This playlist features some of the most important NFB films about Montreal’s English-speaking community. From documentaries on the history of this community to portraits of its world-renowned artists, these films paint a picture of a thriving culture in constant evolution.
The roots of Canadian cinema go back to the 1920s, when the Canadian Pacific Railway set up the studios of Associated Screen News in Montreal. Unfortunately, apart from ASN and the bureaucratic Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau, there was no film industry to speak of. The founding of the National Film Board in 1939 was an effort to rectify this problem and create a viable national film industry. Originally based in Ottawa, the agency moved to Montreal in 1956 in an attempt to distance itself from the public service and be closer to the fledgling Montreal film industry. Toronto was also considered, but it was felt that Montreal’s bicultural nature made it better suited for a federal Canadian agency. The move inaugurated the NFB’s Golden Age.
William Weintraub, Montreal novelist, journalist and NFB filmmaker, in his book City Unique: Montreal Days and Nights, wrote: “In the 1940s and 1950s, the best novels that had ever been written in Canada were being written by Montreal authors. The best short stories were also coming from a Montreal writer and the best poetry from Montreal poets…. Hugh MacLennan produced his major works, while Mavis Gallant, Brian Moore and Mordecai Richler were at the beginning of their careers.”
Back in the Victorian era, Montreal gave birth to Canada’s national winter sport at McGill University. Montreal’s Golden Square Mile was home to an elite clique of families controlling half of the wealth in Canada, but the Golden Square Millionaires were also responsible for a local economy whose “wages were lower than in other comparable cities,” and the city’s slums “were regarded among the worst in the world.” Glaring inequality created tensions that played out between rich and poor, Catholic and Protestant, English and French.
English Quebec reached its zenith sometime around Expo 67. In rapid succession, the community was rocked by the FLQ crisis of 1970, the election of a Parti Québécois government in 1976 and a referendum on independence in 1980, all accompanied by a steady exodus of more than 300,000 capitalists, workers, students and artists.
NFB filmmakers, working out of the head office in Montreal, were perfectly situated to document parts of Quebec that now exist only in history, dramatic transformations that followed, and new realities that are still emerging.
- Guy Rodgers, Executive Director English-Language Arts Network (ELAN)
In this documentary, journalist Josh Freed takes a personal journey through English-speaking Montréal; its history, its haunts, its characters, and the difficulties and delights experienced in trying to straddle two solitudes. This is a sometimes angry, often funny and always affectionate portrait of a city split along linguistic lines, as seen through the eyes of its English-speaking minority.
This informal black-and-white portrait of Leonard Cohen shows him at age 30 on a visit to his hometown of Montreal, where the poet, novelist and songwriter comes "to renew his neurotic affiliations." He reads his poetry to an enthusiastic crowd, strolls the streets of the city, relaxes in this three-dollar-a-night hotel room and even takes a bath.
This short documentary profiles Sophie Wollock and the newspaper she founded for the western suburbs of Montreal in l963, The Suburban. A weekly paper distributed free to some 45,000 homes, most of them anglophone, The Suburban became famous for the strongly worded editorials written by Wollock, mainly on the subject of Québec nationalism. The film looks at the paper, then under the guidance of her son, and sums up some of Wollock's more impassioned editorials.
This feature documentary is a portrait of the life and work of Canadian poet Irving Layton. Here, the artist who long masked himself in controversy, unexpectedly agrees to be unmasked in front of the camera. The 1981 Nobel nominee not only reads and explicates his own writings, but also speaks incisively about Canadian literature itself, defining it metaphorically as a "double hook" that combines "beauty and terror."
For more background info on this film, visit the NFB.ca blog.
This award-winning animation is a poignant interpretation of a short story by Montreal author Mordecai Richler. It makes a strong statement about how many families respond to their old and infirm members. In washes of watercolour and ink, filmmaker Caroline Leaf illustrates reactions to a dying grandmother, capturing family feelings and distilling them into harsh reality.
This feature documentary explores Mordecai Richler's cultural and geographic roots as well as his personal reasons for writing. The film includes excerpts from several of his books and movies as well as readings by the author.
This short documentary takes you on a tour of one of Montreal's first health food stores. The camera scans shelves stocked with all manner of natural foods to which nary an additive has been added: soybean and sesame seed products, wild honey, and even eggs from hens fed on blackstrap molasses. But the real eye-openers are in what you hear between the aisles, from the store's owner and his customers.
This feature-length documentary looks at those desperate days of October 1970 when Montreal awaited the outcome of FLQ terrorist acts. Using news reports and clips from the time, the film reflects upon the October Crisis and reveals the relief, dismay and defiance people felt when the Canadian army stepped in.
This feature documentary gives voice to various English-speaking groups in Montréal and other places in Québec as they react to the October Crisis of 1970, when Québec nationalism took a violent turn. A British diplomat had been kidnapped, a Québec cabinet minister murdered. The troops were brought in as a safeguard. This film is a vigorous reflection of the discussions and analyses of the situation that went on wherever people gathered, voicing attitudes and fears, sympathies and concerns.
This documentary short is a portrait of Canadian photographer William Notman. Photography was still in its infancy when he opened his first studio in Montreal in the late 1850s. He rapidly turned his art, and a budding technology, into a highly successful business. Within 5 years he was appointed Photographer to the Queen. Not content with doing mere portraiture, he saw photography as a means of documenting history. With the use of props in his studio, composite photographs, and calling on his background as a trained artist, Notman immortalized the people and places of Canada.
This feature documentary is a portrait of Montreal political cartoonists Aislin and Serge Chapleau. In the pages of The Montreal Gazette and La Presse, respectively, they’ve been skewering politicians for 30 years. But who are these biting satirists? The film seeks to answer this question through interviews with the cartoonist's friends, families, colleagues, and even a few of their favourite victims, including Gilles Duceppe and Louise Beaudoin. Featuring many of their classic cartoons, Nothing Sacred pays tribute to gifted iconoclasts whose hilarious characters have seeped into our collective consciousness.
This documentary invites you to join acclaimed playwright David Fennario for a performance of his funny and touching one-man play Banana Boots.
The film recounts Fennario’s memories of Montreal’s Verdun and Point Saint-Charles districts, follows him on a journey to Belfast for the Irish premiere of his hit play Balconville, and details his move from major theatrical performances to community theatre, where he sought to "create theatre that can be used to fight back."
This full-length documentary is the 7th and final part of Corporation, a film series about the inner workings of the Steinberg supermarket chain. This installment documents a 3-day conference held in the corporation's lodge north of Montreal. There, faced with the stepping down of Sam Steinberg as president, ambitious top-level executives thrash out their differences on matters of corporation policy and objectives. But who will replace Mr. Sam, the man who built the business? Sprinkled with Sam Steinberg's reminiscences and reflections on business, full of insights into the workings of a large corporation and clashes of interest and character, the film presents an unusually close view of a struggle for position and power.
This full-length documentary is the 4th part of the Corporation, a film series about the inner workings of the Steinberg supermarket chain. This installment looks at the management of cultural conflict: how a major Canadian corporation comes to grips with one of the principal challenges it faces--the bilingual, bicultural nature of the Québec society in which it is headquartered. A close and remarkably candid view of how the president, Sam Steinberg, and his top and middle management handle a problem with parallels far beyond the borders of Québec.
This feature documentary is considered to be the forerunner of the NFB's Challenge for Change Program. The film offers in inside look at 3 weeks in the life of the Bailey family. Trouble with the police, begging for stale bread, and the birth of another child are just some of the issues they face. Through it all, the father tries to explain his family's predicament. Although filmed in Montreal, the film offers an anatomy of poverty as it occurs throughout North America.
This feature documentary is a sequel to the 1966 documentary The Things I Cannot Change, which, by focusing on the Bailey family of Montreal, provided an anatomy of poverty in North America. Courage to Change explores what has happened to the Baileys in the intervening 18 years.
In this feature length documentary, filmmaker Arthur Lipsett's close friend Martin Lavut documents the influence of the eccentric Oscar-nominated film genius. The world of cinema tragically lost Lipsett in 1986 when the Montreal-born artist committed suicide 2 weeks before his 50th birthday. This feature documentary celebrates the life and legacy of one of Canada's greatest creative minds, who began his filmmaking career at the NFB.
These provocative 20-minute movies made by high school students provide an insider's look at youth culture. Made by four 17-year-old directors with help from a professional crew, Salt is a four-part filmzine: four films, four flavours, four windows into youth culture that explore alternative education, Montreal's flourishing independent music scene, the troubling practice of self-mutilation and a quest for the punk subculture.
This feature documentary profiles Jean-Guy Moreau, a Québécois comedian, impersonator and political satirist who rises far above the level of being merely funny. In this film he prepares to perform in English before a Toronto audience. He will impersonate Premier René Lévesque conducting a press conference. Moreau becomes so caught up with his subject that at times his personality merges with that of Lévesque, as he fends off the questions of a very engaged audience.
This documentary is a portrait of Point St. Charles, one of Montreal’s notoriously bleak neighbourhoods. Many of the residents are English-speaking and of Irish origin; many of them are also on welfare. Considered to be one of the toughest districts in all of Canada, Point St. Charles is poor in terms of community facilities, but still full of rich contrasts and high spirits – that is, most of the time.
The growing resolve of a group of Montréal women, members of STOP (Society To Overcome Pollution), to do something about air pollution by factories in their city led to a campaign to focus public attention on the problem. Despite rebuffs of every kind, they persisted until they were able to bring newspapers, radio and television to bear on their fight. What they accomplished, and how they went about it, will interest urban audiences.