Because I’m a history student, and it’s through the historical lens that I most meaningfully interact with the NFB, my next few posts here are going to be about the history of the institution as well as how the institution has affected Canadian history. But first, I want to re-post this personal appeal to other fans of the Board which I originally wrote for my personal blog.
The National Film Board of Canada is an independent and publicly funded film corporation that has been in existence in Canada since the Second World War, when John Grierson came over from Scotland to set it up. At that time the NFB was known as the Wartime Information Board, and really its only job was to create and disseminate propaganda.
Following World War II, however, the NFB continued to thrive as a bastion of Canadian culture. They made films to recruit immigrants to Canada (I did my Honours thesis on those films), they funded independent filmmakers making works in their own regions, and they disseminated them across the land for free. The NFB was the home of Norman MacLaren, one of the pioneers of the animation art form. They’ve been able to support filmmakers with (or without) a message, making sure that not everyone need turn to studios or investors or advertisers in order to get their art out there. Remember, Canada is a HUGE place with not a huge population. So to sustain and maintain an institution like the NFB is an incredible feat and they’ve left an incredible legacy.
Until now. The NFB announced that they will be closing their two main public cinemas in Toronto and Montreal due to budget cuts doled out by the Conservative government. In doing so, they’re cutting off the last person-to-person connection the public has with the entire catalogue that the Board has to offer. It’s true, in the past few years the NFB has done INCREDIBLE work putting their archives on line, and their interface is extraordinary. The wealth of information that is available on their website is monumental. However, it is only a fraction of their archives.
For a history student like myself, who is about to embark upon a Master’s degree which will rely heavily on NFB materials, these cuts are devastating. For the Honours thesis that I wrote, 70% of the material I sourced came from the Cinerobotheque on St. Denis. I was watching some pretty obscure stuff that wouldn’t necessarily be entertainment or be artistically uplifting to the public at large. However, being granted free access to that archival material meant that I got to delve into, and paint a picture of, 1950s Canada that hadn’t been delved into or painted before. By shutting down these edifices the sort of work that I want to do, or any other project imaginable for any other person imaginable, is being cut off and dried up.
Not to mention the near 100 jobs that are being made redundant by these closures.
So here’s where I’m coming to you. If you grew up watching The Log Driver’s Waltz, The Sweater, or The Big Snit (even if you didn’t, go watch them now, they’re wonderful); if you’ve been blown away by any of the recent internationally acclaimed films that the NFB have facilitated; or if you believe in the public institutions of Canada, please take a look at this letter. If you are moved to stand up to your government and voice your displeasure, dissatisfaction, and disgust at the turn this government is taking towards the arts, maybe you’ll consider penning one of your own. I already did so today, and will continue to do so until I hear more about how I can help save this hallowed – at least for me – institution.