The NFB thinks big, and in 1990 it undertook the most striking challenge in recent years: to establish a consultation centre providing the public with remote access to the NFB’s impressive collection of 9,000 titles. Under the direction of Robert Forget and in co-operation with the Centre de recherche industrielle du Québec (CRIQ), the team in charge of this utopian project was hard at work designing the robot server, an essential link in the system. It also had to digitize the collection and transfer the films to videodiscs that could be manipulated by the robot. Inauguration of the centre, called the CineRobotheque, was slated for 1992.
In December, the Ontario Centre opened at its new location in downtown Toronto. The new quarters featured a repertory cinema devoted to Canadian film and video, a women’s film resource centre, a 24-hour “Videoteller” dispensing NFB titles for rent, and enhanced post-production facilities for English and French independent filmmakers.
Believing in the importance of maintaining a nucleus of artists, French Program hired six new film directors. Chosen from among the 368 applicants who responded to an ad in Canada’s major French-language newspapers, the filmmakers were to take up their positions in the Documentary Studio at the beginning of September 1991.
At a time when First Nations peoples were showing an increasing desire for self-expression, the NFB’s English Program, in close cooperation with Aboriginal filmmakers, began the creation of Studio One, at the North West Centre in Edmonton. This national Aboriginal studio, to be rolled out over a three-year period, would provide Aboriginal filmmakers with training and development opportunities and a chance to tell their stories on film. Wil Campbell, a veteran, Prairie-based Aboriginal producer closely involved in the development of the studio said, “… the Native community is a unique audience as it is often beyond the reach of conventional media, so we’ll work hard to develop new kinds of distribution opportunities to ensure that Native programming reaches Native communities, and in turn ensure feedback from those centres to our programming process.”
Cynthia Scott’s The Company of Strangers was an enormous hit in Canada, the United States and elsewhere around the world. After receiving a standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival, the film drew audiences to a Toronto theatre for five months and also enjoyed an excellent run in the American market, as well as being telecast on several PBS stations. In 1994, it played for over two months at the prestigious Iwanami Hall cinema in Tokyo. In this debut feature, the director blurs the line between documentary and drama as she films seven elderly women stranded in the countryside who tell their own stories with a disarming simplicity that lights up the screen.
Giles Walker’s latest film, Princes in Exile, produced in cooperation with Cinépix, presented a surprisingly fresh and honest approach to the subject of kids coping with cancer. Based on the novel by Mark Schreiber, this dramatic feature follows the poignant rite of passage of a 17-year-old during his stay at a summer retreat for children with cancer. With time running out, he clings to two goals: publishing his diary and losing his virginity.
In February, the Fictions 16/26 winners were announced. This assistance program for emerging filmmakers was a great success from its inception, with no fewer than 533 proposals being submitted by 109 producers. As producer, the NFB received 112 proposals, six of which it submitted to the jury. The three projects selected by the jury for production at the NFB were La tranchée, Le vendredi de Jeanne Robinson and Le complexe d’Édith. A joint initiative of the NFB, Telefilm Canada, the Société générale des industries culturelles – Québec and Radio-Québec, Fictions 16/26 supported the writing and production of short films to boost the popularity of and rekindle interest in this film genre.
André Forcier’s dramatic feature Une histoire inventée, co-produced by Groupe Film Téléscène, Production C.M. Luca and the NFB, was selected by the Directors Fortnight at Cannes. The film was well received by the European press and sold in more than 17 countries. It also won the Air Canada Award for most popular film and the award for best Canadian film at the 14th Montreal World Film Festival.
Given Canadians’ growing concern for the environment, this remained a continuing topic for French Program. In cooperation with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), it continued with the Media-Sphere program designed to sensitize young people to global interdependence. Eight of the 14 films planned were produced, four in English and four in French. French Program also co-produced another film with CIDA on the same theme, Cinq siècles après (Five Centuries Later ...) by German Gutiérrez.
Every year, the NFB produces films about the arts and artists, and 1990 was no exception. In Oliver Jones in Africa, director Martin Duckworth follows the famous jazz musician on his tour of Africa, the source of his inspiration, where he is feted by dignitaries, musicians and children as he learns, listens and picks up a huge dose of music and culture to carry back to Canada. Alone among Canadian artists, Patricia Kathleen Page has won international recognition as both a poet and a painter. Donald Winkler’s profile Still Waters: The Poetry of P.K. Page captures the duality of her vision. In Nora Alleyn’s Fragments of a Conversation on Language a group of feminist writers from Quebec and English Canada discuss the inherent sexism of language.
The Acadia Centre launched Chroniques de l’Atlantique, a collection of one-hour documentaries on the Acadian identity, produced in cooperation with Productions du Phare-Est. The four films, Le taxi Cormier, Moncton/Acadie, À cheval sur une frontière and L’âme sœur premiered at the Atlantic Film Festival, where they received a special merit award, before airing on Radio-Canada/Atlantique and on “Visions du monde” on Radio-Canada’s national network. Another Acadia Centre production, Herménégilde Chiasson’s documentary Robichaud, about New Brunswick’s first Acadian premier, was seen by all Grade 11 students in the province after the Department of Education made it a part of the mandatory history curriculum. In this portrait of the great reformer who headed the province from 1960 to 1970, the director captures a tumultuous decade in which the province became truly democratic and modern.
Creative Process: Norman McLaren, directed by Donald McWilliams, a long-time associate of the famous animator, combines rare sequences from experimental and uncompleted films found in McLaren’s private collection, scenes from such award-winning films as Neighbours/Voisins and Pas de deux, and interviews. The documentary received special presentations at the Ottawa International Animation Festival and the London Film Festival and was acquired by Britain’s Channel Four for its animation series Legends. In Canada, the CBC broadcast it early in 1991 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the animation studio founded by McLaren.
In the English animation studio, the most outstanding production of the year was To Be by Oscar®-winning director John Weldon. Selected for official competition at Cannes, the film takes a provocative look at the nature of personal identity.
The NFB celebrated the twin anniversaries of its English and French animation studios, created respectively by Norman McLaren in 1941 and by René Jodoin in 1966. A variety of special screenings and retrospectives highlighting the creativity of the NFB’s animation directors were held in Canada and abroad. Not only do NFB animators have imagination and talent but, more important still, they are able to use their art to convey ideas and emotions and offer fresh perspectives on important issues.
The two anniversaries were celebrated with a number of special events, including tribute evenings at the 9th Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois and the Ottawa International Animation Festival. The NFB received two special awards for its animation, one from the Montreal World Film Festival and another from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. A documentary produced during this anniversary year, Portrait d’un studio d’animation by Isabelle Turcotte, presented a veritable anthology of the history of the French Program studio.
The year saw the publication of The NFB Film Guide: The Productions of the National Film Board of Canada from 1939 to 1989, an encyclopedic reference work that placed 50 years of production in a historical and social context, revealing to many for the first time the full spectrum of the NFB’s output as a public producer.
French Program again took part in Radio-Canada’s Course Europe-Asie competition by helping select and prepare candidates, and especially by offering the first prize – a one-year directing internship in its Documentary Program. The 1991 winner, Denis Villeneuve, was thus able to hone his directing skills, like earlier winners Catherine Fol and Stéphane Drolet and subsequent winners Philippe Falardeau and Guy Nantel.
The NFB also co-produced some outstanding fiction features by renowned filmmakers. Léa Pool’s La demoiselle sauvage, co-produced by Cinémaginaire, was in official competition at the 15th Montreal World Film Festival and came away with the prize for best Canadian feature film and best cinematography. Paule Baillargeon’s Solo, produced in partnership with Les Producteurs T.V.-Films Associés inc. in cooperation with Société Radio-Canada, attracted a television audience of 1,227,000 viewers, one of the largest ever for an NFB French Program production. Montreal vu par..., a film composed of sketches by Denys Arcand, Michel Brault, Atom Egoyan, Jacques Leduc, Léa Pool and Patricia Rozema, which was co-produced with Cinémaginaire and Atlantis Films, was highly praised by the press for its creative form and the different views of Montreal expressed by the six directors.
Love-moi by Marcel Simard, a co-production of Les Productions du Lundi Matin and Les Productions Virage with the NFB, opened the 9th Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois. A few days later, the jury honoured ... comme un voleur by presenting Andrée Lachapelle with the Guy-L’Écuyer Award for best actor. The film, directed by Michel Langlois and co-produced with Les Producteurs T.V.-Films Associés inc. as part of the Téléfilms collection, also opened the “language” event at the Musée de la civilisation in Quebec City and the Semaine du cinéma québécois in Trois-Rivières.
The NFB French Program paid tribute to two men who had an impact on their times. In his film Pour l’amour du stress, Jacques Godbout tells the life story of Dr Hans Selye, who was the first to describe the effects of stress, while in Un homme de parole, Alain Chartrand profiles his father, union organizer Michel Chartrand. The film was a hit with union members and the general public. In only two months, in some 30 screenings throughout Quebec, it was seen by thousands of enthusiastic spectators, whose only regret was that it was too short!
For almost two decades, women’s programming, led by the accomplishments of Studio D, had proven to be among the most popular, most acclaimed and most important work done by the NFB. In 1991, Oscar® winner Terre Nash directed Mother Earth/La Terre notre mère, a poetic film offering a unique vision, created with images from dozens of NFB productions.
On the French side, the Regards de femmes program enabled two award-winning directors to create two very different films on similar subjects, both of which were very well received by the public. Diane Létourneau’s Pas d’amitié à moitié highlights loyalty and understanding among long-standing friends, while Michka Saäl’s L’arbre qui dort rêve à ses racines profiles two young women in exile, one Tunisian and the other Lebanese, who have woven an intense friendship out of the tangled paths leading to their current integration into Canadian life.
The Federal Women’s Film Program, a joint endeavour of French Program’s Regards de femmes, English Program’s Studio D and different federal departments and agencies, again produced lively, topical, accessible films in both official languages, including Sharon Ann McGowan’s When the Day Comes, which was greatly appreciated by the caregivers it was intended for.
With the series L’Acadie de la mer, co-produced by Les Productions du Phare-Est inc. and the NFB, directors Phil Comeau (Au mitan des îles) and Herménégilde Chiasson (Marchand de la mer) explore how fishing defines the seasons and determines the way of life for many communities. With this series, the Acadia Centre continued its efforts, begun with the series Les chroniques de l’Atlantique, to highlight the Acadian identity by showing people’s daily lives. Le violon d’Arthur, co-produced with Les Productions du Fado and directed by Jean-Pierre Gariépy, recounts a fictional episode in the life of the internationally renowned Acadian violinist Arthur Le Blanc.
The Ontario Centre produced eight of the 16 documentaries in the series À la recherche de l’homme invisible, the largest collection ever produced in French Canada outside Quebec. Co-produced with Aquila Productions, it owed its title to the Franco-Ontarian poet Patrice Desbiens and profiled Franco-Ontarians who were neither heroes nor role models, but simply men and women who each in their own way were helping to keep Ontario’s francophone culture alive. À la recherche de l’homme invisible aired on TVOntario in September, with a subsequent telecast on Radio-Canada’s national network.
Young people had long been a priority for the NFB, and several productions were designed specifically for them. An important new series called Growing Up provided children aged 9 to 12 with sensitively presented information about their bodies and puberty, while Good Things Can Still Happen pointed the way to a positive future for young victims of sexual assault. In A Kind of Family, a frank and sometimes disturbing profile of a Winnipeg street kid and his foster father, Andrew Koster presented a remarkable example of love proffered and commitments made under the most trying of circumstances. Critics praised it as one of the year’s most compelling films. The success of these productions served to demonstrate yet again that NFB filmmakers are widely respected for their skill in dealing with contentious issues in an insightful and responsible manner.
Another ambitious project was initiated by the French Program animation studio, which embarked on production of Rights from the Heart/Droits au coeur, a collection of animated shorts inspired by different articles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Part 1, undertaken with the participation of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), was designed to inform children aged 5 to 8 about their rights. It includes 1, 2, 3, Coco, The Orange/L'orange, Papa, Door to Door/Porte à porte, T.V. Tango, A Family for Maria/Une famille pour Maria and To See the World/Voir le monde. Two more parts would be produced in 1994 and 1997, for a total of 21 films.
Among the year’s releases was Strings/Cordes, Wendy Tilby’s innovative paint-on-glass film that frames an anonymous urban apartment building and exposes the intricate world within. The film won the Genie in Toronto for best short film and top prize in the short film category at the Ottawa International Animation Festival.
Two NFB innovations won awards at the International Competition for New Media Technologies, organized in Montreal by the Quebec film industry publication Qui fait quoi.
At the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) conference in New York, the NFB presented an enhanced version of CinetextTM, an innovative and inexpensive film subtitling system devised under the auspices of the NFB’s Technical Research and Development Branch. Combining video and electronics, the system makes it possible to subtitle works without having to touch the film print or modify the projector. This version of CinetextTM was officially launched in November at a gala screening of the restored 1925 silent film classic The Phantom of the Opera as part of a benefit for the Cinémathèque québécoise.
The other award-winning innovation was the Animaster software, used for the first time in November 1990 for Ishu Patel’s Divine Fate. The computer-controlled animation bench helped define and perform multiple complex functions.
Jean-Jacques Leduc’s Les miroirs du temps (Mirrors of Time), an educational short film on the fascinating evolution of time measurement, was used for testing the FLIP colouring and photographing software developed by the Animatique computer animation research centre. In a world first, more than 7,000 drawings were digitally scanned and coloured from a database of 16,777,216 shades.
On September 7 and 8, the NFB held a round table in Montreal entitled It Matters Who Makes It, on the situation of women in film and television. Chaired by Commissioner Joan Pennefather, it was a pre-conference for the 23rd Annual Conference of the International Institute of Communications (IIC) and was attended by women from 17 countries and five continents.
The NFB received the Employer of the Year Award from Canadian Women in Radio and Television (CWRT) in recognition of its employment equity program, sharing the award with City-TV of Toronto. The NFB also received the Ministry to Women Award presented by the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation “in recognition of Studio D’s unique role in bringing women’s perspectives to films and providing opportunities for women filmmakers since 1974.”
The NFB’s internationally acclaimed excellence in animation was highlighted again during the continent-wide theatrical release of Animation Festival, a compilation of new works from the English and French animation studios, including such gems as Jours de plaine, Two Sisters, George and Rosemary, The Big Snit, Juke-Bar, Blackfly, The Cat Came Back and Strings/Cordes. It attracted praise from critics and audiences alike from New York to Los Angeles and dozens of other cities, including Chicago, Halifax and Vancouver. Two of the films in the compilation, Christopher Hinton’s Blackfly and Wendy Tilby’s Strings/Cordes, were nominated for an Oscar® by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. Another short film, this one a documentary, also received an Oscar nomination: The Colours of My Father: A Portrait of Sam Borenstein, directed by his daughter Joyce Borenstein and co-produced by the NFB and Imageries P.B. Ltée.
A special award for its outstanding contribution was presented to the French Program animation studio and producer Yves Leduc at the 1992 Children’s Television Awards of Excellence Competition in Montreal.
After Emergency/Urgence and Transitions, Colin Low and his colleague Tony Ianzelo broke new ground again with Momentum, Canada’s official film for the Universal Exhibition in Seville. Thanks to a new IMAX™ technique in which the film is shot and projected at 48 frames per second, double the normal speed, panoramas of Canada roll across the giant screen, along with images of Canadian achievements in architecture, science and technology. This 20-minute journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific was seen by almost two million visitors to Expo ’92. The film won an award for the technical quality of the image at the FIAV Large Screen Film Festival held at the exhibition site, and subsequently screened in a number of IMAXTM theatres across Canada.
The two-part dramatic miniseries The Boys of St. Vincent, co-produced by Les Productions Télé-Action inc. and the NFB, was extremely controversial primarily because it dealt with the sexual abuse of young residents of a church-run orphanage. There was even an injunction forcing the CBC to cancel its broadcast. Several months later, when the miniseries finally had its first English-language telecast on the CBC national network, it was seen by five million viewers. The French version, broadcast on Radio-Canada, drew almost 1.5 million viewers for each of the two parts. The Boys of St. Vincent won the grand prize at the Banff Television Festival. It was a phenomenal hit in the United States and was rated among the ten best films of 1994 by Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and USA Today. In 1995, it received the award for best TV film, presented by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures at a ceremony in New York, and in 1996 it was honoured with the prestigious Peabody Award, also in New York.
Two films by women directors each won a Genie Award. Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives, produced by English Program’s Studio D, received the award for best feature-length documentary, while Le singe bleu (The Measure of Your Passage), produced by Regards de femmes, won in the category of best short documentary. In Forbidden Love, directors Aerlyn Weissman and Lynne Fernie paint a portrait of lesbian life. The film screened in 48 theatres across the United States and was broadcast on Britain’s Channel Four. The Measure of Your Passage is an autobiographical essay by Esther Valiquette, who knew she was dying of AIDS and wanted to leave something behind. In 1993, Tahani Rached also looked at AIDS in Médecins de cœur (Doctors with Heart), but this time from the point of view of general practitioners, researchers, philosophers and humanists. She received the 1994 OCS Award for Cinema from the Office des communications sociales for her film.
One of the television events of the year, the CBC presentation of The Valour and the Horror, a remarkable three-part documentary series produced by Galafilm Inc. in co-production with the NFB and the CBC, demonstrated the intense interest Canadians still had in the role Canada played in the Second World War. The first episode looks at the Battle of Hong Kong, one of the darkest chapters in Canada’s military history; the second episode features Canadian airmen who recount their wartime experiences; and the third episode is about the brave men who fought and died for their country on the beaches of Normandy. The public reaction following broadcast of the series was so intense that Commissioner Joan Pennefather had to appear before the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs.
Excerpts from Toward Intimacy, a documentary in which four disabled women share their personal experiences with love and sexuality, were included in a special program of documentary films presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in Los Angeles.
English Program, in co-production with Necessary Illusions Productions Inc., explored the political life and ideas of the author, linguist and radical philosopher in Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky and the Media. This analysis of the mass media was as humorous and provocative as Chomsky himself.
Another director known for his political ideas, Jacques Godbout directed Le mouton noir (The Black Sheep), a fascinating chronicle drawing a parallel between the discourse of contemporary Quebec politicians – Robert Bourassa, Jacques Parizeau, Lucien Bouchard – and politicians of the past – Sir George-Étienne Cartier, John A. Macdonald, Louis-Joseph Papineau.
Speak It! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia, one of the year’s 10 bestselling films, received the Canada Award at the Geminis and was sent to 4,752 secondary schools in Canada in a special mailing sponsored by the Citizens’ Participation and Multiculturalism Branch of Canadian Heritage.
Reminiscent of his 1970s films inspired by Inuit legends, animator Co Hoedeman made The Sniffing Bear/L'ours renifleur based on an idea proposed by a group of Aboriginal inmates at La Macaza Institution who wanted to encourage young people to think about the harm caused by drugs. The inmates themselves helped write the script.
The highlight of the year was the opening of NFB Montreal, a forward-looking pilot project in the heart of Montreal’s intellectual, tourist, university and cinema district. It was officially inaugurated in fall 1993 in the presence of Montreal Mayor Jean Doré and Multiculturalism and Citizenship Minister Sheila Finestone. A four-day open house attracted numerous visitors to the brand new centre, which included a theatre, a videotheatre, a video club and the CineRobotheque.
The futuristic-looking CineRobotheque elicited a great deal of interest and was widely covered in the press and on television. It also received Kodak Canada’s Prix Livernois in recognition of its innovation, creativity and leadership in the field of imaging. The entire NFB collection would eventually be stored on laser discs in the CineRobotheque, so that the public could view the films in the personal viewing stations. On opening day, a few hundred films were already available. Visitors were able to select films directly on a touchscreen and watch as the robot immediately played their selection for them.
This impressive technology was the core of this high-tech film library. In cooperation with organizations such as the Centre de recherche industrielle du Québec (CRIQ), the NFB made it technically possible to instantly view any film in its collection, make a video copy of it or view it on-site. Having completed this pilot project, the NFB was eagerly awaiting the day when fibre optics and satellite and telephone technology would permit remote access to its film catalogue and the films themselves.
The films Opening Speech: McLaren/Discours de bienvenue de Norman McLaren and Mon oncle Antoine opened Les Cinémas du Canada, a four-month retrospective of films from five regions of Canada (Quebec, Ontario, Prairies, West Coast and Atlantic) at the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris, where NFB films accounted for 40% of total screening time. The Film Board produced the promotional clip for the event, and Norman McLaren was also honoured with a retrospective of his works in Belgium, France and Luxembourg.
Raoul Fox’s Aces: A Story of the First Air War, a tribute to the 10,000 Canadian airmen who fought in Europe in the First World War, was launched in Ottawa to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the armistice.
In June, the NFB unveiled its new animated logo, to appear at the beginning of all NFB productions. The concept was chosen by means of a competition among the NFB filmmakers. Produced by Yves Leduc in the French Program animation studio, this eight-second sequence was directed by Zabelle Côté, the young animator whose film Door to Door/Porte à porte, in the Rights from the Heart/Droits au cœur collection, had garnered two prestigious computer graphics awards. The 3-D computer animation was by Georges Mauro, a computer graphics artist with years of expertise in the Montreal-developed Softimage software. The soundtrack was by the team of Ginette Bellavance and Daniel Toussaint, who had composed music for a number of NFB films, including A Feather Tale/La basse cour. The famous “little green man” representing the eye of the camera, the iconic NFB symbol recognized throughout the world, remained the central figure of the NFB logo, but this new animation gave it a mosaic of meaning that audiences would enjoy discovering in successive screenings.
At the 23rd International Educational Film Festival, in Teheran, the NFB was presented with a golden statuette “for successfully making and presenting educational films and showing some of them at the festival.”
Two films picked up awards at the 16th Children’s Film Festival in Berlin. The Orange/L'orange by Diane Chartrand received UNICEF’s Special Prize for best short film, while Lord of the Sky, by Eugen Spaleny and Ludmila Zeman, received a special mention from the Children’s Jury.
The NFB had almost completely ceased producing dramatic features in-house. The only one to be launched this year was Doublures, Michel Murray’s film about a man in his thirties who still can’t decide who he is and what he wants. However, the NFB continued working with independent producers, with three films resulting from these partnerships: Cap Tourmente by Michel Langlois (Corporation de développement et de production ACPAV inc./NFB), about a passionately close-knit family that is tearing itself apart; Matusalem (Films Vision 4/NFB), a fantastic adventure by Roger Cantin; and Le sexe des étoiles (Les Productions Constellation inc./NFB) by Paule Baillargeon, about the dilemma of a 12-year-old girl whose father is a transsexual.
The film Kanehsatake 270 Years of Resistance, shot by Alanis Obomsawin during the 78 days she spent behind the barricades during the Oka Crisis in July 1990, garnered numerous awards, including best Canadian feature film at the Toronto Festival of Festivals. Not only was it the first documentary to win this award, it was also showered with praise and prizes at many other festivals from Whakatane, New Zealand, to Nyon, Switzerland, and was acquired by Nippon TV, which boasted an average audience of 23 million viewers. In February 1994, the Canadian Native Arts Foundation presented Alanis Obomsawin with a National Aboriginal Achievement Award. She also received an Outstanding Achievement Award in direction at the annual gala of the Toronto Women in Film and Television (TWIFT).
A heartwarming film, Les fiancés de la tour Eiffel (The Engagement), won the Grand Prize (public’s choice award) at the Festival international du cinéma en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, and the award for best social-issue documentary at the Hot Docs festival, held by the Canadian Independent Film Caucus. Gilles Blais found himself filming a love story between a mentally disabled young man and woman as he followed a troupe of amateur actors rehearsing a play to be presented at the European Festival for Mentally Disabled Artists, in Figeac, France.
A heartbreaking film, For Angela, was inspired by the true-life experience of an Aboriginal child and her mother who were victims of racism. When the incident seriously affected the little girl, her mother felt compelled to act. Directed by Nancy Trites Botkin and Daniel Prouty, this touching story won the 1995 Canada Award presented by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.
Director Gary Marcuse and three First Nations educators built a unique compilation of educational versions of NFB documentaries on Aboriginal issues. Entitled First Nations: The Circle Unbroken, this compilation became the top-selling NFB product in the educational market.
Constructing Reality: Exploring Media Issues in Documentary was a video anthology intended for high schools, exploring different documentary themes, such as cinéma direct. Directed by David Adkin, it comprised six videocassettes of complete films or excerpts from documentaries produced by the NFB or the independent sector, with added original footage in English, as well as a teacher’s guide.
David Adkin’s Out: Stories of Lesbian and Gay Youth played to enthusiastic audiences at national and international festivals, including the Berlin International Film Festival and the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.
Donna Read’s Full Circle completed her trilogy on women and spirituality, following Goddess Remembered in 1989 and The Burning Times in 1990. In this documentary, teachers, activists and feminists explore different aspects of women’s spirituality today. Religion was also the focus of Read’s four-part series God's Dominion. It includes By the Word of God, about a young woman who shocks people with her decision to join an Orthodox Jewish movement; In the Name of the Father, a film questioning the Catholic Church’s positions, which some members feel should be changed; Shepherds to the Flock, about the split in the United Church of Canada as a result of the 1988 vote to accept the ordination of gays and lesbians; and Spiritual Seekers, about Dr George Lewis, who like many spiritual seekers is searching for a sense of well-being outside traditional Christianity.
There have been many NFB films about dance, but Douglas Jackson’s The Making of a Dancer, co-produced by Les Productions Grand Nord Québec inc., Lenfilm Studios Diapazon and the NFB, focuses on a very unusual phenomenon in the dance world. Stéphane Léonard went from a Quebec factory floor to the stage of St. Petersburg’s legendary Kirov-Mariensky Theatre in three short years. At age 20, Stéphane was ten years late in starting his career. Nevertheless, he was accepted into a world-famous dance academy where Nijinski, Nureyev and Baryshnikov also trained. A true story that sounds like a fairy tale.
Another artist, this one a child prodigy, was at the height of his fame at age 16, but ended up slipping into oblivion. Director Jean-Claude Labrecque sets out to discover why in André Mathieu : musicien. Several years later, in 2005, pianist Alain Lefèvre released a tribute CD, Hommage à André Mathieu, which included Mathieu’s Quebec Concerto.
The Women and Work series looks at A Balancing Act, or how structural change in the workplace can help working people strike a healthier balance between family life and work. In Se donner des « elles » (Careers to Discover), teenage girls are inspired by five women scientists to continue their studies in math and science; A Web Not a Ladder profiles six businesswomen who are determined to do business their way; and Le plafond de verre (The Glass Ceiling) features five women who have to use strategy, humour and determination to attain equality in the workplace.
One place where women play an important role is certainly in hospitals. The five-part series Nurses Care portrays the realities of nursing in different branches of the profession across the country – public health nursing, nursing in a teaching hospital, on a maternity ward or a pediatric ward – showing the varied aspects of this essential part of the health system.
But women are also found behind bars. In À double tour (Twice Condemned) female offenders talk to Marie Cadieux about life on the inside and what put them there, while in When Women Kill, director Barbara Doran presents three battered women who killed their abusers when they felt they had no other options: The police and the courts did not protect them, and society failed to take them seriously.
With the rapid advances in audiovisual production, the advent of the information highway and the proliferation of broadcast outlets, the NFB adapted its production and distribution of films and other audiovisual products to take advantage of the new technologies. In partnership with Vidéotron Télécom it launched the CineRoute pilot project in which analog audio/video signals were transmitted by fibre optics to McGill University, Université du Québec à Montréal and Université du Québec à Chicoutimi to permit remote, on-demand distribution of the CineRobotheque holdings.
New media such as CD-ROMs were used to produce materials for both the educational market and the general public. NFB productions were also snapped up by the new specialty services, which are ideally suited to the kinds of films the NFB produces and the subjects it addresses, especially documentaries designed to stimulate discussion and debate.
As part of the Canadian Heritage Standing Committee’s study on the convergence of satellite, cable and telephone technologies, technological developments and the information highway, the NFB appeared before the Committee to describe how it viewed the information highway and the impact these new technologies would have on the NFB, the Canadian audiovisual industry and the cultural sector in general.
On June 6, the NFB participated in the 50th anniversary of D-Day in a variety of ways at home and abroad. In London, a short excerpt from Fields of Sacrifice by Donald Brittain screened at a benefit dinner for over 450 dignitaries and war veterans at the City of London Guildhall. Several NFB films were included in Against the Odds, a Canada House season of Canadian films about the wars, one of which was Bye Bye Blues, an NFB feature co-production and winner of three Genies in 1989.
NFB posters produced during World War II for The World in Action and Canada Carries On series were displayed as part of an art exhibition entitled The Art of War mounted at the Canada House Gallery by the Cultural Affairs Division of the Canadian High Commission. The 1993 Gemini Award-winning series The Valour and the Horror was given a prime-time broadcast on Channel Four, and the London office signed a U.K. home distribution agreement for Aces: A Story of the First Air War.
Commissioner Joan Pennefather presented a montage highlighting 55 years of NFB production, entitled Sites in Sight/Lieux en scène, at the National Archives Auditorium during the symposium The Place of History/Les Lieux de la mémoire, marking the 75th anniversary of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board in Ottawa.
Sixteen NFB employees were presented with the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of Confederation in recognition of their unique contribution and dedication to the Public Service of Canada.
To mark the 20th anniversary of the Acadia Centre, 26 programs comprising 40 films produced over the past two decades were carried on most of the community television stations in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. The festivities coincided with the first Acadian World Congress, which took place in nine cities and towns in New Brunswick and included a mini-festival of Acadian films and the launch of Bettie Arseneault’s De retour pour de bon.
The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles presented the NFB with an Emmy Plaque for “outstanding achievement in engineering development” for the design and creation of DigiSyncTM, the film edge barcode reader and decoder that permits digital display in feet/frames, frames or time.
The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission presented the NFB with an award for advancing the cause of human rights in its films and for its continuing support for public-awareness programs.
The Association for Media and Technology in Education in Canada presented writer/director/producer Floyd Elliott with the AMTEC 1994 Leadership Award in recognition for his involvement in more than 500 titles for the educational sector, including many award winners, such as the Perspectives in Science series.
Joan Pennefather left the NFB in December, after 17 years with the institution, the last six as Chairperson and Government Film Commissioner.
Eight dramatic features were released during the year, including six co-produced with the private sector: Cadillac Girls (Overdrive Motion Pictures Inc./NFB), For the Moment (John Aaron Productions Inc./NFB), Mon amie Max (Les Productions du Verseau inc./Les Productions Lazennec/NFB), Mouvements du désir (Cinémaginaire inc./Catpics Coproductions/NFB), Octobre (Corporation de développement et de production ACPAV inc./NFB), Le secret de Jérôme (Ciné-Groupe inc./Citadel Films Limited/NFB) and La vie d’un héros (Les Productions La Fête inc./NFB). The NFB produced Rêve aveugle and La fête des Rois entirely in-house.
The Lucky Ones: Allied Airmen and Buchenwald by Michael Allder drew an audience of 723,000 when it premiered on CBC’s “Witness” – a record number on this documentary strand, especially for late summer. The film then had a preview screening at the Canadian Embassy in Washington before being broadcast on the Arts & Entertainment Network. The International Documentary Association described the film as a highlight of its second conference and featured a still from the documentary on the front cover of its journal in October.
The Biodome, one of Montreal’s biggest tourist attractions, was created by a multidisciplinary team of experts. In L’arche de verre (The Glass Ark), Bernard Gosselin closely follows these young scientists, revealing the enormous challenge involved in creating this microcosm of the world’s ecosystems.
To film Cornouailles (Icewarrior), Pierre Perrault spent 120 days in the shadow of the North Pole patiently waiting for an epic confrontation between two muskox, before the shaggy beasts finally decided to lock horns. Wanting to make a metaphor about nation building, the director managed to create a magnificent poetic essay.
Having a baby at 16 is not easy, as three teenage girls discover in Bébé bonheur. Jeannine Gagné follows them during their pregnancy and after the birth of their babies. Following the telecast of the film on Radio-Canada, the NFB used the Internet for the first time to allow viewers to chat online with the director, a sociologist, one of the participants in the film and actor Lucie Laurier, who was a teenage mother too.
Rick Zakowich weighed 400 pounds. Director Jeff McKay filmed him as he set out to shed half his body weight, but found he had gained more than he lost. The resulting film, Fat Chance, received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for “significant and meritorious achievement” in New York on May 8 – the first-ever Peabody for the NFB. Prior to this momentous event, the film had established itself as an audience favourite, with broadcasts on TVOntario and CBC Newsworld, where it drew the largest audience recorded to date on the Rough Cuts strand. It was later repackaged as A Matter of Fat by William Weintraub and broadcast on the U.S. Arts & Entertainment channel.
Travelling the globe profiling Third World women, Michel Régnier went to La Paz, Bolivia, where women like Isidora do back-breaking work in an effort to build a better future for their children. Isidora au creux des Andes is a follow-up to Aymaras de toujours, a film Régnier shot in Bolivia the previous year with Aboriginal people living on the shores of Lake Titicaca who were trying to revive a traditional technique for irrigating and draining their land. Next, in wartorn Bosnia-Herzegovina, he made Elles s'appellent toutes Sarajevo, a touching documentary on human suffering in wartime. With great courage and dignity, seven women speak of the hardships of daily life and their uncertain future. Then, in Cambodia in 1995, Régnier made Thân, dans la guerre invisible (Thân in the Invisible War), about a young woman who was pregnant with her fifth child when she stepped on a mine buried just a few feet from her home. Of the 100 million anti-personnel mines set around the world, 7 to 8 million of them are scattered throughout Cambodia, which lost a third of its population in the war.
Also in Bosnia, in the spring of 1993, amidst a brutal war pitting Christian against Muslim, a young couple lay dead in each other’s arms on a bridge in Sarajevo, shot by sniper fire while trying to escape in the beleaguered city. She was a Muslim and he was a Serb. The international media dubbed them “Romeo and Juliet,” depicting them in death as a 20th-century version of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo is their story, as told by John Zaritsky and co-produced by the NFB and K.A. Productions Inc.
The two-part series The Tibetan Book of the Dead, comprising the films A Way of Life and The Great Liberation, was shot in the heart of the Himalayas, in the kingdom of Western Tibet. It shows how the teachings of the great Indian master Padmasambhava, author of the classic book about death, are perpetuated. The Japanese version of the series was broadcast twice on NHK in Japan to 16 million viewers and 23 million viewers, respectively, the highest ratings ever received for an NHK broadcast.
In Part 2 of Rights from the Heart/Droits au cœur, a collection of animated shorts inspired by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, director Michèle Cournoyer made a little masterpiece with An Artist/Une artiste, illustrating children’s right to develop their talents and abilities to their fullest potential. The film went on to win many awards, including the 1995 Quebec-Alberta Award for innovative television and a special prize for being “an aesthetically beautiful piece told with originality and innovation” at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival in Japan in 1996.
In the federal budget tabled in February, the government announced that it would review the mandates of the NFB, Telefilm Canada and the CBC. A special committee composed of Pierre Juneau, Peter Herrndorf and Catherine Murray was formed to conduct this study and submitted its report on January 31, 1996. While supporting the NFB’s role as a public producer, it suggested that the NFB focus more on production and on television as a distribution channel.
In April, Sandra M. Macdonald was appointed as the new Government Film Commissioner and NFB Chairperson, the 13th person to hold the position since the NFB was created in 1939. In her message in the annual report she said, “In the annals of the National Film Board, 1995-1996 will be considered a watershed year. We responded to the monetary strictures and re-ordering of priorities by involving staff at all levels in a comprehensive process of review and streamlining. We addressed the need to bring new people and ideas into our programming stream, to upgrade and digitally integrate our film-based operations and to enhance the effectiveness of our distribution systems. We reviewed all our internal processes and made choices which would streamline our administrative infrastructure by 50%. In all, the NFB has now been restructured to meet the millennium and is, as a result, bringing a renewed focus to our core mandate, the production and distribution of audiovisual productions.”
Studio D was the toast of Hollywood on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. The American Cinematheque and the International Documentary Association, in association with the Canadian Consulate General, screened eight Studio D films: Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives, The Burning Times, Half the Kingdom, Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography, After the Montreal Massacre, From the Shore, If You Love This Planet and Flamenco at 5:15.
Bob's Birthday by Alison Snowden and David Fine, co-produced by Snowden Fine Animation and the NFB for Channel Four Television, won the Oscar® for best animated short. It was the NFB’s 60th nomination by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, its 10th Oscar win, the fifth for an animated film and its 89th award in 1994-1995.
One of the films in Part 2 of the Rights from the Heart/Droits au cœur collection, Ex-Child/Ex-enfant by Jacques Drouin, won the UNICEF Prize at the 20th Annecy International Animation Film Festival, in France. At the same festival, Bob’s Birthday won the award for best animated short, while Ishu Patel’s Divine Fate received a special mention for its message.
The NFB saluted the 100th anniversary of cinema with a slate of celebrations, including production of the film Le jardin oublié – la vie et l’œuvre d’Alice Guy-Blaché (The Lost Garden: The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy-Blaché) by Marquise Lepage. The film toured Canadian cities in the fall and won the Gémeaux Award for best personal documentary in 1996. French Program also took part in the centenary celebrations by producing three of eleven video clips honouring Quebec cinema, co-producing the CD set Maurice Blackburn Filmusique/Filmopéra: The Film Music of Maurice Blackburn, and collaborating with Pointe-à-Callière, the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, on an exhibition about early film experiments in Montreal, the emergence of cinema in Quebec and the special role played by the NFB. The exhibition included André Gladu’s film La conquête du grand écran. French Program also provided the Cinémathèque québécoise with technical support for the exhibition Illuminating the Story of Projection at the National Museum of Science and Technology.
At NFB Montreal, the Cinema, Cinema screenings highlighted a hundred years of cinema, from early silent films with piano accompaniment from the time of Alice Guy-Blaché to the virtual images and computer animation of the 1990s. The Ontario Centre joined the festivities by presenting an eclectic program of films, beginning with a collection of nine shorts probing love ’90s style and also including a selection of feature films: Claude Jutra’s Mon oncle Antoine, Anne Claire Poirier’s Mourir à tue-tête (A Scream from Silence), Peter Wintonick and Mark Achbar’s Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky and the Media, Cynthia Scott’s The Company of Strangers and Don Owen’s Nobody Waved Good-bye.
Canada Post marked the occasion with a series of 10 commemorative stamps, three of which honoured NFB productions: Hen Hop, a 1942 film by Norman McLaren, Pour la suite du monde (Of Whales, the Moon and Men), directed by Pierre Perrault and Michel Brault in 1963, and Claude Jutra’s 1971 masterpiece Mon oncle Antoine. Université Lumière in Lyon, France, presented honorary doctorates to three illustrious directors: Andrzej Wajda, Carlos Saura and the NFB’s Pierre Perrault, while John Grierson’s homeland saluted his contributions to the first 100 years of cinema by erecting a plaque in his honour in the foyer of the MacRoberts Arts Centre at the University of Stirling in Stirling, Scotland. The plaque reads, “John Grierson] (1898-1972), pioneer of the documentary film, founder of the National Film Board of Canada.”
French Program launched its Cinéastes autochtones program at the Festival du film et de la vidéo autochtones de Montréal. Joséphine Bacon, a Montagnaise from Betsiamites, was selected from the 12 candidates for a one-year apprenticeship, during which she directed her first documentary film. Tshishe Mishtikuashisht – Le petit grand Européen : Johan Beetz is about a young Belgian aristocrat at the turn of the century who, heartbroken at the sudden death of his fiancée, settled on Quebec’s North Shore. An avid nature lover, hunter and fisherman, he raised foxes and taught the Aboriginal people not to trade their furs for next to nothing.
While Europe still slumbered in the Dark Ages, the Mayans had charted the heavens, evolved the only true writing system native to the Americas and made tremendous strides in mathematics and calendrics. The IMAXTM film Mystery of the Maya, co-produced by the NFB, the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Mexican Film Institute, explores this fascinating civilization deep within the jungles of Mexico and Guatemala. The film had a gala launch at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec, before opening in the United States, where it was warmly applauded at an IMAXTM film festival in September.
The Protection Force series (including Caught in the Crossfire, The Price of Duty and In God's Command), directed by Garth Pritchard, had a year-long slate of events, beginning with an April launch of The Padre (a version of In God’s Command) on CBC’s “Man Alive.” Later in the spring, 2,000 soldiers and guests attended the premiere of Caught in the Crossfire and The Price of Duty at a Calgary screening. These two films also received national CBC telecasts later in the year. Media coverage was very favourable and included a feature interview on CBC Radio’s Morningside. To top off the strong run, The Price of Duty took three major prizes at the Alberta Film and Television Industry Awards in March 1996: best production of the festival, best documentary over 30 minutes and best direction in documentary.
With the launch of Lois Siegel’s Baseball Girls, the NFB notified sportsdom that a woman’s place is at home, and at first, second and third! The film’s rollout at the Montreal World Film Festival was followed by a road trip, kicking off with a benefit launch in Toronto and continuing at NFB cinemas and community screenings all the way to Vancouver. Strong media and viewer response resulted in a booking at the athletes village at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
Acadian films made a splash in 1995. Les années noires and L’Acadie retrouvée by Herménégilde Chiasson, and The Acadian Connection (Le lien acadien) by Monique LeBlanc, were very well received. Chiasson’s films had their television premieres on Radio-Canada’s “Les Beaux Dimanches” in August, while LeBlanc’s film had its world premiere the following month at the Festival international des films franco-acadiens in Moncton. All three were shown in March 1996 at the Festival du film acadien de Toronto, a joint effort of the NFB French Program’s Acadia and Ontario/West Studios. The festival also paid tribute to Ginette Pellerin with a screening of three of her films.
Some 40,000 to 50,000 visitors to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto enjoyed NFB animation classics in August and September, with two popular programs alternating each day. Favourite titles included Canada Vignettes: Log Driver's Waltz, The Big Snit, The Sniffing Bear/L'ours renifleur and The Sweater. The exhibition hall had a kiosk where the public could attend daily animation workshops.
In September, Famous Players screened the animated film Blackfly as the opening short in its theatres in Quebec and Ontario and Cactus Swing elsewhere in the country. In December, it switched them around. A total of 400,000 moviegoers saw the two films.
The NFB had a strong presence in China during September, beginning with the screening of two NFB documentaries at the Fourth UN Conference on Women in Beijing. Then, at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, Studio D executive producer Ginny Stikeman presented Who's Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics by Terre Nash, and Motherland: Tales of Wonder by Helene Klodawsky. An audience at an NGO Forum on Women in Huairou viewed Vienna Tribunal by Gerry Rogers.
The NFB: 30 Years in B.C., a ten-part weekly series on Knowledge Network, which began October 16, paid tribute to the Pacific Centre’s 30th anniversary. Each one-hour program featured a collection of films produced by the Centre over the last 30 years and included interviews with many of the filmmakers. The two-hour special Art’s Edge on December 18 celebrated the diversity of production and the contribution of the Centre to British Columbia’s arts community.
On January 31, the Mandate Review Committee, composed of Pierre Juneau, Peter Herrndorf and Catherine Murray, released its much awaited report on the NFB, CBC and Telefilm Canada. The report unequivocally supported the NFB’s mandate and recognized its ongoing commitment to producing social-issue films and to regional production. It also contained specific recommendations for measures that would enable the NFB to operate with a leaner, more flexible structure. These included: improving distribution methods to better target clients; reorganizing production, including moving English Program to Toronto; reducing the number of in-house filmmakers; increasing co-production; and moving Montreal Headquarters to smaller premises downtown.
The NFB announced its restructuring plan on February 12. It resulted from a thorough review of NFB operations by management, staff and outside consultants in light of the Mandate Review Committee report and an anticipated reduction of $20 million over three years in the NFB’s parliamentary appropriation. Two of the report’s recommendations – moving Montreal Headquarters downtown and transferring English Program to Toronto – were not adopted. NFB Headquarters would remain in the building on Côte de Liesse Road.
On March 14, the Board of Trustees approved a comprehensive restructuring plan. Intended as an interim document to deal with the reduced parliamentary appropriation while implementing the technological changes required for production, the plan focused on maintaining the NFB’s production capacity. All regional centres would remain in place, and production would be divided up according to genre rather than being assigned to specialized studios. However, the NFB would henceforth favour freelance filmmakers over staff directors. It would also stop producing dramas, other than as part of the Aide au cinéma indépendant program. To reduce overhead, the technical infrastructure would be sold off and a large part of Headquarters facilities closed down, most notably the laboratory and shooting stage. All non-production costs would be cut by half, and the Board of Trustees decided that Marketing and Distribution would have to recover their costs.
Overall, the NFB would reduce its permanent staff by abolishing approximately 180 positions over the next two fiscal years. One of the two buildings at Montreal Headquarters would be closed down, with all employees moving into the Norman McLaren Building on Côte de Liesse Road.
The Ottawa and Toronto film and video libraries closed down on August 30, leaving clients to order by means of a toll-free phone number or through public libraries. The NFB cinemas in Winnipeg, Montreal and Toronto ceased their programming on March 31 but were available for rent on a cost-recovery basis. Even the new NFB Montreal centre was threatened. Unless the NFB found a partner willing to share the operating costs, it would be closed in 1998 and its CineRobotheque operations moved to Headquarters.
Despite these difficult circumstances, NFB filmmakers and productions continued to win accolades from the public and the industry. Major Canadian honours went to several NFB productions and co-productions. Mort Ransen’s feature film Margaret's Museum, produced with the participation of the NFB Atlantic Centre, picked up six Genies, while George Ungar’s The Champagne Safari received the Genie for best feature-length documentary. Place of the Boss: Utshimassits, directed by John Walker and produced by the NFB Atlantic Centre in co-production with John Walker Productions and Triad Films, won the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television’s Donald Brittain Award for best documentary program. The Mind of a Child, directed by Gary Marcuse and produced by Face to Face Media in co-production with the NFB Pacific Centre, won the Academy’s Canada Award.
Veteran NFB filmmaker Colin Low was made a Member of the Order of Canada in an Ottawa ceremony on February 15, a richly deserved recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the cinematic art form in Canada and around the world. In his 51-year involvement with the NFB, Low had an immeasurable impact on existing and emerging film forms, from the documentary to the giant screen IMAX.
In November, Les Journées cinématographiques d’Orléans, in France, paid tribute to the filmmaking career of Pierre Perrault, with screenings of several of his works. The renowned filmmakers Bertrand Tavernier and Michael Lonsdale attended the screenings and took part in discussions afterwards. The Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris also held a retrospective of Perrault’s work.
In December, the Prix du Québec honoured filmmaker Jacques Giraldeau with the Albert-Tessier Prize for his body of work. The recently retired filmmaker had produced 165 short, medium- and feature-length films during his career, most of which he spent at the NFB.
Its exemplary work in conserving, archiving and cataloguing the thousands of films in its collection earned the NFB the International Documentary Association’s prestigious Preservation and Scholarship Award. Commissioner Sandra Macdonald and filmmaker Colin Low accepted the award on behalf of the NFB at a gala ceremony on November 1 in Santa Monica, California. The Los Angeles-based IDA represented approximately 1,500 members around the world.
Long recognized as a centre of technological innovation, the NFB enhanced its reputation and its service to the public by launching its Web site, which at that time featured 78 sections, with a total of 120,000 pages. And the world took notice. By autumn 1996, the site was receiving an average 3,000 visitors a day (rising to 9,000 by October 2000). It also won the Boomerang Grand Prize for corporate Internet site at an interactive technologies day organized by Les Éditions Info Presse in cooperation with Vidéotron, Apple and Québécor Multimédia.
The NFB participated in two particularly interesting bilingual television events this year. The film Referendum - Take 2/Prise deux, a unique production created by 23 filmmakers from English and French Programs, all led by “director in charge” Stéphane Drolet. The production was broadcast in English on CBC on October 27 and in French on Canal D two days later. A week earlier, the NFB hosted a screening of the film at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa before an enthusiastic crowd. Several of the directors who had worked on the production attended along with the producers, Adam Symansky and Jacques Vallée. The films were released one year after the 1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty. The production received the Multiculturalism Award at the annual Gémeaux Awards for French-language television presented by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.
Another project linking the two Programs, which also met with great success, involved Children First! and Les enfants d’abord!, produced by the NFB in association with UNICEF (Canada), Reader’s Digest Canada and CBC/Radio-Canada. These productions, created to help promote the 50th anniversary of UNICEF, were televised nationally on the English and French networks of the CBC on December 15, designated by UNICEF as International Children’s Day of Broadcasting.
Anne Claire Poirier’s final NFB film, Tu as crié LET ME GO played to critical acclaim on several screens in Québec City and in the Montreal area. It was about a very difficult subject: the violent death of the director’s daughter, Yanne, a young drug addict who was killed in October 1992. In March 1997, the film received a special mention from the Association des femmes journalistes jury at the Festival international de films de femmes in Créteil, France, and in December, the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television awarded it the Genie for best feature-length documentary. In February 1998, it received the award for best feature film presented jointly by the Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma (AQCC) and the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles (SODEC) at the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois.
Two documentaries from English Program’s Ontario Centre, Peter Lynch’s Project Grizzly and Ann Kennard’s The Powder Room, were so popular with filmgoers that they had to be held over. From French Program, Jacques Godbout’s Le sort de l’Amérique and Pierre Hébert’s La plante humaine, the NFB’s first feature-length animated film, also received favourable reviews in Quebec and France. At the Hot Docs festival, held by the Canadian Independent Film Caucus, Jacques Godbout received the award for best director, while Pierre Hébert won the AQCC-SODEC Award for best feature film at the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois.
Toutatis, Catherine Fol’s medium-length documentary combining virtual images with fascinating ideas about the fate of the Earth, won the Quebec Department of Culture and Communications’ award for best Quebec science film at the Téléscience Festival. It was the first in a trilogy of science films, being followed in 2000 by Le lien cosmique (The Cosmic Link), presenting new knowledge about the origins of life on Earth, and in 2003 by Ceci n’est pas Einstein (This Is Not Einstein), in which efforts to explain the universe are seen to be a never-ending quest. This Is Not Einstein won the youth award and a special jury prize at the Festival international du film scientifique in Orsay, France, in April 2004.
Lodela, Philippe Baylaucq’s highly acclaimed film echoing Norman McLaren’s classic Pas de deux, stood out for the sheer number and diversity of awards it won. These included: jury special mention and the John Spotton Award for best Canadian short at the Toronto International Film Festival; award of excellence for best film or video under 60 minutes at the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax; prize for best choreography for camera at the Moving Pictures Festival in Toronto; award for best Canadian film at the International Festival of Films on Art in Montreal; prize for best short film at Hot Docs; and the award for best photography at the Mediawave International Festival of Visual Arts in Györ, Hungary.
In the summer, English Program launched its Aboriginal Filmmaking Program inviting Aboriginal directors from across Canada to propose film or video projects to be produced or co-produced with the NFB. Meanwhile, French Program selected René Sioui Labelle as the second winner of its Cinéaste autochtone program. Begun in 1995, this program gives one emerging director each year a chance to develop his or her skills and make the documentary proposed when applying for the program. René Sioui Labelle’s film was Kanata : l’héritage des enfants d’Aataentsic (Kanata: Legacy of the Children of Aataentsic).
Janet Perlman’s animated short Dinner for Two/Dîner intime took the Grand prix des Amériques for best short film at the Montreal World Film Festival. It would also win the equivalent award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1997. Animator Richard Condie completed his comic opera La Salla, produced by the Prairie Centre, in time for the fall festival season and saw its acclaim build through to February, when it was shortlisted for an Oscar®, the NFB’s 61st nomination.
In addition to its accomplishments on the big and small screen, the NFB made gains in other media as well. In December, English Program launched a children’s Web site (www.nfb.ca/kids) as an adjunct to the main NFB site. Its main attraction was The Prince and I, an entertaining interactive production to encourage children to improve their reading skills. French Program was preparing the French version, Le prince et moi, for launch in fall 1997.
As part of an agreement with Famous Players, and in cooperation with different feature film distributors, NFB animated shorts were paired with feature films playing in Canadian theatres: Munro Ferguson’s How Dinosaurs Learned to Fly (with Mission: Impossible); Craig Welch’s How Wings Are Attached to the Backs of Angels (with Crash); Richard Condie’s La Salla, the NFB’s 6lst Oscar® nomination (with Secrets and Lies, Shine and Marvin’s Room); and Cordell Barker’s The Cat Came Back (with Jungle 2 Jungle).
English Program’s Ontario Centre kicked off celebrations of its 20th anniversary with the September launch of a 13-week series on TVOntario. NFB Showcase aired Thursday evenings on the provincial broadcaster and featured some of the best documentary and drama productions of the Centre’s first two decades.
It was the third year of the budget cuts, and the NFB had to operate with a parliamentary appropriation some 28% lower than the pre-cut level. Nevertheless, thanks to administrative savings, the number of titles released was maintained. In fact, comparative studies done by the NFB indicated that the portion of the budget devoted to overhead – costs that do not appear on the screen – was typically lower for an NFB documentary than for a similar private-sector production supported with public funds.
The NFB’s Paris office took part in the official opening of the Canadian Cultural Centre in the French capital on January 22. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, NFB Commissioner Sandra Macdonald and representatives from several other arts institutions attended the inauguration.
Several months later, in June, Prime Minister Chrétien spotlighted the NFB when he premiered its new rendition of the national anthem, O Canada, at a state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth. The music track was an arrangement by Claude Desjardins and Eric Robertson performed by a 57-piece orchestra. The film was produced in partnership with Canadian Heritage and a variety of other departments and agencies, including the Prime Minister’s Office.
In December, Colin Low, one of the NFB’s most distinguished filmmakers, became the first anglophone to receive the Albert-Tessier Prize, one of the awards at the annual Prix du Québec. The prestigious award was granted in recognition of his outstanding career in animation and documentary as well as his role in developing the IMAX large-screen concept. Low had retired in November after 52 years with the NFB.
In the second year of its Aboriginal Filmmaking Program, English Program released two Studio One productions, both begun the previous year. Forgotten Warriors by Loretta Todd denounces the injustice suffered by Aboriginal veterans of the Second World War. Not only were they often not told about the cheap land available to returning soldiers, but some of them even came home to find the government had seized parts of their reserve land to compensate non-Native war veterans. In No Turning Back, Gregory Coyes followed the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples from coast to coast. His film weaves the passionate and articulate voices of Indian, Inuit, and Métis people with the history of Canada’s relationship with its First Nations peoples
In the course of his career, director Maurice Bulbulian made a number of films with Aboriginal communities and won their trust and respect. In Chroniques de Nitinaht (The Nitinaht Chronicles), he recounts one such community’s long journey toward healing the wounds of child sexual abuse. The film follows the Ditidaht First Nation on B.C.’s Nitinaht Lake Reserve over a seven-year period, after a respected elder was found guilty of sexually assaulting his granddaughter. Through their stories, the people revealed the devastating effects of the residential school system, in which their children were taken from their families and forced to attend schools where they were forbidden to speak their own language and follow their customs. In 1999, Bulbulian received the prestigious Chalmers Documentarian Award for Film and Video for the film.
Director Gil Cardinal is also familiar with problems affecting Aboriginal communities, which are often ravaged by alcohol and drugs. In David with F.A.S., he presents the story of a 21-year-old Aboriginal Canadian who suffered permanent brain damage while in the womb. His mother’s drinking resulted in fetal alcohol syndrome (F.A.S.), which can cause confusion, irritability and an inability to grasp the consequences of one’s actions.
The NFB and OXFAM Canada jointly saluted International Women’s Day with a six-city launch of the feature documentary Zandile dans la lumière de l’Ubuntu (Zandile, in the Light of the Ubuntu), Michel Régnier’s profile of a Zulu woman named Zandile Gumede. Described as “the leading light of Amaoti,” an immense district on the outskirts of Durban, South Africa’s third-largest city, Zandile led other women in the struggle against ignorance, violence, chauvinism and other social ills.
In the former Yugoslavia, rape was used as a weapon against thousands of women and girls. Rape: A Crime of War, directed for the NFB by Shelly Saywell, draws viewers into the horror and degradation of the crime, as four women share how the experience had a lasting influence on their lives and relationships. The film received a special jury prize at the Banff Television Festival “for its exposure of the hidden crime of rape in wartime.”
How can people get along when their beliefs collide? Tahani Rached probes this question in Quatre femmes d’Égypte (Four Women of Egypt), a portrait of four friends who couldn’t be more different. Muslim, Christian, or non-religious, they all love their country but have radically different visions of what that society should be, ranging from a secular or socialist state to an Islamic one. This moving film won the public award and the prize for feature-length documentary at the International Documentary Film Festival in Odivelas, Portugal, and the audience award and the prize for best documentary at the Arab Screen Independent Film Festival in London, England. It also screened at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1998.
At a time when almost three million Canadians found themselves taking care of a loved one suffering from a chronic illness, the Caregivers series was very timely. In these five episodes, director Dan Curtis pays tribute to individuals whose contribution to society often goes unrecognized, though with the aging population there is a growing reliance on these natural caregivers. The series was accompanied by a handbook prepared by the London InterCommunity Health Centre.
A rich and little-known part of Canadian history unfolds through the stories of the first Chinese women to come to Canada and of subsequent generations of Chinese-Canadian women. It is an amazing tale of courageous women who left behind their families, knowing they would never see them again and of girls who were shipped off to the New World to marry men they had never met. Dora Nipp, whose grandfather came to Canada in 1881 to build the railway, shares their experiences in Under the Willow Tree: Pioneer Chinese Women in Canada.
In a road movie touched with scathing humour, Philippe Falardeau set off across the country, following the traces of Chinese immigration in Canada. Overturning stereotypes and revealing some of the darker episodes in the history of this community, Pâté chinois proves that no matter where you go, you’ll always find a Chinese restaurant.
On November 5, the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec, hosted the premiere of Lost Over Burma: Search for Closure, Garth Pritchard’s moving tribute to an RCAF crew of six young Canadians who vanished without a trace while on a humanitarian mission in the Second World War. Organized by Veterans Affairs Canada, the launch was attended by more than 400 people, including the families of the deceased airmen, members of the team who recovered their remains over four decades later, veterans and members of the film crew.
Cinéma, cinéma Prise 1, a collection of 25 of French Program’s most popular titles – including classics such as J. A. Martin, photographe (J.A. Martin photographer) and Mourir à tue-tête (A Scream from Silence) and new titles such as Une vie comme rivière and Le sort de l’Amérique – chalked up terrific sales through an agreement with Vidéoglobe in which the collection was offered for sale in about 100 video stores and 50 bookstores throughout Quebec.
In the fall, French Program, in cooperation with partners in the cultural, municipal and educational sectors, launched the Week-ends de l’ONF to showcase the year’s production and provide direct contact between the NFB and audiences who otherwise might not have a chance to see and discuss these films. The directors or other resource people were often present for question-and-answer sessions after the screenings. The event began at the NFB Cinema in Montreal and then toured to Québec City, Chicoutimi, Trois-Rivières, Ottawa, Sherbrooke and Rimouski.
October 17 saw the launch of several new specialty TV channels. The NFB can pride itself on being with some of these new services from the start, particularly in the case of History Television, which premiered a major new NFB series, The Way We Were, during its first broadcast day. The series featured 68 half-hours of cinematic gems from the NFB vaults and recalled ordinary and extraordinary moments from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. The first 34 episodes were shown in 1997-1998, and the rest aired the following year.
International sales were strong in the educational sector, with France’s Ministère de l’Éducation nationale acquiring 2,000 units of Mon corps, c’est mon corps (the French version of Feeling Yes, Feeling No) to provide every educational media centre with at least one copy. Other sales of this type were expected in France and elsewhere in Europe.
In the restructuring plan adopted in 1996 following budget cuts, one of the NFB’s objectives was to reduce overhead as much as possible to devote most of its budget to films giving a voice to those whose voices were seldom heard – Aboriginals, visible minorities, Canadians from different ethnic origins and people in remote regions of the country. Another important goal was for these films to be made with new talent, by freelancers and in experimental forms.
The results for the year proved the NFB had met its goals, since 85% of English Program films and 79% of French Program films were made by freelance directors. Members of Canada’s cultural communities were given training opportunities, and during the previous three years, the Aboriginal Filmmaking Program began making 21 films. Eleven of these were completed during the year, four were in the final stages of post-production, and the remaining six were completed the following year.
At the Gemini Awards honouring the best in English-language Canadian television, Selwyn Jacob’s The Road Taken received the Canada Award for “excellence in mainstream television programming which best reflects the racial and cultural diversity of Canada.” Jacob’s film was the fourth NFB production or co-production to win the Canada Award or its equivalent at the French-language Gémeaux Awards (the Multiculturalism Award) since 1994.
The NFB also received its 63rd Oscar® nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square, a visual autobiography of an artist who grew up in China during the historic upheavals of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Through a rich collage of original artwork and family and archival photographs, first-time-filmmaker Shui-Bo Wang offers a personal perspective on the turbulent Cultural Revolution and the years that followed. The film went on to garner many awards, including the award for best short documentary at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto and the Gemini Award for best history/biography documentary program, presented by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. This recognition validated the NFB’s concern for giving a voice to emerging directors and new Canadians, allowing otherwise neglected talents to blossom.
The Albert-Tessier Prize, the Quebec government’s highest honour in the field of cinema, was granted to Georges Dufaux, the third year in a row that the award went to an NFB director.
Mid-January marked the beginning of a national re-release for restored French and English prints of a Canadian classic, Mon oncle Antoine. The Southern Film Circuit, a project of the Toronto International Film Festival, cooperated with the NFB to send Claude Jutra’s wonderful film on a cross-Canada tour. Film reviewers cheered the return of this “favourite uncle,” who made stops in Montreal, Toronto, Québec City, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg and Halifax.
Several months before the Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, director Lyn Wright followed the progress of Canada’s women’s hockey team, capturing intimate and insightful moments with several players. She also recorded the team’s fourth World Championship victory, a dramatic contest against its U.S. rival. From this material emerged The Game of Her Life, which aired on CBC just before the Olympics. Wright then followed the team to Nagano, updated the film to include footage from matches there and chronicled final thoughts as Canada’s team won the silver medal while the U.S. took gold. The film too was a triumph.
Another sports film, Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, focused on professional wrestling’s brightest star, Bret “the Hitman” Hart, facing the fight of his life, but with treachery awaiting him. Entering the circus-like world of wrestlers, filmmaker Paul Jay charts Hart’s progress for the year leading up to that fateful Montreal match. What emerges is a vivid portrait of a remarkable wrestling clan and a dramatic account of the biggest double-cross in wrestling’s colourful history
On April 4, 1957, Herbert Norman, the Canadian ambassador to Egypt, leapt to his death from a Cairo rooftop. John Kramer’s film The Man Who Might Have Been: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Herbert Norman takes viewers back to a time when the Cold War was heating up and the mere accusation of Communist sympathies could destroy a person’s career. During his meteoric rise and fall, Norman crossed paths with some of the greatest personalities of his time: Nobel Prize-winning Canadian diplomat and politician Lester B. Pearson, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, General Douglas MacArthur and charismatic Egyptian leader Gamel Abdul Nasser.
In a very different vein, Show Girls celebrates Montreal’s swinging Black jazz scene from the permissive 1920s to the 1960s. Three women who danced in the legendary Black clubs of the day – Rockhead’s Paradise, The Terminal, Café St. Michel – share their unforgettable memories of life at the centre of one of the world’s hottest jazz spots.
Catherine Martin’s Les dames du 9e profiles the women who worked at Eaton’s legendary ninth floor dining room in downtown Montreal. In this magnificent Art Deco establishment, inspired by the dining room of a luxurious ocean liner and almost unaltered since it opened in 1931, the waitresses maintain the decades-old tradition of courteous service that made its renown. At the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois, in February 1999, the film won the award for best medium-length documentary from the Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma and Telefilm Canada.
Many Canadians can recite the poem “In Flanders Fields” by heart on Armistice Day. John McCrae's War: In Flanders Fields, by Robert Duncan, chronicles Dr. McCrae’s life from his childhood in Guelph, Ontario, to the battlefields of the First World War in Belgium. It tells the story of his famous poem and pays tribute to the Canadian soldiers who died for a few feet of Belgian soil. The film was shown in Ottawa on November 9 to begin Veterans’ Week.
To honour its key filmmakers, French Program launched a new initiative called the Mémoire collection, box sets containing the collected works of these directors, along with articles, interviews and a complete filmography. The first set was devoted to two animation studio pioneers, Suzanne Gervais and Francine Desbiens. Desbiens had just completed My Child, My Land/Mon enfant, ma terre, a shocking film about antipersonnel mines and the thousands of people maimed or killed each year by this barbaric weapon. More box sets were added to the collection in subsequent years: René Jodoin and Pierre Perrault in 1999, Gilles Groulx in 2002, Denys Arcand in 2004, Michel Brault and Anne Claire Poirier in 2005 and Pierre Hébert in 2007.
The French Program animation studio invited children on an exciting scientific adventure with its series Science, Please!, 26 clips offering humorous but rigorously researched explanations of scientific phenomena encountered in our daily lives: Why do we see colours? What makes the wind blow? Why do some things float and others sink? What is sound? The three clips completed in 1998 were The Force of Water, The Wind and Wheel Meets Friction, soon to be followed by Slippery Ice! and The Wonderful World of Colour, along with 11 more clips in 2000 and the final 10 in 2001.
The English Program animation studio had also launched a series to answer kids’ questions about how everyday things are made: How Do They Braid Rope?, How Do They Knit a Chain-Link Fence?, How Do They Make Potato Chips? and How Do They Put the Centers in Chocolates? The series continued in 1999 with How Do They Make Money?, How Do They Make Oatmeal Cookies?, How Do They Recycle Paper? and How Do They Recycle Steel? All useful things to know!
Animator Co Hoedeman undertook a series for very young children, with four charming films starring Ludovic the teddy bear. The series began with Ludovic – Une poupée dans la neige (Ludovic - The Snow Gift), about the cozy relationship between a child and a favourite toy, with music composed by Daniel Lavoie. Ludovic returned in Un crocodile dans mon jardin (A Crocodile in My Garden), soon followed by Des vacances chez grand-papa (Visiting Grandpa) and Un vent de magie (Magic in the Air).
The little teddy bear delighted young and old alike, with each film bringing home numerous awards. The Snow Gift received the Alliance for Children and Television’s Grand Prize for best program and then, in April 1999, the Prix du jeune public at the Festival du court métrage pour jeune public, in Stains, France. Visiting Grandpa and A Crocodile in My Garden also received this award from the Stains festival specializing in short films for children. Ludovic was given his own special section on the NFB Web site, which included a very popular interactive game. In 1999, at the Biennale of Animation in Bratislava, Slovakia, Co Hoedeman was awarded the Klingsor Prize for the quality of his entire work and his important contribution to children’s animation.
May 2 was the NFB’s 60th anniversary, and a variety of celebrations were held throughout the year to mark the occasion. First, in the anniversary video clip 60, Charles Binamé took spectators on a three-minute romp through six decades of outstanding NFB films. The clip wowed audiences at Canadian and foreign festivals, and was also seen by over a million Canadian moviegoers as the opening short for the hit feature Double Jeopardy and its French version Double condamnation thanks to a partnership with Famous Players.
Numerous Canadian festivals paid special tribute to the NFB, in particular Hot Docs and the Reel Aboriginal Film Festival in Toronto, the Banff Television Festival, the Atlantic Film Festival, the Festival international du cinéma francophone en Acadie, the Carrousel international du film de Rimouski and the Terres en Vues/Land InSights Festival in Montreal.
On the international scene, a number of important festivals and institutions also saluted the National Film Board of Canada, with major retrospectives of NFB productions taking place in Taipei, Karlovy Vary, Bratislava, Hong Kong, Paris (Le Printemps du Québec) and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Hollywood hosted a gala in honour of NFB animators and their work over the past 60 years.
On television, CBC, Newsworld, Discovery, Vision, Bravo!, History, Teletoon and MoviePix, a specialty channel showing film classics, devoted over a hundred hours a month to broadcasting NFB productions. RDI, the national French-language television news network, also aired a 40-part series entitled Toute une époque... vue par l’ONF, while Télé-Québec presented its second season of “Le Présent du passé,” a program chronicling the 20th century through NFB films.
The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa organized an exhibition featuring NFB animators and their work. The NFB was also an official sponsor of Formes en mouvement : regards sur l’animation, an animation exhibition to be presented at the Cinémathèque québécoise in Montreal for the next three years.
In September, as part of its prestigious, limited-edition Millennium Collection, Canada Post Corporation issued an NFB stamp highlighting the institution’s key role as an outstanding centre of creation in Canadian and international cinema.
The NFB has always made it a priority to conserve its films under optimum conditions and to invest in the restoration of its collection to make this audiovisual heritage accessible to the public. With the growth in speciality services and production of multimedia products, the NFB’s back catalogue was of increasing interest to Canadian and foreign audiences. Some 45% of titles sold or rented were produced over 20 years ago, confirming the wisdom of the film conservation and accessibility policies adopted by the NFB in recent years.
Pursuing its telecommunications systems, the NFB entered into a partnership with CANARIE (Réseau canadien pour l’avancement de la recherche, de l’industrie et de l’enseignement) and RISQ (Réseau inter-ordinateurs scientifique québécois) to test its CineRoute project, Canada’s first online cinema-on-demand service. In the trials, selected users with very high speed connections – large institutions, universities, research centres and a sample of individuals across Canada – were given access to a subset of NFB films at the CineRobotheque. Using the technology created for the CineRobotheque, films stored on the videodiscs were digitized by the robot in MPEG-1 format in real time (1.6 Mbps) and then placed on a high-capacity server. At the request of the participants, the films were then transmitted over the CA*net 3 broadband network. Over 800 films – a significant part of the NFB collection – were digitized in this continuing process.
In early May, Stéphane Dion, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and President of the Queen’s Privy Council, and in his capacity as federal MP for Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, announced the awarding of a $20 million contract for the renovation and refit of the Norman McLaren Building. The two-year project would bring the NFB’s Operational Headquarters staff together in a single building and upgrade computer systems.
This year’s crop of animation films did extremely well. Special mention should be made of the two Oscar® nominees: When the Day Breaks by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, and My Grandmother Ironed the King's Shirts by Torill Kove. In addition to the Oscar nominations, the former film garnered 17 awards, including the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes, while the latter won five awards. Both films were presented as the opening short in many Famous Players theatres and broadcast on national television.
The NFB always prided itself on being a centre of innovation and had in-house staff working on technological advances. At the end of February 1999, NFB scientists Ed H. Zwaneveld and Frederick Gasoi, along with two private-sector colleagues, received a Technical Achievement Academy Award in Los Angeles for developing the DigiSyncTM Film Keykode Reader used in post-production.
In 1999, documentaries largely addressed social issues, as in Main basse sur les gènes – ou les aliments mutants (The Genetic Takeover or Mutant Foods), Urgence ! Deuxième souffle (Emergency! A Critical Situation) and My Healing Journey: Seven Years with Cancer, and ecological concerns, as in Burns Bog – A Road Runs Through It, Footprints in the Delta and L’erreur boréale (Forest Alert). They also presented the viewpoints of youth on both sides of the camera, with Enfer et contre tous ! (No Quick Fix) and L’armée de l’ombre, and gave a voice to Aboriginal filmmakers examining conditions in their communities, in Welcome to Nunavut and Mon village au Nunavik (My Village in Nunavik).
In just a few short years, genetically modified plants had become part of our daily diet and were already found in 75% of processed foods. Many scientists and farmers vigorously condemned the absence of adequate independent testing. With Main basse sur les gènes – ou les aliments mutants (The Genetic Takeover or Mutant Food), Louise Vandelac and Karl Parent offer an informed look at this explosive situation. The two filmmakers also co-directed Clonage ou l’art de se faire doubler (Clone Inc.), a critical look at the dream of achieving immortality through human cloning.
After Médecins de cœur (Doctors with Heart), Tahani Rached took viewers back to the hospital for an inside look at the working lives of emergency room nurses, in Urgence! deuxième souffle (Emergency! A Critical Situation). Working under intense pressure, these men and women care for their patients as best they can, although condidions in ER are intolerable.
Medicine can often achieve miracles, and when it’s a question of life and death, some patients will try anything. Director Joseph Viszmeg, who was diagnosed with cancer in 1991, documented his battle with the disease in In My Own Time - Diary of a Cancer Patient. After living with cancer for seven years, Joe updated his story, recounting some of the medical and alternative therapies he had been through. My Healing Journey: Seven Years with Cancer won two Gemini Awards from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television for best direction and for best science documentary.
Located on the southern fringes of Vancouver, Burns Bog is one of the world’s most valuable ecosystems. Nevertheless, it faced imminent destruction as the needs of the area’s mushrooming human population ate away at its edges, a situation exposed by D. Demille in Burns Bog - A Road Runs Through It. Another ecological problem was in the Peace-Athabasca River Delta, which had been in trouble since the building of the WAC Bennett Dam in 1967. In Footprints in the Delta by Peter Campbell, scientists, activists and Aboriginal people describe how lives have been fundamentally altered by the changes.
The once seemingly inexhaustible boreal forest was now under threat: L’erreur boréale (Forest Alert) showed there was good reason to worry since a unique ecosystem was being destroyed. Richard Desjardins and Robert Monderie exposed this terrifying situation and tried to alert people to act before it became too late. Their eye-opening documentary won the Grand Prize at the Festival international du film nature et environnement in Grenoble, France, and the Jutra Award for best documentary.
In her debut film, Andrée Cazabon had revealed a definite talent for filmmaking. Then, in Enfer et contre tous ! (No Quick Fix), the young director again looked back at her past as a drug addict, using film to give other street kids a chance to express their rage, frustration and despair. Later, in 2005, with Les enfants de la Couronne (Wards of the Crown), Cabazon gave a voice to teenagers about to leave the foster care system, whether or not they were ready to make it on their own. They risked ending up on the street, like the young outcasts who talked about their precarious existence in Manon Barbeau’s L’armée de l’ombre.
With the birth of Nunavut, Canada’s newest territory, people debated whether it was too much, too soon… or too little, too late. George Hargrave and Joe Moulins travelled above the treeline for four frenzied days getting the views of six Northern characters in Welcome to Nunavut. Meanwhile, 23-year-old Bobby Kenuajuak, the latest winner of French Program’s Cinéaste autochtone competition, made his first professional film. In Mon village au Nunavik (My Village in Nunavik), he trained his camera on Puvirnituq, on the shores of Hudson Bay over the space of three seasons. It is an unsentimental film by a young Inuk who is open to the outside world but clearly loves his village.
Young directors are very important to the NFB. The emerging talent of earlier years often matured into acclaimed directors. Gilles Carle, for example, got his start back in the 1960s and now holds a unique place in Quebec cinema. In Moi, j’me fais mon cinéma, he looks back on this chapter of film history, offering humorous comments on highlights from his films, revealing the sources of his inspiration and paying tribute to his favourite actors and actresses.
The NFB’s English and French Programs collaborated on more joint projects, with impressive results. Peter Wintonick’s Cinéma Vérité: Defining the Moment captured all the excitement of a revolution that changed moviemaking forever, highlighting examples of many NFB films made in English and French. Catherine Annau’s Just Watch Me: Trudeau and the '70s Generation was a lively examination of the dream of a bilingual country cherished by Canadians of the Trudeau generation. In January 2000, Just Watch Me won the Genie for best feature documentary; a few months later, Cinéma Vérité received a special ecumenical award at the Berlin International Film Festival, followed in 2001 by the special jury prize at the Banff Television Festival.
Marcel Jean, head of the French animation studio, described it as a centre of creativity that has a strong commitment to research and innovation, continuing the tradition of Norman McLaren and René Jodoin. An excellent example of this approach was Michèle Cournoyer’s The Hat/Le Chapeau, about an exotic dancer who recalls an incident from her childhood when she was sexually abused. The film was hailed for its artistic excellence and treatment of a difficult subject, receiving a dozen awards in many festivals, including the Los Angeles Animation Competition, the Jutra Awards, the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois, CINANIMA, the Ottawa International Animation Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival and the Annecy International Animation Film Festival.
Another animated short, on a very different subject, was also a great success. Coucou, Monsieur Edgar! (Cuckoo, Mr. Edgar!) is the story of a clockwork cuckoo whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of three baby birds one stormy night. Youngsters loved Mr. Edgar and awarded him the prize for best short film at the Montreal International Children’s Film Festival. The film also received many other awards, including the Grand Prix Jeunesse in Montreal, and others in Brazil and elsewhere. The popular character was back again in 2002 with Opération coucou (Operation Cuckoo), in which Mr. Edgar is struck by a terrible catastrophe, but his friends help save the day.
The last decade of the 20th century was marked by downsizing and budget cuts, on top of the cuts already absorbed by the institution over the previous 20 years. The Program Review requested by the federal government even led to fears that the National Film Board might simply be closed down. Eventually, however, in January 1996, the Committee’s report recommended that the NFB’s operations be restructured… again!
Despite the serious blows it had received over the past years, the NFB began the new decade with a certain optimism, invigorated by the success of its 50th anniversary celebrations and the hit films The Company of Strangers and Au Chic Resto Pop. The former, by Cynthia Scott, shows a heartwarming group of women placed in an unusual situation in which they improvise delightful dialogue. The latter gives us the singing employees and patrons of a community restaurant in Montreal’s Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood, captured on-the-spot by Tahani Rached. Morale-boosting films!
Gone were the days when the institution would produce dramatic features entirely in-house. However, by joining with private-sector partners, the NFB was able to participate in projects with acclaimed directors like Denys Arcand, Michel Brault, Atom Egoyan, Jacques Leduc, Léa Pool and Patricia Rozema, all of whom directed sketches in the film Montréal vu par… Similar examples of joint ventures were with Giles Walker on Princes in Exile, André Forcier on Une histoire inventée, John N. Smith on The Boys of St. Vincent, and the directors of the many films in the Téléfilms collection.
In the 1990s, with the opening of Studio One, in Edmonton, Aboriginal filmmakers finally had a chance to demonstrate their talents. One of the outstanding films produced by the studio was Loretta Todd’s Forgotten Warriors, denouncing the unfair treatment of Canada’s Aboriginal war veterans, who were not given access to the same programs as other vets.
Prior to that, the filmmaker who did the most to highlight the plight of Aboriginal peoples was Alanis Obomsawin, an Abenaki and one of Canada’s most celebrated documentarists. In July 1990, she experienced Quebec’s Oka Crisis from the inside, spending 78 days and nights behind the barricades filming the Mohawks’ armed standoff with the Sûreté du Québec and the Canadian Army. In 1993, the release of her best-known film, Kanehsatake 270 Years of Resistance, sparked strong reaction since the events were still very fresh in people’s minds.
Three other films resulted from this footage: My Name Is Kahentiiosta, about a young Mohawk woman who was arrested at the end of the conflict; Spudwrench - Kahnawake Man, about Randy Horne, who was also behind the barricades; and Rocks at Whiskey Trench, about the violence against the Mohawk women, children and seniors who were fleeing Kahnawake in August 1990, fearing that the reserve was going to be invaded by the Canadian Army. Alanis Obomsawin is an Officer of the Order of Canada and has garnered numerous awards during her career.
The NFB was proud to produce Momentum, the official film for the Canada Pavilion at Expo 1992 in Seville. After co-directing Transitions and Emergency/Urgence, Colin Low and Tony Ianzelo again broke new ground with a new IMAX™ technique in which the film is shot at 48 frames per second. Panoramas of Canada roll across the giant IMAX screen in all their striking splendour and extraordinary diversity.
The CineRobotheque and CineRoute confirmed the NFB’s desire to use advanced technologies to improve access to its productions. The CineRobotheque is a distribution and consultation centre where NFB films, transferred to videodiscs, are viewed at personal viewing stations fed by a robot. The CineRoute project grew out of this technology, using fibre optics to transmit analog audio/video signals to McGill University, Université du Québec à Montréal and Université du Québec à Chicoutimi. From there they were transmitted to users of the CA*net3 broadband network thanks to a partnership with the Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry, and Education (CANARIE) and the Réseau inter-ordinateurs scientifique québécois (RISQ).