“The National Film Board’s mission is to reflect Canada, and matters of interest to Canadians, to Canada and the rest of the world through creating and distributing innovative and distinctive audiovisual works based on Canadian points of view and values.”
From its humble beginnings with John Grierson, the NFB has evolved to create a space of non-heterogenous inclusivity. It’s contemporary mandate, expressed above, demonstrates the fluid notion of what is now deemed to be Canadian. We no longer have a static and unified vision of Canada but rather embrace the differences and resistances to this label expressed now through personal, subjective visions.
While this is all wonderful in relation to problematic post-modern identity issues, the basic terms of this mandate are troubling in relation to one of the NFB’s large components, the Aboriginal Voice project. Headed by Metis filmmaker Gil Cardinal, the project maps the trajectory of aboriginal film making in the NFB from its beginning as the Indian Film Crew to its current incarnation, Studio One.
These voices, the aboriginal perspectives of the NFB, often serve to trouble the concept of the Canadian nation by posing alternative frames of belonging. Though united as a people, the aboriginal view of the term nation implies differences in lineage, heritage and geographical placement — not a singular articulation of a whole. I wonder how this concept of nationhood troubles the project of the NFB. Are these two nations mutually exclusive? Why is the Western concept of nationhood so privileged in cultural imagination? Why does this concept pass through Canada ineffectively, while many claim aboriginal nationhood as core to their identity?
I do think there are commonalities between the two. The concepts of wholeness or purity seem to be transcultural, recurrent frameworks by which we may evaluate our ability to belong. Both in the “Canadian” and aboriginal mind, there is this constant need to define the ways in which we may not take part in relation to the parts we lack.
Traditionally, these concepts of belonging tie into questions of authenticity which we can see most blatantly politicized in issues of land-claims. After watching Tracey Deere’s film Club Native however, I wonder what crises these evaluative methods of belonging cause within individual aboriginal nations — how is the nation troubled internally? The more I delve into the pockets that compose Canadian identity as whole, I find an increasing amount subcategories of being that multiply the spaces of address that entities like the NFB must consider.
All of these questions reminds us of the difficulties posed in defining the concept of a contemporary Canadian nation. They remind us the ways that Canada now thrives in spaces of difference and resistance that it used to shun. To me, NFB films have always presented optimistic renderings of a multicultural and pluralistic utopia. Maybe it’s not the right way to frame these issues, but at least it’s a start.