the Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma named it the best film of the previous five years. Thus ended the episode of censorship at the NFB.
Secretary of State John Roberts, appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Broadcasting, Films and Assistance to the Arts, announced that Canada would contract out more than 50% of its sponsored films to the private sector. This would naturally affect the NFB, which set up a review committee for sponsored films to counter the negative effects of the decision.
NFB films frequently appeared on the list of Oscar nominees, but this was the first time that three were chosen the same year: The Street, directed by Caroline Leaf, Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry, directed by Donald Brittain and John Kramer, and Blackwood by Tony Ianzelo and Andy Thomson. The films won other awards as well, including two Genies for The Street, five Genies for Volcano and the grand prize for image quality at the Festival international du film sur l’art for Blackwood.
At the Canadian Film Awards, Tom Daly received the Grierson Award for outstanding contributions to Canadian cinema, and Caroline Leaf was given the Wendy Michener Award, a special tribute for outstanding artistic achievement in Canadian cinema.
Making the official film for the Games of the XXI Olympiad required an unprecedented collective effort from the French Production Unit. Executive producer Jacques Bobet, director Jean-Claude Labrecque and co-directors Jean Beaudin, Marcel Carrière and Georges Dufaux coordinated the work of a team of 168 people divided into nine groups shooting at 28 Olympic sites in Montreal, Kingston and Bromont. Using direct cinema techniques, they completed an intimate film that vividly illustrated the athletes’ everyday experience of the Games. Editor Werner Nold and his four assistants spent five months editing 100,000 metres of film to create a two-hour film that included some 60 sequences, each with its own logic and pace. The first to see the film were unanimous in saying that the NFB had risen masterfully to this unique mission. Two satellite films, …26 fois de suite! (26 Times in a Row) and Nelli Kim, were edited under the supervision of Jacques Bobet from footage taken during the Games.
Another major achievement, J. A. Martin photographe (J.A. Martin photographer) by Jean Beaudin, was released to critical acclaim. The film is set in rural Quebec at the turn of the 20th century – an era when a woman’s role as wife and mother was clearly defined and seldom called into question. The film was entered in official competition at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Ecumenical Jury Prize as well as the Palme d’Or for best actress for Monique Mercure. The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television awarded the film seven Genies: best feature length fiction film, best direction (Jean Beaudin), best editing (Jean Beaudin, Hélène Girard), best performance by a lead actress (Monique Mercure), best camera (Pierre Mignot) and best overall sound (Jean-Pierre Joutel).
Filmmaker Michel Régnier produced a series of 30 half-hour films designed to train health-care workers in French-speaking African countries. A Film Board initiative, the Santé-Afrique project was funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), with official support from the World Health Organization (WHO), which considers the training of health-care workers a major priority. Research and planning were carried out in conjunction with African health specialists and other experts to make sure the work would be effective and properly applied. Phase two of this five-year project would continue through January 1980, including the final production of the films, training sessions and distribution planning.
Habitat, the first United Nations Conference on Human Settlements to primarily use audiovisual media, was held in Vancouver from May 31 to June 11. The NFB played a key role in organizing the project, which was sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Department of Urban Affairs. The NFB helped participating countries produce more than 200 films and audiovisual exhibits. In conjunction with the Department and the University of British Columbia, the NFB also produced and distributed films for the conference in various languages. The Canadian film A Sense of Place, a co-production by the NFB and the Habitat secretariat and filmed in eight countries, illustrated the very human need to find a place we can call our own.
At the Animation Studio, Jacques Drouin took a special interest in pinscreen animation, a technique using thousands of pins that are moved to create pictures. The film he created using this technique, Mindscape/Le paysagiste, won 17 awards, including the Special Jury Award at the International Animation Festival in Ottawa.
The production in 1974 of six documentary films on old age prompted the NFB to help organize a week-long workshop in Montreal on the subject under the banner of “L’âge et la vie.” To ensure that the films had a social impact, the filmmakers involved with four of the films approached social groups working to change public attitudes towards old age. They obtained funding from the Quebec Ministry of Social Affairs and the Federal Department of Health and Welfare, and the NFB provided production facilities, information, publicity and technical services. A full program of information and activities was devised, and a mini film festival was included in the seminar, with Rose et Monsieur Charbonneau, Les vieux amis, Blanche et Claire and Monsieur Journault by Guy L. Côté, also Les jardins d’hiver and Au bout de mon âge (At the End of My Days) by Georges Dufaux. The impact of the seminar went far beyond the one-week event originally planned and was felt throughout the province.
The NFB added 50 CBC-Radio-Canada titles to its catalogue. This agreement, which would subsequently be renewed, greatly enriched the NFB catalogue and boosted the number of films in circulation.
The annual report for 1977-1978 noted that what distinguished NFB products from those produced by other visual media was first and foremost the fact that the Film Board did not need to deal with the daily ups and downs of Canada’s political, cultural, social and economic life. Unlike reporters, NFB filmmakers were not looking to make headlines, so they could choose subjects that would remain relevant for the public on a long-term basis, as well as bearing testament to the many diverse aspects of life. Because their goal was different – attempting to understand, explain and sometimes spark discussion and change rather than simply reporting the facts – filmmakers could take the time to explore their subjects in depth and produce a more thorough view of events than was possible for other media.
Animated films again brought honours to the NFB. Spinnolio by John Weldon won the Canadian Film Award for best animated film, and The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa by Caroline Leaf received the special critics’ award at the Annecy Animation Festival in France. NFB entries in that festival also won the prize for best overall international selection. L’Affaire Bronswik (The Bronswik Affair) by Robert Awad and André Leduc was launched at the 16 mm Film Festival in Montreal and later accepted in the official competition of the 1978 Cannes Film Festival.
A cinéma-vérité project started two years earlier under the direction of Jacques Leduc was an experiment in seeking out and filming minor yet significant events in the daily lives of Quebecers in the early 1970s as the filmmakers saw them from day to day. Leduc and his team edited a series of eight films from the total footage under the title Chronique de la vie quotidienne. Each film had its own pace, constituting a new experiment in editing that played on contrasts and similarities between elements that initially appeared to be quite disparate.
The production team of Léo Plamondon, Bernard Gosselin and Michel Brault focused on the ingenuity and talents of artisans who went beyond the rigid models of the past to find new sources of inspiration. Thirteen films co-produced with Radio-Canada for the Artisans québécois program were completed under the series name of La belle ouvrage. Over the next three years, eight more films would be added.
English Production made a number of films on historical and political topics, including three in the Political Process program on various levels of government: Flora: Scenes from a Leadership Convention on federal politics, I Hate to Lose on provincial politics, and The New Mayor (Winnipeg) on big city politics. In the next phase, the program would examine the media, bureaucracy, Parliament, the political power of big business, the judicial process and the workings of a provincial cabinet (Ontario). Regional production studios were also involved.
The drama series Adventures in History, produced for the educational market, proved to be highly successful. Three films were completed: Strangers at the Door, The War Is Over and Voice of the Fugitive, while shooting wrapped on two other films, Teach Me to Dance and L’âge de la machine (The Machine Age). The Association for Tele-Education in Canada (ATEC), the CBC and the National Museums Corporation were the NFB’s major partners for the series. Regional production centres also participated, along with the Multimedia Studio, which produced support material.
Two films from Studio D attracted special attention: The Lady from Grey County, a biography of Agnes Macphail, the first woman elected to Parliament in Canada, and Some American Feminists, on the history of the feminist movement over the previous decade, featuring Betty Friedan, Kate Millet, Rita Mae Brown and Ti-Grace Atkinson. The film was featured at the Modern Languages Association Conference in Chicago, the Festival of Light and Learning in Winnipeg and the Festival of Women in the Arts in New Orleans.
After 10 years in existence, the Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle program now had more than 150 films in the catalogue, with many others to come. Major titles included Cree Way, which tells the story of an Indian-run school that successfully integrates Native and Western cultures; No Day of Rest, about the life of a parish priest in Welland, Ontario; Raison d’être, which depicts the last days of two dying patients; Famille et variations, a reflection on the modern family; and Québec à vendre, which illustrates the vital challenge posed to Quebec society by the development of farmland.
On the Prairies, the highlight of the year was the completion of the Energy and the Renewable Society series, consisting of 20 half-hour programs co-produced with ACCESS Alberta. The broadcasts boosted ratings for the ACCESS network in the highly competitive Saturday-night time slot. Five films from the series were widely distributed: Blowhard, Petroleum's Progress, The Top Few Inches, A House on the Prairie and Three Rivers.
In 1976, the NFB had signed a co-production agreement with Mexico (the Cine Diffusion SEP group) for three feature-length films made by Mexicans (Etnocidio/Ethnocide, Jornaleros and Le deal mexicain) and two more made by Canadians (Tierra y Libertad and Première question sur le bonheur). Two films had now been completed under the terms of the agreement. Jornaleros, by Mexican director Edouardo Maldonado, depicted the lives of itinerant farm workers forced to move from region to region to fill labour needs in various types of operations. The second film, Première question sur le bonheur, produced in Mexico by Gilles Groulx with the cooperation of the inhabitants of the village of Santa Gertrudis, tells the story of community life based on shared production and the participation of all citizens in the social and political organization of the village.
In animation, Bead Game/Histoire de perles by Ishu Patel was nominated for an Oscar. The film focuses on the competitive nature of human beings and our attempts to survive and conquer through the ages. Thousands of beads are arranged and manipulated, assuming shapes of creatures both mythical and real. In his subsequent films, Afterlife/Après la vie (1978) and Top Priority (1981), Patel would make use of a technique he discovered accidentally when light filtering through modelling dough turned it into a radiant medium. Afterlife/Après la vie won various awards, including a Genie for best animated film from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television and the Grand Prix de Montréal in the short film category at the Montreal World Film Festival in September 1978.
The five films in the Animated Motion series, produced by Norman McLaren and Grant Munro, demonstrate and classify aspects of motion that animators usually work out in an intuitive way. The films are extraordinary in their graphic simplicity, documenting the science and mastery of movement so characteristic of McLaren’s work.
The Animation Studio produced a half-hour film featuring David Suzuki called The Hottest Show on Earth for the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. Telecast on the CBC network in December, it was the pilot for a proposed series on the energy crisis. The film won a Genie for best documentary short film. The Studio also produced a film for UNICEF for International Children’s Year in 1979. Canada was one of 10 countries invited to produce a segment of an hour-long film illustrating the 10 charter principles of UNICEF.
The NFB began to distribute its films in videocassette format. In one year, 702 videocassettes were sold, compared to 10,304 16 mm films. Ten years later, the ratio would be reversed, with 15,744 videocassettes sold compared to 1,302 copies of 16 mm films.
A notable event was the NFB returning to one of its earliest distribution methods as four caravans equipped with projection material and a supply of general interest films crossed the country in July and August, reaching Canadians in cities and rural areas.
The Halifax office organized Cinemarine, a non-competitive international film festival on behalf of Fisheries and Environment Canada. Filmmakers from six countries participated, with daily screenings at the World Fishing Exhibition from August 31 to September 7. Seventy-three films, the majority of which were Canadian, were presented in English and French. The highlight of the festival was the NFB Atlantic Region production The Farming of Fish.
Following its success at Cannes, J. A. Martin photographe (J.A. Martin photographer) achieved substantial commercial distribution figures in French in Canada, Europe and French-speaking Africa, with prints sold in France and Switzerland and rights sold to Belgian television and to 25 countries in Africa. In Paris, the film was launched in five theatres in August and enjoyed a four-month run. It then toured several provincial towns, contributing to the renewed prestige of Canadian film in Europe. The English version of the film played for several weeks in Toronto and Vancouver, and the CBC retained rights to show it three times on television.
The NFB’s London office helped organize two well-received programs at the National Film Theatre. Spotlight on Canada opened with a special screening of J. A. Martin photographe (J. A. Martin Photographer), followed by 20 other feature-length films, including five from the NFB. The second program, a retrospective of NFB animation, was a wide-ranging overview, with no fewer than 100 titles covered. During the retrospective, the BBC scheduled the telecast of The Light Fantastic. Smaller groups of films were subsequently well received at many regional theatres.
Technical Services developed a new computerized camera drive. Four more devices were under development in partnership with the National Research Council.
The bottom line for the year was positive, despite the austerity measures imposed on the entire federal civil service and the subsequent reduction of $600,000 in credits to the NFB. That decision affected all NFB activities and required some adjustments. There were substantial cuts in contracting out, and employees who retired after many years of service were not replaced.
Under the regionalization program, production resources in regional centres were increased, and the pace of development at these centres surpassed the pace of production at headquarters. Links were formed between the centres and the regional agencies with which they were called upon to work. There was also substantial involvement of local production companies from the private film industry. Under the Sponsored Program, for instance, 70% of the film projects initiated during the year were directed to the private sector, which was also responsible for 35 versions and revisions of sponsored films, compared to 20 for the NFB. Other aspects of cooperation with the Canadian film industry also received NFB support: A $275,000 budget was allocated to boosting awareness of Canadian private-sector films, and a non-exclusive agreement was signed with a private distribution house to facilitate access to stock shots from the NFB Archives.
The highlight of the year was, of course, the two Oscars® won by the NFB. The first went to Beverly Shaffer’s short documentary film I'll Find a Way and the second to the animated film The Sand Castle/Le château de sable by Co Hoedeman. In their acceptance speeches, both filmmakers stressed the importance of an institution like the NFB, which combined the highest artistic and professional standards. In front of millions of TV viewers around the world, they thanked the Canadian people for their support, for making “…the NFB a very special and unique place to make films.” I’ll Find a Way received eight awards over its career, and The Sand Castle took home more than 20, including the Grand Prix at the Festival international du film d’animation in Annecy, France.
In September, at the Fourth Biennial International Film Festival in San Antonio, Texas, Peter M. Towe, Canadian ambassador to the United States, paid a warm tribute to the talented people at the NFB, who brought the Canadian cinema such international renown. He said, “The National Film Board is, in itself, living testimony to Canada’s bilingual, multicultural heritage; it recognizes our determination to bridge the gaps – some large, some small – between peoples and communities and regions in Canada.”
The Los Angeles Film Teachers’ Association gave its 2nd Annual Jean Renoir Humanities Award to the NFB “because its films have provided us [with] an impetus toward the spiritual and have uplifted the hearts of those who have seen them.” The NFB also received a Certificate of Appreciation for generous professional and educational services to students of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in New York State.
The University of Southern California in Los Angeles offered an original course entirely devoted to films produced by the NFB. “Behind the Screens at the National Film Board of Canada,” an intensive eight-week course, was designed to familiarize students with the history, technology and production process at the NFB, especially the animation and documentary techniques that had won the Film Board its enviable international reputation.
Robert Forget succeeded René Jodoin as head of the Animation Studio in French Production, and computer-assisted animation became much more widespread. This would lead to the foundation of the Computer Animation Centre in the early 1980s, in partnership with several Canadian universities and research organizations.
In English animation, John Weldon and Eunice Macaulay made Special Delivery, a humorous short film that won an Oscar® in Los Angeles in spring 1979. Two other films showed the technical and conceptual research that was going on at the NFB: Interview pooled the talents and styles of two gifted animators, Caroline Leaf and Veronika Soul, who used different techniques to sketch portraits of one another, while in Travel Log, Donald Winkler managed to create a mysterious atmosphere through the clever juxtaposition of photos and thoughts taken from a travel diary. The film won an award at the Cracow Short Film Festival.
In English Production, the Political Process series continued with three new films: The Art of the Possible took a behind-the-scenes look at Ontario provincial politics; Reflections on a Leadership Convention (a sequel to Flora: Scenes from a Leadership Convention) evaluated the effectiveness of a party leadership convention in this country; and Tigers and Teddy Bears completed the pair of films that began with I Hate to Lose, made after the last provincial election campaign in Montreal’s Westmount riding. Donald Brittain’s eagerly awaited study of bureaucracy around the world began production, along with Arthur Hammond’s documentary on the influence of labour organizations on Canada’s political life. In foreign politics, Solzhenitsyn's Children ... Are Making a Lot of Noise in Paris investigated the ups and downs of Eurocommunism, a major political force in the world at this time.
Women filmmakers from Studio D continued to produce outstanding work, including Benoît, the eighth film in the successful series Children of Canada; Patricia's Moving Picture, the story of a wife and mother who reassesses her life in terms of her personal aspirations; Eve Lambart, focusing on the semi-retirement of a self-sufficient and creative woman; and An Unremarkable Birth, a look at the experience of giving birth in light of the rights and responsibilities of both society and the parents. Studio D made waves at two women’s film festivals – the Powerhouse Gallery in Montreal and the Women’s Video and Film Festival in Vancouver.
The Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle program was greatly reduced in size as more than half of the government departments withdrew for financial reasons. Although film and video production were curtailed, regional representatives in the Maritimes, Ontario, Quebec, the Prairies, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories continued to distribute films and videos to target audiences. Among the films completed for Challenge for Change were The Wages of Work, a film about the working poor; a series of 10 films on occupational health, including Who Will I Sentence Now? and Our Health Is Not for Sale; 'round and 'round, a documentary on a variety of family problems, made under the auspices of the Minto Family Life Centre in Moose Jaw; Paper Wheat, a film on the play of the same name about Saskatchewan’s early settlers and the co-op movement; and The Nearest Point to Everywhere, about under-development on Cape Breton Island.
In the Société nouvelle program, Les vrais perdants asked parents a series of questions about the true purpose of the education and training we give our children and the spirit in which we try to help them prepare for the future. Three complementary films were produced as well from sequences shot in the studio during an experiment that involved a dozen children: Observation 1 – “Comme une balle de ping-pong”; Observation 2 – “La fièvre de la bataille”; and Observation 3 – “Ah! les filles.” Four other documentaries were also completed: Fuir, about suicide as a call for help; Les Borges, on the everyday life of immigrants in Canadian society; De Grâce et d’Embarras, about two islands in the Sorel area that illustrate the dichotomy between town and country, industry and agriculture, consumption and tradition; and Le menteur, an outstanding documentary on alcoholism presenting highly detailed information on the subject.
In 1969, the federal government evicted 215 families from eight villages in New Brunswick to make way for a national park. The families lost everything: their homes, their memories and their livelihoods. One man refused to budge, however. Kouchibouguac recounted the events that followed the expropriation, the fight put up by resister Jackie Vautour and his eventual defeat. Although filmmaker Guy Borremans headed the project, the film was credited to a collective production team – a rare occurrence.
The French Production Unit laid the foundations for an extremely interesting new form of cooperation between the NFB and Radio-Canada by working out a co-funding agreement for the film Cordélia, which had been shot during the fall. Based on the novel La lampe dans la fenêtre by Quebec writer Pauline Cadieux, the film tells the story of Cordélia Viau, who was charged with killing her husband, aided by Samuel Parslow. The pair were found guilty and condemned to hang in March of 1899. This fiction feature film, produced by Jean Beaudin, also gave a good number of technicians an opportunity to work on a large-scale Canadian production, a fairly rare occurrence in an industry that was not very active at the time.
Novelist and filmmaker Jacques Godbout addressed the issue of how information was handled by the media in Derrière l’image. The sequel, Feu l’objectivité (Double Vision) made in 1979, focused on French- and English-speaking reporters in Quebec City, showing that objectivity in journalism is first and foremost a matter of culture.
For the past 10 years, the school system had been in an almost perpetual state of reform. Les enfants des normes by Georges Dufaux, a series of eight one-hour films, attempted to show the daily reality of education in large comprehensive high schools in Quebec. Five years later, Dufaux went back to find a few characters from the film to get their comments and see how the teens had turned out in Les enfants des normes – Post-scriptum (Now, at Twenty).
Maurice Bulbulian, a filmmaker with the French Production Unit, had a particularly prolific year. He shot Ameshkuatan – Les sorties du castor on the Lower North Shore with a group of Montagnais from the Romaine River area. The film harks back to the legends and adventures of a time not so long ago when they lived in the forest heartland and were forced to abandon their way of life, becoming labourers or fishermen in coastal villages. He also completed Les délaissés, a film about teenagers in Monterrey, Mexico, who were addicted to industrial solvents, and Tierra y Libertad, under the co-production program between the NFB and the Centro de produccion de corto metraje in Mexico City.
In 1977, the NFB announced that it was setting up a computerized film reservation network. The initial experiment in the Atlantic region proved successful, and the NFB proceeded to set up the system in 13 distribution centres. All regions across the country were now connected to the central NFB computer, making it faster and easier to reserve films.
The fantastic energy deployed in 1976 to make the Games of the XXI Olympiad in Montreal continued in 1978 with one of the best distribution programs in the history of the NFB, resulting in 63 countries buying rights to broadcast the film.
New techniques were developed for intercutting film and video, a process that promised to simplify certain steps in film production. Transferring the work print and mixed sound to videocassettes would save valuable time and money at the approval stage.
The NFB marked its 40th anniversary: Forty years of film production, of capturing a people’s achievements and experiences on film, bearing witness to the events that had shaped our history, and giving our country a voice so that everyone here fully understood and appreciated Canada. For the occasion, Albert Kish put together The Image Makers, a montage of the NFB’s images of Canada over the years, which was telecast at the end of 1979.
In Los Angeles, a rare testimonial evening held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences paid special tribute to the NFB “in recognition of 40 years of superior artistry in motion pictures; of leading the way in the development of the documentary film; of guidance and inspiration to a generation of young filmmakers who now are among the world’s leading professionals; and of entertaining the world with cinema images of beauty, grace and intelligence.”
Across the Atlantic, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts held an NFB retrospective at which leading figures from the British film scene acknowledged the NFB’s contribution to the art of cinema. Meanwhile in Paris, the Cinémathèque française held an NFB retrospective at the Palais de Chaillot and the Centre Georges-Pompidou.
At home, the NFB staged its own celebrations in the most visible and appropriate way by showing films from coast to coast. NFB representatives pored over hundreds of titles to select films of special significance and richest meaning for audiences in each region. An open house at NFB headquarters in Montreal attracted more than 15,000 visitors over five days, who streamed through the exhibits and displays and attended screenings.
The spring federal election was won by Joe Clark’s Conservative government. Responsibility for the Film Board now lay with the Secretary of State in the Department of Communications, David McDonald, who was nostalgic for the NFB of the past and inclined to see more production delegated to the private sector.
One piece of news definitely did not come as a birthday present. The NFB learned that in addition to the $600,000 in cuts from 1978, new financial provisions meant that the Film Board now had to accept operating expenses previously covered by the Department of Public Works. However, although the financial situation limited the NFB’s capacity to undertake anything like the ambitious programs of the past, priority activities remained as fruitful as ever.
The NFB won an impressive number of awards and trophies at international film festivals, including an Oscar®, as well as 16 awards at the gala for the brand new Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. Special Delivery, a highly amusing tale of love and death, sex and suicide…and the post office, directed by John Weldon and Eunice Macaulay, won the Oscar for best animated film.
Recently signed agreements with the People’s Republic of China led to a filmmaker exchange, in which a Chinese team was invited to come to Canada and an NFB team headed by Tony Ianzelo and Boyce Richardson spent several months in China shooting two documentaries. North China Commune depicted daily life on an agricultural commune, while North China Factory portrayed the lives of workers at a cotton mill in the industrial city of Shijiazhuang. Filmmaker Michel Régnier also brought back footage from China with Un mois à Woukang, a report on daily life in a steel factory. Producer Georges Dufaux made a trilogy: Gui Daò – Sur la voie – Aller retour Beijing (Gui Daò - On the Way: Round Trip to Beijing), in which passengers on a train from Wuchang to Beijing discover the country; Gui Daò – Sur la voie – Quelques Chinoises nous ont dit (Gui Daò - On the Way: Some Chinese Women Told Us...), showing the lives of young girls working at the Wuchang train station, in their own words; and Gui Daò – Sur la voie – Une gare sur le Yangzi (Gui Daò - On the Way: A Station on the Yangzi), which delved into the Chinese way of life and thinking.
For Anne Claire Poirier, rape is a political crime of domination committed via a sexual crime. This was the theme of Mourir à tue-tête (A Scream from Silence), which lifted the veil of shame and fear that conceals from the eyes of society the rape victim’s profound humiliation, physical damage and loss of identity. To drive home her message, Poirier combined fiction and documentary styles, establishing the film, which was shown on Radio-Canada on April 10, 1980, as one of the very first docudramas. The CBC refused to screen the film, however, as the English audience had a negative reaction to what was perceived as a lack of nuance. The same subject was approached from a very different point of view – the rapist’s – in Douglas Jackson’s Why Men Rape, a documentary in which 10 men convicted of rape speak frankly of what led them to commit such a crime. Lawyers, police officers, teenagers, and men and women who hang out at singles bars also discussed their sexual behaviour and attitudes.
English Production curtailed the drama program in this year of restraint, but the two dramas that were completed did enjoy considerable acclaim. Revolution's Orphans, a half-hour drama directed by John N. Smith, about a family seeking refuge in Canada after the Hungarian revolution, won a Genie for the outstanding performance of leading actor Rudy Lipp. Bravery in the Field, directed by Giles Walker, tells the story of a Dieppe veteran whose war medal is stolen by a teenager. The documentary raised considerable controversy, and Clifford Chadderton, head of administrative services at the War Amps, wrote an open letter to the newspapers, published on May 8, 1980, deploring the depiction of the war hero as an alcoholic. The film was nominated for an Academy Award and won two Genies from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.
To compensate for the budget shortfall, English Production made more co-productions. Atmos, by Colin Low, was produced with American partners the Centro Cultural Alfa, the San Diego Science Center and the Science Museum of Minnesota. The film in the OMNIMAX® format showed various atmospheric phenomena. Paperland: The Bureaucrat Observed, by Donald Brittain, a joint production by the NFB and the CBC, cast a sardonic eye on bureaucrats and bureaucracy around the world. The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television awarded the film four Genies. Two other documentaries were made by the French Production Unit, the United Nations World Food Programme and the Food and Agricultural Organization. The first, Azzel, focused on the education of Tuareg nomads in Niger, and the second, Dominga, was about the Aymara peasants in Bolivia. Both films were directed by Guy L. Coté.
Sports are always popular in Canada. Going the Distance, an NFB co-production with the Department of State for Health and Amateur Sport and the Foundation for the XI Commonwealth Games, profiled athletes at the Edmonton Commonwealth Games. Thanks to a highly developed marketing program, the film attracted enthusiastic audiences. It was also nominated for an Oscar® in its category in 1980.
Six regional centres produced French-language films during the year. In Ontario, Cano, notes sur une expérience collective (Cano, Notes on a Collective Experience) presented singers and musicians from the rock group Cano. From the Acadia regional studio came Le frolic cé pour ayder, about the events of Frolic 1977, and a fiction film called Les Gossipeuses (The Gossips). On the Prairies, the documentary Du mauvais côté de la clôture introduced audiences to Manitoba Jesuit Martial Caron, a staunch defender of French language and culture. Mur de verre told the story of the wife of a Quebec man held in a B.C. prison, while Si on faisait des faces… was a theatrical improvisation by children.
Priority was placed this year on setting up a national information system on NFB products. Using the flexible bilingual system known as PRECIS, descriptive data were entered on all the audiovisual productions distributed by the NFB: films, multimedia, etc. The central computer at the University of Toronto served more than 150 users: provincial and federal departments, teaching institutions and public libraries. The public would soon have access to the national information system through NFB offices around the country. It complemented the computerized film reservation system, linking the existing network with the few distribution offices that had not previously been connected.
Le programme d’austérité du gouvernement a laissé son empreinte, et le début de la décennie est marqué par la poursuite du mouvement de contestation des compressions budgétaires. Les syndicats sont en conflit avec la politique de la direction qui vise à réaliser des économies, et la situation s’envenime au point de provoquer la démission du commissaire Hugo McPherson.
Toutefois, même si le moral des troupes est à la baisse, la créativité l’emporte, et plusieurs productions de cette décennie connaîtront un fort succès et une reconnaissance de leur inventivité. Entre autres, le chef-d’œuvre de Claude Jutra, Mon oncle Antoine, reconnu comme le meilleur film canadien de l’histoire, et J.A. Martin photographe, sélectionné dans la compétition officielle du Festival international du film de Cannes, transportent le cinéma canadien sur les écrans du monde entier et lui donnent ses premiers grands succès populaires.
Dans les années 1970, l’univers politique domine la scène nationale. Au Québec, la montée de l’indépendantisme donne lieu à des films axés sur des problématiques politiques dans la lignée du cinéma direct. Dans la foulée de la crise d’Octobre, le commissaire Sydney Newman impose des mesures de censure à trois films qui suscitent la controverse : Cap d'espoir, une vision contestataire du Québec, On est au coton, sur le milieu de l’industrie du textile, et 24 heures ou plus, un pamphlet contre la société de consommation. Cet interdit de diffusion ne sera levé qu’en 1976 par le commissaire André Lamy. D’autres documentaires abordent des thèmes nationalistes, mais ils sont quand même distribués, tels Un pays sans bon sens!, un plaidoyer pour l’indépendance du Québec, et L'Acadie, l'Acadie?!?, une réflexion sur la condition minoritaire des francophones au Canada.
Un fait marquant à la Production anglaise, en 1974, est la création du premier studio féministe au monde, le Studio D, mis sur pied par Kathleen Shannon, qui venait de réaliser et de coproduire la série Working Mothers. À la Production française, la série En tant que femmes aborde le rôle, la condition, la place et la culture des femmes. Ces deux initiatives permettent aux réalisatrices d’occuper de plus en plus de place dans le milieu et de régénérer l’image de la réalité telle qu’elle est vécue par les femmes.
En 1976, la réalisation du film officiel des Jeux de la XXIe olympiade réunit un collectif de 168 personnes pour le tournage de ce documentaire audacieux. Pour les Services techniques, c’est une fois de plus l’occasion de démontrer leur ingéniosité, en mettant au point le système Chronocode pour synchroniser plusieurs caméras et magnétophones, ce dont aura grandement besoin le réalisateur Jean-Claude Labrecque pour ce tournage.
Le programme Challenge for Change, établi par l’ONF en 1967 à l’intérieur du programme de la lutte contre la pauvreté entrepris par le gouvernement fédéral, et son équivalent francophone Société nouvelle, mis en place en 1969, poursuivent la mise au point de nouvelles techniques de communication destinées à sensibiliser la population canadienne à l’évolution de la société contemporaine et à les inviter à y participer. En bref, il s’agit ici d’une utilisation du film ou du ruban magnétoscopique en tant que catalyseur social et culturel.
À la distribution, l’entrée en force de la vidéographie est le point marquant de la décennie. On inaugure, en 1971, au centre-ville de Montréal, le Vidéographe, un lieu où des jeunes vivent l’expérience de l’expression cinématographique avec l’usage du ruban magnétoscopique. Il offre tout à la fois un centre de production en vidéo légère, un vidéothéâtre et une vidéothèque de consultation. L’initiateur en est Robert Forget. La même année, l’Office ouvre la première cinémathèque libre-service à Calgary, où il est possible d’emprunter des films 16 mm.