The quality of NFB films contributed to Canada’s artistic prestige around the world. At the Cannes International Film Festival, for example, the Board presented one of the most remarkable productions of the year, Universe. This 30-minute animated film directed by Roman Kroitor and Colin Low went into competition with the most prestigious international films and won a prize for the high quality of its explanations and illustrations of an important scientific theme. Beginning at the David Dunlap Observatory in Toronto, it was a thrilling initiation into the grandeur of the cosmos, a dizzying journey across the skies. It seamlessly melded various cinematic techniques – animation, photography, sketches, optical illusions – and gave the most up-to-date information (for the time) about star charts. Some of its sequences were so realistic they were used to train American astronauts. They also served as inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Universe won 22 awards in all and was among the bestselling films in the history of the NFB. It played for long runs in Canadian theatres, 13 weeks in English and four weeks in French in Montreal; four weeks in London, Ontario; and three months in Vancouver.
Once the NFB started participating in international festivals, it won many coveted prizes. Its documentaries had an exceptional year, winning a total of 76 awards in Canada and abroad, including the Grand Prix Eurovision for the film The Back-breaking Leaf by Terence Macartney-Filgate, and the prize for the best experimental film at the Venice International Film Festival for the animated film Lines Vertical by Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart.
The series The Earth and Mankind, which was among the most significant productions of the year, focused on the problems brought on by over-population in a world of limited resources. It was a particularly pressing concern since 2/3 of the world’s people were suffering from malnutrition. It was estimated that over the previous 60 years, the world’s population had doubled, that it would redouble in the following 40 years, and redouble again in the succeeding quarter century. People were wondering if there would be enough food, and whether, in the future, the world would be threatened by a state of permanent hunger. They were also wondering about what kinds of responsibility privileged countries such as Canada had in the face of hunger elsewhere in the world.
Another notable work is Les grandes religions, an hour-long film made under the auspices of a broad UNESCO project to encourage greater understanding between East and West. It was felt that the study of religions was vital to understand the underpinnings of a culture. The film looked at the five most popular religions: Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. The French writer Claude Tresmontant, who specialized in world religions, was hired to talk about the significance of the different belief systems as well as their common links. In English, the film was called Four Religions and was made with the cooperation of the noted English historian Arnold Toynbee.
There was a new trend in community distribution. More and more, associations were requesting specific films on subjects of interest to their members rather than films of more general interest. These requests came mainly from towns and villages that were far removed from distribution outlets. The NFB responded by increasing the number of film libraries as well as vastly increasing its film holdings.
The growth of the Vancouver Documentary Showcase illustrates the success of this new type of distribution. About three years previously, the NFB had helped found this organization as a small discussion group. The following year the group expanded, set up a branch and invited speakers to talk about the films screened. NFB employees provided technical support and background information on the films and by 1960 the Vancouver Documentary Showcase had blossomed into an organization with six branches and 1,500 subscribers. It was financed by the public library, the school board, industry and various local public organizations. In Sydney, Nova Scotia and Fredericton, New Brunswick it was film councils that sponsored this kind of film club. French-Canadian film clubs were very active and held film study courses in Rimouski, Amos, Trois-Rivières and several other communities. In nearly every case, NFB filmmakers or other representatives were invited as guest speakers.
There was a growing interest in “art theatres,” which specialized in films of a highly technical and artistic nature. There were about a half-dozen of these, chiefly in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto. They provided an interesting new outlet for many NFB films. The Montreal art theatre, Centre d’Art de l’Elysée, among others, regularly booked and promoted NFB films. In 1960, this theatre alone showed some 25 NFB films. From the time of its opening in November 1959, Toronto’s Little Cinema, with its two small theatres under the same roof, used only NFB shorts along with its feature films.
The government gave its approval to the NFB’s project to open an office in Buenos Aires. At the time, the best option for distributing its films were in South America, so the NFB was eager to have a representative in this part of the world. This office closed only in 1974.
It was a real test of engineering accuracy to fashion new automatic equipment to produce animated films and filmstrips 50 per cent faster and at lower cost. The need for the new equipment—a highly complicated animation camera stand – arose largely because of increased demand for filmstrips and animated films. Filmstrips could be turned out more efficiently by the versatile camera stand, and double-size filmstrips, popular in a number of European countries, would for the first time be supplied by the NFB. A considerable market, not previously tapped, was expected to open up for these camera stands.
During the year the technical division worked on several problems connected with the development of more flexible camera and sound recording equipment for location use. A considerable volume of the Film Board’s work was done in the field and so particular attention had to be given to rugged equipment that could be transported over all kinds of terrain and required an absolute minimum staff for operation. In 1954, the Technical Operations branch had addressed the problem of providing lighter-weight sound recording equipment. At that time conventional 35 mm sound recorders weighed more than 350 pounds. The following year, a new recorder, using ¼ inch tape, was produced weighing a total of 35 pounds. In 1960-61 further advances were made in adapting transistorized European recorders to NFB needs, and as a result it became possible to provide synchronous sound recordings using equipment weighing approximately 14 pounds.
In 1954, the Quebec government had banned the use of NFB films in the schools, believing that there were hidden communist elements at the Film Board, and protesting at the federal government’s presence in Montreal after the NFB decided to move its offices there. In 1961, Quebec’s Minister of Education lifted the ban.
Fernand Dansereau, executive producer of French productions, fired four filmmakers for insubordination. Jacques Bobet, responsible for Studio G, which made French versions of films, spoke out against this decision, saying that though they might be difficult to manage, these filmmakers were among the most creative at the Board. Grant McLean, director of Production, then decided to assign Claude Fournier, Michel Brault, Gilles Carle and Gilles Groulx to Studio G under Bobet’s direction. La lutte, a collective creation of the four, was the first film to emerge from this unusual association. It cemented the cohesion of the French filmmakers unit based on a shared aesthetic.
In preparation for the Centennial celebrations of Confederation in 1967, French- and English-speaking directors started work on the series Canadian History (Les artisans de notre histoire), covering the years from 1830 to 1867, a period that could be described as the prelude to Confederation. Rather than presenting complete biographies of some of the important political figures of the first half of the 19th century, the series focused on a key event in their lives as a way of talking about the more general problems of the time. The events chosen for filming were, in fact, a group of interrelated happenings of the period, and the men depicted were those who played the most important roles in achieving responsible government. Professors Maurice Careless and Guy Frégeault, respective heads of the history departments at the University of Toronto and the University of Ottawa, verified the authenticity of all the historical details in the films. Well-known writers created the dramatic scripts, close attention was paid to recreating the costumes and décor of the period, and prominent Canadian actors played the leading roles.
The first six films in the series were Joseph Howe: The Tribune of Nova Scotia, William Lyon Mackenzie: A Friend to His Country, Louis-Joseph Papineau: The Demi-God, Robert Baldwin: A Matter of Principle, Lord Durham and Lord Elgin: Voice of the People. The Film Board made series when it wanted to take an in-depth look at a particular subject. But very often a single film was enough to illustrate an idea. An immediate, vibrant, necessarily incomplete but nevertheless deeply true image of the country emerges through films about subjects like potato fields in P.E.I. in My Island Home; a newly formed brass band in West Vancouver in Boy Meets Band, a master saddle-maker in the small Albertan town of High River in The Saddlemaker and an immense ranch with 10,000 head of cattle in Douglas Lake in Cattle Ranch.
Because of its respect for its audiences, the NFB didn’t shy away from presenting challenging technical information in films about pressing issues. River with a Problem, about pollution in the Ottawa River, and The First Mile Up, about the dangers of atmospheric contamination through smoke, gas, and industrial discharges, pointed to possible solutions as well as to efforts Canadians had already made to deal with the problems. These films were shown on the French and English networks of CBC as part of the series Explorations and Temps présent. In a similar vein, The Living Machine, which premiered on television, described the most spectacular advances in cybernetics, including a calculator of almost incredible precision.
Films about sports had pride of place in the 1960s. Various aspects of physical activity (speed, effort, energy) gave young filmmakers the creative élan to make first films that breathed with life. With the gathering of crowds in arena and stadiums, sports also offered filmmakers the chance to observe certain social phenomenon. Films such as La lutte (Wrestling) and Golden Gloves (Golden Gloves), where editing played a large role in shaping the film, became classics. Almost all the members of the French-speaking unit contributed in one way or another to both these films. In the following years films such as L’homme vite (1963) about a Formula One Race, Un jeu si simple (1964) about hockey, 60 Cycles (1965) about the bicycle tour of the St. Lawrence River Valley and Volleyball (1966) all attracted attention for their technical brilliance.
The Technical Services division was busy developing special effects techniques since there was a pressing need for them for series such as Canadian History. Four years before, the division had simply improvised to respond to immediate needs. But over the previous three years the situation had improved as new tools and techniques were developed.
There was now a larger repertoire of photographic special effects, which was a boon for small budget films. For example, in Joseph Howe: The Tribune of Nova Scotia, there was a scene showing a crowd brandishing torches in a Halifax street at night. This sequence was filmed in two stages. To start with, a group of extras walking around an empty lot were filmed from the roof of the NFB offices. Then, using old photographs, draughtsmen sketched the kind of houses there would have been on the street directly onto glass. The merging of the two images using photographic techniques gave exactly the desired sequence. In a completely different genre, Everybody's Prejudiced had a cross-section of six apartments with profile images of their respective tenants. The action started in an apartment on a higher floor and continued in an apartment on a lower one. Without special effects, it would have been necessary to construct the actual building façade in the studio at prohibitive cost.
During the CBC producers’ strike at la Société Radio-Canada in Montreal in 1958-9, some of the NFB’s employees felt concerned and wanted to create a professional association. But because they were government employees there was some doubt about whether this was actually legal. The Board of Directors and Commissioner Guy Roberge checked with the government, who confirmed that there would be no opposition to this move.
In the fall, Marc Beaudet, Georges Dufaux, Jacques Giraldeau, Jacques Godbout, Victor Jobin, Marcel Martin and Clément Perron created a professional association. There were 61 people at the first general assembly. The Association professionnelle des cinéastes was officially founded under the presidency of Claude Jutra on February 5, 1963, with approximately a hundred members who came from both the private and the public film industry. The English-language filmmakers simultaneously created the Society of Film Makers under the chairmanship of the NFB director Roman Kroitor. The aim was to bring together filmmakers from across the country to demand high quality Canadian film production.
The NFB began setting up co-production agreements between the Canadian film industry and its English and French counterparts. Co-production agreements for feature-length films were already common practice in Europe since the industry was able to benefit by sharing financial, technical and artistic resources. These were still the early days in the production of feature films in Canada, but it was easy to see that partnerships between Canadian and European filmmakers would be fruitful. The discussions between Canadian film industry representatives and the NFB on the one hand, and between European producers and government bodies on the other, made co-production agreements a likely possibility.
For the first time in its history the NFB produced two feature-length films, one in English and one in French. Drylanders, which was set in southern Saskatchewan, was a dramatic reconstruction of pioneer life in the days when the Prairies were first settled. Nature, with its power for good or bad, rainstorms, drought and plenty, appears almost as a full-fledged character in this tale of epic proportions. Pour la suite du monde (Of Whales, the Moon and Men), filmed on Île-aux-Coudres, in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, is a colourful and humorous portrait of island life rich in customs and exotic turns of phrase. It was made without professional actors, and people were filmed going about their everyday business. It was the first feature-length Canadian film to screen at the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival. These two works, which transcend particular genres and styles, now set the tone for many films of the period.
Artistically, Quebec was on an upswing, and cinema was no exception, with various innovative experiments in filmmaking. For the film À Saint-Henri le cinq septembre (September Five at Saint-Henri), for example, a production crew of 28 filmmakers spent 24 hours, from the morning of Tuesday, September 5, to the same time the following day, gathering a wealth of sound and visual material in this working-class neighbourhood in Montreal. The neighbourhood as a whole, in all its daytime activity as well as in the calm and secretiveness of its night, was recreated for cinema audiences, who were able briefly to experience life there.
Lonely Boy, about the Canadian singer Paul Anka who attracted crowds of screaming teenage girls throughout North America and Europe, was another fine example of the use of cinéma vérité. The film, with lots of footage recorded on the fly, queries who the star really is, and captures the atmosphere of group adulation, a troubling and strange phenomenon. The film won a number of prizes including, in 1963, the Genie Award for best film of the year, given by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television as well as a special mention at the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival.
In 1960 the first six films in the triptych Canadian History were released, describing the achievement of responsible government in the first half of the 19th century. The five other films in this series took viewers up to the threshold of Confederation, and were dedicated to John A. Macdonald: The Impossible Idea, Georges-Étienne Cartier: The Lion of Québec, Charles Tupper: The Big Man, Alexander Galt: The Stubborn Idealist and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine. All, apart from Lafontaine, were Fathers of Confederation. They shared a vision of a united Canada, dealing with the political strife of the times as well as with intense opposition to their ideas.
Once again, Technical Services had to create some complex special effects for these films. For example, the famous painting that immortalized the Fathers of Confederation was recreated in a studio using actors. To successfully reconstruct a living version of this painting, they had to arrange and superimpose four different layers of images. First, the actors playing the Fathers of Confederation were filmed sitting around a table in the same positions as in the painting; for the second layer, a port seen through windows was painted on glass; the third stage was to film a river and finally clouds. When these four layers were merged, the scene was recreated successfully.
Technical Services also contributed to the film on Sir John A. Macdonald, showing spectators in the galleries of the House of Commons. Extras were filmed in studio at floor level, and special effects ‘raised’ them up into the public galleries overlooking the MPs.
The biggest project of the year was the 13-part series Canada at War about all aspects of Canada’s participation in the Second World War. This was the first time in the history of cinema that a project of this scale had been undertaken. The goal was to portray the war in all its tragedy, underlining those moments when Canadian soldiers distinguished themselves in battle, and at the same time show the major changes that had taken place on the home front during the same period. It took Colonel C. P. Steacy, O.B.E., and a group of military historians three years of work to do the research for these six-and-a-half hours of film.
The first stage was to examine and catalogue 16 million feet of inflammable film, 10 million of which had been gathered during the conflict by military cameramen, often risking their own lives (seven of them were killed and a further 11 wounded). Once a first selection was made, they filled in the gaps by going through film gathered by the British, Russians and the Americans as well as two million feet of film seized from the enemy. Then they had to create a complete chronology for the decade, balancing the importance of the various events and situating them within the period, and then the enormous mass of material had to be reduced to just 14,000 feet of film. A composer wrote 90 minutes of original music for the series—the equivalent of two symphonies—and finally an appropriate soundtrack was created in the lab.
There were some spectacular events that reached a wide public, but what was more important was that they led to an increased demand for NFB films in theatres, on television, and on the part of various organizations. A case in point was the NFB’s participation in the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto from August 17 to September 3, 1962. The building called the Art Gallery was reserved entirely for the NFB. Using the general theme of Images of Canada, the Film Board organized an exhibition to illustrate the various stages in the history of visual expression in the country.
As well as sketches, information panels and camera equipment tracing the evolution of visual communications from the time of Indian cave paintings to film, there was also a semi-circular multi-screen projection showing 13 films simultaneously. This gave the public the impression of experiencing the whole country in a single glance. It was one of the major attractions of the pavilion and statistics show that 168,000 people visited in the space of two weeks. It was so successful that important sections were later lent out to other, smaller exhibitions.
Events also allowed the NFB to show its work to a large number of people in a short period. There were several hundred projections of NFB films under the title Canadiana in Eaton’s department stores in Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal, reaching audiences in the thousands. At the Salon du livre français, which had been held for five years in Montreal, over the course of nine days the NFB projected nine films several hundred times. At the Canadian Camera Fair in Toronto, visitors watched a number of Canadian films, most notably Trans-Canada Journey, Morning on the Lièvre, Snow and City of Gold. At Toronto’s Winter Fair, several thousand people saw NFB films.
With the cooperation of the CBC, the Film Board tried an experiment: It made an English version of Les brûlés, a series that had already screened in French on Radio-Canada television. It was about the settlement of Abitibi during the ‘return to the land’ at the time of the 1930s economic crisis. The French series had been eight half-hour episodes; the English version was four episodes showing the most significant events.
A dubbed version of Les brûlés, using the same actors who had played the roles in French, aired as The Promised Land on the CBC and most of its affiliated stations through September and October 1962. English versions of six films about different aspects of French Canada had also screened in August and early September. These were The Gold Seekers, Country Fairs, Visit to a Foreign Country, Strangers for the Day, Day After Day and September Five at Saint-Henri.
The technical research division completed work on a device to electronically synchronize sound recording with the 16 mm cameras. Variations in speed between the cameras and the sound recording equipment were recorded on a magnetic band without affecting the start signal. When the sound was transferred onto another reel, the control mechanism was able to correct the differences in starting times.
The NFB went through with its plans to build equipment that could make multiple copies of colour film in its offices in Toronto. This equipment, which was installed in the laboratory, resulted in savings since it was now possible to do in-house work that had previously been sent to New York.
The NFB often needed to film paintings or other art that were impossible to bring into studio for conservation or security reasons. This meant that it had to take film equipment into the museums or galleries, and so the filmmaker had less latitude of movement than when working in a studio with animation equipment. To restore a certain freedom of movement, Technical Services created a portable panning table that allowed them to achieve the same effect as in studio. The camera was able to move so that, with takes from different angles, it could bring to life objects that were otherwise static.
The year 1963 can be considered a milestone in the Canadian feature film industry. The NFB, with the support of Commissioner Guy Roberge, helped create the right climate. Discussions between government representatives from France and Canada in the early part of the year resulted in a co-production agreement to allow them to pool resources. On October 11, Canada’s Minister for External Affairs, Paul Martin, and the French Minister of Cultural Affairs, André Malraux, officially signed this agreement which defined the proportion of financial, technical and artistic contribution each of the producers would bring to the table, as well as how revenue would be shared. In both countries, the films produced under the provisions of this agreement would benefit from the advantages accorded to so-called national films. This meant that producers could apply for the financial assistance the French government planned to provide, as well as for any potential Canadian government support.
The co-production agreement doubly benefited Canadian producers: It allowed Canadian filmmakers to work with French filmmakers, who were more accustomed to making feature films, and it made it easier for them to finance their films, for the French producers not only paid for their portion of production costs, they were also responsible for distributing the film in France and Europe. In Canada, the NFB was in charge of applying the provisions of the agreement and in France the Centre national de la cinématographie française played the same role.
The NFB, which had previously reported to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, now came under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State.
In Canada, as elsewhere, the organization and planning of large cities was a major problem. Lewis Mumford on the City is a visual representation of the ideas of the urban planning theorist Lewis Mumford, in which we see some of the problems related to the expansion of cities as well as possible solutions. In these six half-hour films, the NFB started by looking at the primary impulses that led to the growth of cities, such as the desire for closeness and for self-expression. The series then looked at how, from the time of primitive hamlets to the modern metropolis, political, social and economic changes have influenced city structure. The NFB used sequences filmed in Canada or obtained from the U.S. and from ten different countries in Europe. Mumford himself provided a large part of the commentary.
The richness of Canadian culture derives from both English- and French-speaking citizens, which is why the NFB wanted to present The French-Speaking World. This was opportune, because the previous few years had seen great changes, for example a growing number of independent African countries taking their place in international organizations, reaffirming the status of French as a global language. In this six-part series the filmmakers examined the diversity of the French-speaking world by delving into such important questions as decolonization, technology and the relationships between societies. The final film in the series, Montréal - Manicouagan, is about the building of a giant dam, symbolizing the success of French Canada.
Every mental image one has of filmmaking includes a clapper. But the clapper is heavy and loud, and for some time people had been searching for ways to replace it with something that was easier to handle – like a miniature clapper, for example. Already all the information needed to identify the various takes of a scene were recorded on a special film reel, or on the master reel. Both systems were in use in 1963, and depended on batteries, a push button and a ray of light on a portable multicamera electronic clapper, which was baptized the Time Index System.
As well as participating in film production and equipment maintenance, Technical Services was also engaged in research that often led to improvements in equipment. In 1963, a new kind of television monitor was developed that made it much easier to choose the archival footage used in films. Its special feature was that it allowed both positive and negative film to be screened, previously impossible.
The NFB was now 25 years old, and its basic role remained what Parliament had wished. At a meeting held on October 30, 1964, its members reaffirmed that the Film Board, as a “part of the public service, is an agency at the service of Canada and its people in the fields of information and culture” and that “these characteristics should inspire the Board's own production and distribution activities.”
To involve the Canadian public in its silver jubilee, the NFB organized a gala of screenings in 60 towns, from September to December. This celebration, with support from the press, radio and TV, enjoyed huge success. Audiences saw some of the most recent titles, for example Anniversary, The Great Toy Robbery, Fields of Sacrifice and Mémoire en fête (Walls of Memory).
During the 1960s, Quebec felt increasingly uncomfortable in the face of perceived threats to the French language and Quebec culture. The province participated more fully in federal decisions. In 1963 the government created the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, called the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission after its two co-chairmen. In January 1964, NFB commissioner Guy Roberge anticipated the conclusions of the Commission concerning the situation at the Film Board. Currently, francophone filmmakers had to submit their projects in English to unilingual anglophone producers. Roberge restructured production according to linguistic criteria and appointed Pierre Juneau director of French Production and Grant McLean director of English Production.
Pierre Juneau’s first act was to found the French animation unit under the direction of René Jodoin, who since 1954 had headed the English Program’s classroom and scientific films. Once the studio was set up, Jodoin was able to rehabilitate the tradition of “direct animation” begun by Norman McLaren, allowing filmmakers to master individually all the technical and artistic aspects of their films. With just a modest budget at his disposal ($50,000), Jodoin started by devising a program of educational films to train young filmmakers, freelancers and interns. Gradually the team was strengthened by some francophone animators who worked on the fringes of English Production (for example Pierre Moretti and Bernard Longpré), as well as anglophones and animators from outside the NFB interested in the workings of the Studio.
However, the appointment of Pierre Juneau aroused much controversy. He was no supporter of cinéma direct, deeming it iconoclastic, and wanted to consolidate the team via co-productions and international collaborations in the manner of La fleur de l’âge, which was co-produced with France, Italy and Japan. Filmmakers made their alienation felt. In April, five of them, Denys Arcand, Gilles Carle, Jacques Godbout, Gilles Groulx and Clément Perron, published texts critical of the Film Board in the review Parti pris. Guy Roberge reprimanded them and reminded them that their status as civil servants precluded this sort of public outburst.
Over on the English side, the situation was no less tense. In December 1963, young filmmakers had rebelled against the Film Board’s rigid hierarchy. They wrote a collective statement entitled “A Summary of staff opinion on the structure and organization of the English Production branch.” In it, they deplored a lack of team spirit in the production units, criticized the efficiency of the unit system that governed production, denounced the dusty structure inherited from wartime and bemoaned the lack of communication among staff. In February 1964, McLean acquiesced to their demand to end the rigid unit system, and created a pool system taking power from the producers and handing it to the directors. Another aspect of this reform was the establishment of a Programming Committee headed by Ian McNeill.
Unfortunately the pool system did not solve all the problems and there remained a fundamental one: the definition of the roles of producer and director. Once again, the filmmakers sprang into action. Roman Kroitor, Tom Daly, John Spotton, Donald Brittain and Frank Spiller wrote “Notes on the role and responsibility of the producer and director” without, however, precisely defining the roles of each.
In June 1964, the Syndicat Général du Cinéma, which shortly afterwards became le Syndicat Général du Cinéma et de la Télévision (SGCT), was founded. The union included staff from Radio-Canada and most NFB filmmakers, who joined because they had no union of their own.
Film was in constant evolution, reappropriating styles from its own past and inventing new ones. Creators continued to discover and innovate. At the NFB, filmmakers were fully aware of this evolution in their art. They constantly renewed their way of recording reality and their cinematographic style. Fields of Sacrifice, for example, returned to classicism in both its overlapping of past and present and the restrained treatment of a moving theme. The alternating colour and black-and-white creates powerful contrasts. Produced for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Fields of Sacrifice is a tribute to the 100,000 Canadians who died during the two world wars. The images alternate violent battles and peaceful, bucolic scenes, fields, mountains and cemeteries bristling with crosses—monuments to the memory of those who fought hard for peace.
The directorial idea behind the short film Cité savante (An Essay on Science) goes far beyond merely showing the work of Canada's National Research Council in Ottawa; the images and commentary try to uncover the full meaning of contemporary science.
Renewal in film can take place on different levels. Sometimes the images are handled conventionally while the filmmaker innovates in some other aspect. Nobody Waved Good-bye, intended for a youth audience, the actors improvised their lines and even some of the action based on a clearly delineated story. This created spontaneity close to the best of cinéma vérité, although the actors’ unpredictability made the cameraman’s job rather difficult. However, he was able to solve the problem using lightweight equipment, in particular a small camera developed by Technical Services.
This story of a teenager rebelling against the conventional pattern of suburban life won the CIDALC Award from the International Film Week in Mannheim, Germany and in 1965 won the Robert J. Flaherty Award at the British Film Academy Awards in London. Another innovative film for young people was Le chat dans le sac (The Cat in the Bag), in which a 20-year-old man looks to his future in the context of contemporary French-Canadian society. This feature film won first prize at the Festival of Canadian Films in Montreal in August.
In documentary, four films are worth mentioning on the subject of women at work: Caroline (Caroline), Il y eut un soir... il y eut un matin (Françoise), Fabienne sans son Jules (Fabienne) and Solange dans nos campagnes. Instead of bombarding the viewer with facts and statistics on the professions and occupations pursued by women, the filmmakers recreate situations in all their subtlety. They juxtapose images from everyday life without imposing a conclusion, leaving the viewer to imagine what might happen next.
This year saw a coup for women at the NFB. For the first time, a female director made a film in French Production. In La beauté même, Monique Fortier observes the elements and criteria that determine what is beautiful in a woman. This film was followed in 1967 (just before the dawn of the feminist movement) by Anne Claire Poirier’s De mère en fille (Mother-To-Be), the first feature to actually listen to women talking about society and the issues and emotions involved in being a mother.
Further progress was made with the government’s plan to support the Canadian film industry. In 1963, the NFB had announced the establishment of an interdepartmental committee to study the nurturing of feature films in Canada. The broad outlines of a plan were made public on October 13, 1965. The Secretary of State made it clear that the government was convinced that developing a Canadian film industry would be doubly beneficial: It would foster awareness of Canada as a nation both at home and abroad, and it would give Canadian filmmakers, authors, composers, actors and technicians of all sectors of filmmaking a greater role in the cultural growth of the country. Consequently, the Government intended to establish a Crown corporation with an initial capital of $10 million to help the Canadian private film industry produce quality feature films of commercial value. By the end of the year, the necessary legislation was being prepared.
Partly in response to the report the government commissioned from independent producer Gordon Sheppard on its cultural policy and activities, the NFB took its first steps towards regionalization of English production. The appointment of producers in Vancouver and Toronto and later in the Prairie provinces and the Maritimes was designed to recruit young filmmakers and encourage local production. More sponsored films would be made locally, and the report also recommended having more films made by private producers.
In September, the NFB was honoured at the Commonwealth Film Festival in Cardiff, Wales, where it received a plaque from the city inscribed “Presented by the Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor of Cardiff to the National Film Board of Canada for its leadership and development of Commonwealth films.”
The outstanding historical film of the year was a black-and-white feature documentary entitled Le festin des morts (Mission of Fear). This bridges the gap between the documentary and the creative imagination, which can add a new dimension to historical fact. The film is a milestone in fiction features and in Canadian cinema. Until now, drama films at the NFB were characterized by minutely accurate representation of the events of the past. Le festin des morts features an invented character who embodies all the spiritual, sociological and cultural implications of missionary work. The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television awarded the film a Genie for best feature documentary and highlighted its cinematographic quality by awarding a prize to the director of photography, Georges Dufaux.
The NFB had been working for months on a large-scale project entitled Neighbour to America. This was a series of thirteen half-hour films on Canada-U.S. relations. It provided the historical background to contemporary problems within the relationship. The series examined the friendship between the countries, mutual influences, friction, and common or diverging interests borne of history or current affairs. The series was to premiere on Canadian and U.S. television to ensure it reached as wide an audience as possible.
The NFB strengthened its links with schools. To encourage more teachers to use film in the classroom, it set up the Aid to Education Program in association with the Audio-Visual Program Committee of the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada. To its array of multimedia items for schools, it added transparent slides (a basic transparency to which the teacher could add others) for overhead projectors.
Educational films, still an important sector, were now available in 8 mm film loops, often lasting three minutes. Soon, they would form series.
The NFB closed the film depots it had established in several Canadian cities and began its own distribution in 21 towns. Thus began the gradual decline of the Film Councils.
Technical Services fine-tuned a multi-camera, multi-screen system that could project five images simultaneously. It was a kind of precursor to IMAXTM and would be used at Expo ’67 for the Labyrinth pavilion created by the NFB at a cost of $4,500,000.
In sound recording, the NFB introduced a cue-triggered overhead projector and film transport, forerunner of the Rythmoband used in dubbing. The text to be spoken was written in ink on blank 16 mm film. Postsynchronization is the procedure of making the words on the soundtrack match the movement of the actors’ lips when the sound was not recorded live. The new system displayed the words below the film image during postsync for the actor to read, ensuring greater accuracy.
Between 1964 and 1966 the process of improving the status and freedoms of creative staff in French Production stagnated, because filmmakers there did not have the same pool system democracy enjoyed by English Production. In spring 1966, Jacques Bobet excoriated the attitude of management in this regard in an incendiary editorial published in the arts review Liberté. He interpreted the intransigence as a counter blow to the French filmmakers’ criticisms in Parti Pris in 1964. This public statement was followed by a fresh bout of upheaval at the NFB, occasioned by the March departure of Pierre Juneau, director of French Production. Marcel Martin replaced him and the commissioner gave him the mandate of organizational reform.
Commissioner Guy Roberge left the NFB after nine years, and Grant McLean, director of English Production, became interim commissioner in March.
For the first time, the NFB had to defend its annual budget before the Parliamentary Committee on Broadcasting, Film and Assistance to the Arts.
The NFB and the CBC begin joint production on two features, their subjects chosen from among 75 novels and plays. The first, The Ernie Game, is about a disturbed but vital young man; the second, Waiting for Caroline, relates a comparable tale of a young woman, but in a totally different style and milieu. In 1968, The Ernie Game won the prize for best feature film at the Canadian Film Awards.
The Film Board was also working on two other features. In Yul 871 (YUL 871), a young French businessman gets off the plane on Friday at Dorval airport, misses an appointment and spends the weekend discovering Montreal. The second, Le grand Rock (Big Rock), employed the cinéma direct techniques the Film Board had been widely using for several years in documentary as well as traditional production methods. The film uses a dramatic style, with actors playing the main parts, but the setting is the real one.
The feature had undeniable value as an expression of a nation’s personality, but it also made a valuable contribution to the nascent Canadian feature industry: The production teams – writers, directors and technicians – and distribution of each of these films were entirely Canadian. The Film Board distributed them world-wide and thus was able to test the market for Canadian features.
In preparation for the Centennial celebrations coming up in 1967, the NFB produced Helicopter Canada, which screened widely. Filmed almost entirely from a helicopter, it offered an original vision of the immensity of Canada. The public and the press both at home and abroad took to the film enthusiastically, and it was even nominated for an Oscar®.
The year’s theatrical shorts include Once upon a Prime Time, an entertaining satire on TV addiction; La flottille blanche (The White Ship), which captures the colour and adventure of the last sailing ships fishing on the Grand Banks; the animation What on Earth!, in which Martians decide Earth is inhabited by cars; 3 hommes au mille carré (Ghosts of a River), showing the Columbia River Valley in British Columbia, soon to be flooded for hydro power; and Précision (Precision), a photo-ballet of the famous RCMP Musical Ride.
The record industry was strong and music was becoming more and more a part of people’s everyday lives. The NFB trained its cameras on the genius composer in Stravinsky, which captured the man vigorously conducting one of his principal works during a recording session.
Marcel Carrière, Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor designed a camera and sound recording system “to get closer to people and things,” as they explained. Another example of Canadians and music is Bonsoir, Monsieur Champagne, a portrait of an eminent teacher and composer renowned in North America and Europe.
The animation filmmaker Pierre Hébert completely broke with the visual style of his time and made Op Hop - Hop Op and Opus 3, reviving and re-inventing the Norman McLaren tradition both technically and formally. Among the other francophone filmmakers discovering animation at the time, this enfant terrible of the art refreshed it by moving the limits of perception and upsetting the related concepts and rules.
This year was the Centennial of Confederation, and the NFB marked it with special activities. It inaugurated its program with a telecast of the children’s film Paddle to the Sea, in which a little hand-carved canoe embarks on a mammoth voyage from the Great Lakes to the sea. In the same vein, in December 1966 the Film Board had donated 81 sets of 17 films in the series Artisans de notre histoire to the country’s main educational film libraries in time for viewing in January. The two film series – Canada’s Story and Canadiana, which totalled nearly 50 hours the NFB prepared for CBC television – were also in the centennial spirit. All recent, the films show famous historical figures and momentous times in Canada.
In September, audiences of the English-language network saw Lord Elgin: Voice of the People, Selkirk of Red River, John A. Macdonald: The Impossible Idea, The Sceptre and the Mace, Fields of Sacrifice and The Days of Whiskey Gap.
In the summer, the French-language network screened Mémoire en fête/Walls of Memory (on the seminary of Quebec City), Les Montréalistes/Ville-Marie (the founding missionaries of Montreal), Marius Barbeau et le folklore canadien-francais, Louis-Joseph Papineau – Le demi-dieu/Louis-Joseph Papineau: The Demi-God, À propos d’une plage (anniversary of the Normandy landings) and Le festin des morts/Mission of Fear (Jesuit martyrs in New France).
Grant McLean had been appointed interim commissioner in 1966. In May 1967, the position went to Hugo McPherson, professor at the University of Western Ontario and convert to the gospel of Marshall McLuhan.
In July, catastrophe struck: fire ravaged the NFB’s Kirkland (Quebec) warehouse and destroyed 60,000 boxes of archival films. After this, the Cabinet made a recommendation that National Archives should begin conserving the films.
In 1964, not having their own association, NFB filmmakers had joined the Syndicat Général du Cinéma et de la Télévision (SGCT). In 1967, law finally allowed federal employees to form a union. Technicians and filmmakers added an NFB section to the SGCT and signed their first collective agreement. On June 30, 1968, the SGCT – NFB section obtained its accreditation.
This was the year of Expo ’67 in Montreal. The NFB created one of the theme pavilions called the Labyrinth at a cost of $4,500,000. Here was presented In the Labyrinth, a multi-screen creation by Roman Kroitor, Colin Low and Hugh O'Connor, which drew over 1.3 million visitors. The film was acclaimed, not just in Canada but all over the world, as one of Expo’s main attractions and the most ambitious film project ever made. This success was due to the imagination and hard work of the filmmakers and technicians who devoted several years to the gargantuan enterprise. All the resources of cinema were used to recreate symbolically the legend of the Minotaur, the monster killed by Theseus in the labyrinth built by Daedalus. The legend stands for humanity trying to understand itself, master the world around it and overcome its fears. In 1968, a special prize was awarded to Gerald Graham and NFB Technical Services for Labyrinth, and the NFB received an award for technical development and innovation at the Canadian Film Awards in Toronto.
Despite this period of economic growth, poverty was increasing in North America. Ottawa set up an anti-poverty program, which included a film wing. The cost of the first film made as part of this, The Things I Cannot Change, was shared by the NFB and the Privy Council. The result was the film program Challenge for Change, its costs borne by seven federal departments. Between 1967 and 1980, it used film to promote social change and allowed the people themselves, not the experts, to express the social issues that concerned them. The idea was to reach out to people where they lived and worked and give them to means to solve their problems themselves using local resources. This decentralization, supported by the strong film distribution network across the country, laid the groundwork for the establishment of regional production centres. The Challenge for Change series comprises 215 films, including Encounter with Saul Alinsky (1967), Introduction to Fogo Island (1968), People and Power (1968), Deciding to Organize (1968) and Opération boule de neige (VTR St-Jacques) (1969).
The francophone equivalent of Challenge for Change, Société nouvelle, was not set up until July 1969, but some filmmakers in French Production were already germinating a similar program. Robert Forget, Maurice Bulbulian, Fernand Dansereau, Michel Régnier and Hortense Roy founded the Groupe de recherches sociales, from which the film Saint-Jérôme sprang a year later. Sharing the same philosophy as Challenge for Change, these artisans set aside their artistic aspirations and preoccupations to take on the social struggle that culminated in Vidéographe in 1971. Other social-issue films made by the Groupe include La p’tite Bourgogne, L’école des autres and Tout le temps, tout le temps, tout le temps...?
Alexis Tremblay, the sage of Île-aux-Coudres filmed in Pour la suite du monde by Pierre Perrault in 1962, died aged 80. He was one of the last who seemed to possess the natural wisdom captured in the second film of the trilogy, Le règne du jour. This feature follows Alexis and his wife, Marie, on their first trip across the Atlantic to visit Normandy, the land of their ancestors, whence their ancestor Pierre Tremblay departed in the 17th century to settle in Canada. Despite the intervening centuries, the Canadian guests and French hosts found much in common. The honesty and truth of Marie and Alexis Tremblay charmed the public at Critic’s Week at Cannes, was greeted enthusiastically at the Montreal International Film Festival, mesmerized viewers of Radio-Canada and l’Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française, and finally captivated cinema audiences. The documentary style of Le règne du jour and Pour la suite du monde has been the subject of numerous studies, and the two films remain invaluable testimonies of a particular French-Canadian population.
Following the Centennial celebration spending spree, Lester B. Pearson’s federal government announced austerity measures. The cuts in departmental spending affected sponsored films, which represented about a quarter of NFB production. On April 20, Pierre Elliott Trudeau became Prime Minister and it was his government that was responsible for applying these measures. In 1969, to increase revenue, the NFB opened the Ottawa Services Branch to encourage production of more sponsored films.
A program committee had been created in English Production in 1964, but there was no equivalent on the French side. To close the gap, francophone filmmakers decided in 1966 to set up a workshop where they would meet to discuss what direction French Production should take. Two years later, the workshop became the program committee under Jacques Bobet, appointed by his peers and reporting directly to the commissioner. The French and English directors sat on their respective program committees.
Challenge for Change continued making out-of-the-ordinary films to spark social evolution. Thanks to landmark experiments such as the one in partnership with Memorial University in Newfoundland, the program’s leaders fine-tuned new ways of using film, for example to sensitize audiences to social problems, seek happy solutions, or help citizens and their elected representatives understand each other better. Eleven films were made in the program, and a related newsletter was published, with a circulation of almost 8,000. The films were aimed at three different kinds of audiences: the people who themselves would be most affected by the social changes under discussion; professionals in the field, such as social workers; and the general public, whose awareness of the problems could be increased by seeing these films on television or through non-theatrical outlets.
The experience spawned new techniques. To use video’s potential as an organizing tool among the poor, the program leaders decided to work with a Citizen’s Committee in Montreal’s St-Jacques district in the autumn. NFB staff used video, and the locals saw how useful it was. The Citizen’s Committee assembled its own video programs to inspire positive action to confront the main problem, poor health care among the population. Similarly, in a project for Lorne School in a low-income area of Montreal, the program helped provide a richer learning environment through the use of audiovisual materials by both teachers and pupils.
Another Challenge for Change success was The Ballad of Crowfoot. Using old photos, film footage from the archives and the music of his own song, filmmaker Willie Dunn (a Micmac from Restigouche) depicts the story of a Blackfoot chief and the Canadian West in the 19th century, creating a bitter, haunting account of the Indians in Canada. It was the first film made as part of a joint project between the Film Board and the Company of Young Canadians (CYC), whereby six young Indians spent five months being trained in various aspects of filmmaking. They first worked on a CYC film and community development project in the Lesser Slave Lake area and then each branched out into research for future films dealing with treaty rights, residential schools and community development.
Another moving story of a collective destiny is told by Les Acadiens de la dispersion, about the Acadians deported in the 18th century and whose descendants are today to be found in all provinces of Canada, Louisiana and even France. The Acadians in the film are aware of their history but have no wish to hark back to it and instead resolutely look to the future. The film was produced for television, but was given special screenings in Moncton, where it was enthusiastically received. Its world premiere was a part of the newly organized “International Acadian Festival” at Baton-Rouge and Lafayette, Louisiana.
Pour la suite du monde (1962) and Le règne du jour (1967) gave the Quebecers who saw them pride in their origins, as did the third film of Pierre Perrault’s Île-aux-Coudres trilogy, Les voitures d’eau, which tells of the schooner pilots whose old traditions are dying. Here, Île-aux-Coudres appears as a microcosm of Quebec and of the era. Under discussion are major questions of the economic and political integration of French Canada and the survival of its own values.
During the year, English Production continued making a wide variety of films, and using the experience gained in earlier feature-length productions, produced a 90-minute, low-cost black-and-white film entitled Don't Let the Angels Fall, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
In animation, NFB filmmakers were busy exchanging ideas with directors and representatives from film industries abroad, resulting in co-production agreements with Sweden and Czechoslovakia. The Czech animator Bretislav Pojar came to the NFB to make his remarkable work To See or Not to See. This won the top award at the Berlin Film Festival in 1969. Two other films, Fine Feathers (Evelyn Lambart) and Métamorphoses/Metamorphoses (Laurent Coderre), made fresh use of the cut-out animation method developed by the Film Board some years before.
The context in which NFB filmmakers worked encouraged experimentation. In Pas de deux, winner of the British Film Academy award for this year, the inspired artist Norman McLaren used an innovative technique to express a poetic insight of beauty and subtlety. McLaren was made officer of the Order of Canada (created in 1967), and also received a “Hugo” at the Chicago Film Festival for his artistic and technical innovations.
The filmmaker Arthur Lipsett, known for his exceptional experimental work, made Fluxes, an unsettling and enigmatic take on modern life. Walking, by the young filmmaker Ryan Larkin, whose first film was Syrinx, employed new animation techniques to depict how people walk. These experimental films were not superficial, precious, marginal or hermetic; they demanded much of the viewer and were highly appreciated by growing audiences of mainly young people. Other films with an experimental aspect such as Around Perception/Autour de la perception, Niagara Falls and The Half-masted Schooner attracted the same sort of people as those depicted in Christopher's Movie Matinee. For this film, director Mort Ransen gave cameras to14 youngsters aged 15 to 19, who filmed their lives while he filmed them. He combined the resulting footage to make this feature documentary.
All divisions of Technical Services and Research were seeking ways of reducing the amount of manual labour that still persisted in some production areas, despite steady advances in audiovisual technology. The most significant breakthrough was in animation photography. This specialized form of shooting involved photographing individual objects or cells one frame at a time. Because of the time and labour needed for these manual operations, animation film costs were high. With the combined efforts of the Technical Research and Engineering divisions, much progress was made on a computer-operated animation camera, reducing manual operations by 65%. It was a major advance, for it was the first system of the sort developed for the industry. Results were excellent, making for substantial economies and increased accuracy.
Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau put into practice the austerity policy of his predecessor, Lester B. Pearson, and announced to the NFB, via his Secretary of State Gérard Pelletier, a budget cut of $600,000. On top of this, the Film Board also suffered the repercussions of attrition in federal departments, greatly reducing sponsorships. The third blow was having to absorb salary increases agreed on in the collective agreements negotiated with the public-service unions (an innovation in government-employee relations). Three unions were represented at the NFB: le Syndicat général du cinéma et de la télévision, the Public Service Alliance and the Professional Institute of the Public Service. In August, many films had to be put on hold to meet the new obligations. However, in late September the Board received a million dollars to cover retroactive salary increases, permitting it to re-start activities that had been frozen for eight weeks. Still, it remained clear that 104 members of staff would have to be laid off.
Filmmakers and other employees set up a Crisis Committee under SGCT union president John Howe. In September they tabled a report containing various suggestions, including stopping free distribution of films, sharing production of sponsored films with private industry, making facilities available to outsiders and changing the pool system in favour of a flexible studio system. In December, John Howe wrote to Pierre Elliott Trudeau about the crisis at the NFB, condemning the fact that 31 people had been laid off and 73 more were due to be on December 15. On the 16th, filmmakers organized a protest march in Ottawa. After studying the dossier, Gérard Pelletier decided that any more layoffs would be excessive.
Another problem administration had to face was ensuring that NFB distribution services suffered as little as possible from budget cuts, at a time when requests to borrow films were flooding in. The only answer seemed to be rental fees, which were introduced in January 1970. However, after national protest from the public, they were cancelled after nine weeks by government request: They were incompatible with a regime of austerity.
The Ottawa Branch was created to encourage production of more sponsored films. The Film Board was also charged with representing and advising the government on issues affecting film activities and production. The main divisions of the branch were Liaison, Still Photo and the Canadian Government Photo Centre, together with the Ottawa office of the Distribution Branch.
The Challenge for Change program, set up experimentally in 1967, was given independence by ministerial order. It now also had a French equivalent, Société nouvelle. This five-year program aimed to promote social change. Half the cost of the films was absorbed by the interdepartmental committee in charge of the program and the other half by the NFB. The number of departments concerned varied but was always at least five. The Groupe de recherches sociales set up in 1967 folded soon after and most of its members joined Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle, the first producers of which were John Kemeny and Léonard Forest.
Under the Challenge for Change rubric, a series of films was undertaken entitled the Fogo Island Communication Experiment, including Fogo's Expatriates. The series allowed Newfoundlanders to find new ways of expressing their needs through involvement in a filmmaking effort. Three years into its existence, Challenge for Change had evolved so much that similar projects extended to Saint John (New Brunswick), Sudbury, Drumheller (Alberta) and Moose Jaw, allowing citizens to make their own films with the NFB’s help. From these new, dynamic centres the professional directors drew film material that encouraged thousands of Canadians to follow the example of the novice directors, who shared some of their problems and aspirations.
The NFB adopted a new logo baptized Man Seeing/L’homme qui voit. It was designed by Georges Beaupré of Graphic Services and expressed the importance the Film Board attached to the human vision of the world. It recalled Inuit and Native art and affirmed modern Canada advancing in art and communications technology. It preceded every NFB film and appeared on all print matter and equipment.
At the Genie awards of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar alone swept up eight prizes: film of the year, best direction (Peter Pearson), best dramatic film for TV, best cinematography of a black-and-white film (Tony Ianzelo), best editing (Michael McKennirey), best acting in a first role (Chris Wiggins), best script (Joan Finnegan) and best art direction (Michael Milne).
The mandate of Challenge for Change was to provide the voiceless population of Canada with the means to communicate generally with its government and the “establishment.” Challenge for Change made a series of films that may be unique in the history of government-sponsored cinema, for they openly and knowingly criticized the institutions on which they depended. Thus Up Against the System is a blunt-spoken attack by relief recipients on the whole mechanism of social welfare. Ten Days in September and Four Days in March illustrate the measures, both good and bad, adopted by planners and civil servants in launching the Prince Edward Island Development Plan. You Are on Indian Land is both footage of a protest demonstration by Mohawks on the international bridge between Canada and the United States near Cornwall, Ontario and a warning from the young Native leaders that time may be running out for such relatively peaceful efforts to draw attention to ancient and deep-felt injustices.
Like its English equivalent, Société nouvelle attempted to comprehend social phenomena. By participating in a project centred on the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district of Montreal, the NFB was able to integrate film techniques and other means of communication into everyday life in the district. The result was a series of films entitled Arrive en ville, examining credit problems, food, housing, work, and the meetings of a citizens’ committee. The experimental feature Tout le temps, tout le temps, tout le temps…? employed the creative talent of thirteen Montrealers who wrote, performed and edited a piece about a scattered urban family. A series of 27 films for social workers came from footage from Saint-Jérôme. Such films invited the viewer to understand, approve or disapprove of the proffered solutions.
English Production’s feature Prologue set fictional characters in real situations. It was widely distributed overseas and was the first Canadian feature selected for the Venice Film Festival, where it received excellent reviews. It subsequently received the Robert Flaherty Award from the British Film Academy for best feature documentary.
Many NFB films explored the theme of the arts. One in particular took a more sociological slant to the subject of painting: Québec en silence (Quebec in Silence) by Gilles Gascon looked at the paintings of Jean-Paul Lemieux and the world he depicted. Other documentaries over the years had brought to light the richness and presence of those who had long remained unseen and unheard. For director Marcel Carrière, Villeneuve, peintre-barbier (1964) was at last a chance for its subject, the naïf painter, to speak out, just as Bûcherons de la Manouane (Manouane River Lumberjacks) (1962) by Arthur Lamothe allowed its subjects to express themselves and be transcended through film. In the spirit of making art accessible, to return it to its popular roots, Jacques Giraldeau’s experimental film Les fleurs c’est pour Rosemont (1969) shows the creative process being applied to everyday life in a neighbourhood.
The NFB began production of Multiple Man/L'Homme multiplié, which was to screen the following year at Man and His World, the Montreal fair that succeeded Expo ’67. Produced originally in 70 mm (with stereophonic sound), this film by Georges Dufaux employed the multi-image technique to show the people of all places and cultures living in Canada at the time. The Film Board would make two other multi-image films over the following years: Epilogue (1971) and A City Is (1973).
The 1960s were the decade of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec. A new cinema was in the making and it reflected a sense of urgency on the part of French-language filmmakers who wanted to look at Quebec’s place in Canada and bear witness to their province in film. Based on Candid Eye, and born of French cinéma vérité, their work shows a kind of spontaneous reality far removed from the artifice and illusion of fiction. Hand-held cameras (16 mm and 35 mm), more light-sensitive film, and lighter free-standing sound recording equipment (synchronized by quartz) finally allowed filmmakers to record talk and action spontaneously. In 1962, the first feature-length Canadian film was shown at the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival. Pour la suite du monde (Of Whales, the Moon and Men) by Pierre Perrault and Michel Brault is a fine example of this new cinema, outstanding for its technique, language and subject matter. It was much studied around the world and marked the beginning of a new era in Canadian filmmaking.
With the Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle program, film moved from being a simple witness of the times to becoming an agent for change. Directors filmed difficult real-life situations, gave a voice to those who were traditionally voiceless and solicited a response. The Things I Cannot Change (1967) by Tanya Ballantyne, for example, looks at the experience of poverty on a day-to-day basis. Another example, Colin Low’s Billy Crane Moves Away (1967), is about a fisherman who is forced to leave Newfoundland to look for work in Toronto. Willie Dunn, one of the first Aboriginal filmmakers, directed The Ballad of Crowfoot (1968), about the famous Blackfoot leader and the situation of Amerindians in the 19th century.
During this decade, several animated films won prestigious awards, including Universe, by Roman Kroitor and Colin Low. Using trick photography and special effects the film takes the audience on a trip to the stars. Norman McLaren’s masterpiece Pas de deux used optical printing to capture the harmony in the movement of two dancers. With all these films the NFB showed that it was able to serve the community and be creative.
The ’60s closed with the projection of a film that more than met these criteria. In the Labyrinth, directed by Roman Kroitor, Colin Low and Hugh O’Connor was made for Expo ’67 in Montreal. It was a modern interpretation of the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. Projected on five screens simultaneously and seen by close to 1.3 million visitors over the summer, it clearly showed that it was possible to be technologically innovative, creative and accessible all at the same time.
A number of co-production agreements were signed over the course of the decade, first with France in 1963 and then with Sweden in 1968. The first serialized film by the NFB, La fleur de l’âge, was a co-production with France, Italy and Japan.