In February, Commissioner Ross McLean was replaced by Arthur Irwin, editor-in-chief of Maclean’s magazine. His double mission was to reorganize the NFB and restore the confidence of the public. Staff found the appointment bizarre since Irwin had no film experience and his journal belonged to the group Maclean-Hunter Publications. This group also owned the Financial Post, whose revelations about the existence of Communist elements at the Film Board had so damaged the organization.

Staff also feared Irwin would succeed in dismantling the NFB, an understandable apprehension in light of three different inquiries examining the reliability and future of the Film Board: the RCMP on state security, the Massey Commission on the legitimacy of the NFB’s mission, and the Woods Gordon Survey of Organization and Business Administration.

The Massey Commission, which was mainly concerned with the expression of national identity through culture, submitted its report. It said, “There is […] general agreement that the activities of the Board in the distribution, production, procurement and evaluation of films, and in research and experimental work, should be developed and expanded. These activities, we think, are rightly regarded as an essential service of public information, whether in peace or war.” In response to private sector criticism that the NFB had support from public funds to which the private sector did not have access and that it had to be content with an advisory role with the government, the Commission reasserted the Film Board’s right to pursue filmmaking, stating that “To act effectively and with knowledge as an advisory, co-ordinating and distributing body, the Film Board must itself produce films.” It also recommended more French-language films be made.

As soon as he arrived, Arthur Irwin noticed what was wrong with the organization. He said he was particularly shocked by working conditions and deplorable safety in completely inadequate premises. In March, Woods and Gordon sent the government a report entitled “The National Survey of Organization and Business Administration.” It looked positively at the administration and functioning of the NFB and suggested structural adjustments to strengthen it.

The government asked Arthur Irwin to rewrite the 1939 Film Act, and in June 1950, Minister Winters presented to the House of Commons a bill inspired by the Woods Gordon report. On October 14, Parliament passed the National Film Act: “The Board is established to initiate and promote the production and distribution of films in the national interest and, in particular: a) to produce and distribute and to promote the production and distribution of films designed to interpret Canada to Canadians and to other nations; b) to represent the Government of Canada in its relations with persons engaged in commercial motion picture film activity in connection with motion picture films for the Government or any department thereof; c) to engage in research in film activity and to make available the results thereof to persons engaged in the production of films; d) to advise the Governor in Council in connection with film activities; and e) to discharge such other duties relating to film activity as the Governor in Council may direct the Board to undertake.”

The Act made the NFB independent of the state; the constitution of the NFB’s Board of Trustees was changed and the chairmanship transferred to the Commissioner, boosting his autonomy. The Board of Trustees consisted of nine members, four in government and five external. Via the mediation of its chairman, the Film Board now reported to the Minister of Resources and Development.

The Woods Gordon and Massey reports brought home the urgency of finding a single place where all NFB activities could be centralized. Most agreed that a new location must be found in Ottawa, but Arthur Irwin disagreed. Part of the problem was the conflict between the capital’s conservative, conventional population and the somewhat bohemian artists on the NFB staff. Two cities were possible: Toronto and Montreal. Montreal was chosen because one of the Massey recommendations was to encourage Canadian bilingualism, and the proposal was accepted at a meeting of the NFB Board of Governors on May 30, 1950.

Arthur Irwin’s other argument for Montreal was that one of the two channels of the first Canadian TV network was soon to be inaugurated there, so the NFB would be able to help make TV programs, as Ross McLean had wished.

Filmmakers and their works

Given the NFB’s mandate of interpreting Canada to Canadians and to other nations, its documentaries presented various aspects of Canadian life. In 1950, it covered sectors as varied as agriculture and rural economy, arts and culture, national defence, films for children, films on education, industrial and technological development, international relations, current affairs, anthropology, sports and leisure, natural resources, regionalism, science, sociology and tourism.

In 1950 the NFB made 187 films for theatrical and non-theatrical distribution. The lab processed a record 11 million feet of film. Most were in black and white, but colour was gaining ground. Producing films, filmstrips and photos demanded total cooperation between two categories of employees: artists and technicians. Their interdependency meant that in the finished product it was almost impossible to tell who had contributed what.

Eighteen works won awards in Canada, Europe and the U.S., two at the Mostra Internazionale del Cinema in Venice: Begone Dull Care / Caprice en couleurs won first prize in the artistic film category, and Challenge: Science Against Cancer won first prize in the scientific film category.

Distributing and screening films

Continuing a policy started in 1946, operation of film circuits was turned over progressively to voluntary community groups. By the end of the fiscal year, all but a few circuits administered themselves, leaving field staff more time to develop new audiences, supervise activities, advise and help the community groups, promote sales and bookings, and encourage the use of documentary films.

In 1950, 40 new film libraries were created, bringing the total to 305. Film councils were central committees of groups who promoted wider and more effective use of films. The councils increased by 30 this year to a total of 338. Clubs, church groups, labour unions, community associations and other groups participating in film council activities totalled 6,670. A new service was provided to groups wishing to join home film clubs. These operated in twelve Canadian towns and cities, with 206 groups in their membership.

NFB films made their intrepid way to the farthest flung regions, offering programs to schools and other establishments in the Yukon, the Mackenzie River district, the Northwest Territories, Ungava and Labrador. Inuit and Indians attended these screenings, organized with federal, sometimes also provincial support.

Research and technology

The NFB had adopted magnetic audiotape for all recordings of original sound. Previously, sound was recorded optically. NFB technicians also re-designed the drive mechanism of the 16 mm magnetic recording unit, reducing the speed from 90 to 36 feet per minute. This reduced wear and tear caused by vibration and chatter and saved 60% of recording stock.

The NFB was also exploring microcinematography. Since microscopic organisms die under the heat of the lamps needed to film them, technicians designed a “cold lamp,” which went on and off 24 times a second in sync with the camera shutter.

An important discovery in photography received wide attention: the duplication of colour transparencies (stills) by controlled exposure of the three colour-sensitive layers of the film. At the request of industry representatives, reports were presented to the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) and the Photographic Society of America. Technicians also made negatives four times more light sensitive. This was a boon when shooting in poor light, for example inside Canadian prisons, where it was impossible to use special lighting.


When Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Canada and the U.S.A., there was much excitement at the NFB. Here was the chance to show off. David Bairstow, Roger Blais and Gudrun Parker made Royal Journey, the world’s first feature film made using Eastman 5247 colour-film stock. This Kodak film, not yet on the market, was affordable compared to Technicolor and differed from the traditional (sun-only) colour film by guaranteeing richness whether it was overcast, rainy or snowy. Until then, colour film had been shot in 16 mm; black and white in 35 mm.

Royal Journey was seen by over two million people in two months in Canada and abroad. The British Film Academy named it Best Documentary in 1952 and the Canadian Film Awards named it Best Theatrical Feature.

The NFB’s still photography division, official photographic agency to the Canadian government, surpassed itself during the royal visit. The division director was official coordinator of photography for the visit. An NFB photographer distributed photos to specially accredited colleagues in private enterprise. Two NFB technicians processed 10,000 negatives. On behalf of the Secretary of State, Film Board staff chose the best photos and mounted them in ten souvenir albums, which they presented to the Princess and the Duke of Edinburgh. The head technician won the first and second prizes awarded by the Canadian press for the best photos of the royal visit.

Twenty-five other NFB productions won awards or honourable mentions during the year, including Canada's Awakening North, which won First Prize in the geographic category at the Venice Film Festival.

The excellence of NFB films garnered recognition in festivals here and abroad, but this year saw the institution itself win awards: an honourable mention for presenting the best film selection at the 4th Brescia International Film Festival in Italy, and the cup awarded for best selection by the Institute of National Light at the Sestrieres ski club festival in Italy.

Filmmakers and their works

Creation of 35 mm 3-D camera, inter-ocular offset printing allowed Norman McLaren to make two 3-D films for the Festival of Britain: Around Is Around and Now Is the Time. These 3-D films were seen by 488,000 festival goers in London and a quarter million spectators in Liverpool, Berlin, Brussels and Antwerp.

As the cold war took its gloomy course, the government awarded the NFB $250,000 to set up the Freedom Speaks program for films upholding democracy. Neighbours/Voisins by Norman McLaren was made using this money.

Distributing and screening films

Each month Columbia Pictures distributed four NFB film series to Canadian theatres: En avant Canada and Coup d’œil in French; Canada Carries On and Eye Witness in English. Also this year, three special productions were distributed to commercial theatres: Oyster Man, A Friend at the Door and Opera School. Flying Skis, part of the Canada Carries On series made with the cooperation of Columbia, was distributed widely in the latter’s World of Sports series.

Distribution of the Film Board’s non-commercial films was handled by a volunteer system. Groups of Canadians who agreed to distribute NFB films received them from 343 film councils and 334 film libraries. Film councils operated film libraries and were a link with various regional groups. Provincial film council federations were formed to purchase films and projectors. Almost 8,000 organizations benefited directly from NFB services, and they in turn passed on the benefits to thousands of other groups.

For documentary distribution abroad, the NFB used four methods: via 61 diplomatic and trade missions in 45 countries; by other government agencies; by educational and arts associations to whom the NFB lent the films; and via representations to the U.S. organized by the NFB and the Canadian Government Travel Bureau to encourage American tourism in Canada. NFB films were seen theatrically in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, Central America and Oceania.

As the fiscal year closed, screenings were being organized in Poland and Yugoslavia. Prints of other films were being flown over the Andes for screening in remote areas of South America; a similar project was underway in Burma and a new film library was opened in Helsinki. Distribution was stepped up in the Middle East with prints being shipped out of Cairo to ten countries including Iraq, Cyprus and Ethiopia where mobile units of the British Information Service distributed Canadian films.

Research and technology

Apart from the innovations mentioned earlier, the NFB also perfected a system of composing and recording synthetic music and used television’s multiple camera control system for the series Canadian Talent Showcase.

To facilitate film versions, Technical Services devised a new soundtrack and projector adaptor allowing push-button switching from one language to another on the same film.


On September 6, Canadian television was inaugurated, with Montreal’s bilingual network CBFT, followed two days later by the English network CBLT in Toronto. The government approved the agreement between Société Radio-Canada and the NFB, signed by their respective chiefs, Davidson Dunton and Arthur Irwin, to avoid duplicating services or productions. However, the agreement never worked quite as it was supposed to. Although the National Film Act seemed to grant the NFB exclusive production rights for news and films sponsored by the government and Radio-Canada, filmmakers feared they would be forced to produce for TV only, to the detriment of their own projects.

This year saw NFB films win 33 awards, including an Oscar® for Neighbours/Voisins by Norman McLaren, in the best short film category. The film also won first prize from the British Film Academy for best documentary of the year and turned out to be the most popular film in the history of the NFB so far.

Films the NFB presented at festivals were chosen for quality and relevance; festival juries often recognized the excellence of the selections. This year, the NFB received two awards for its selections: The Festival of Experimental Art Films in Caracas, Venezuela, awarded the Film Board 1,000 Bolivars for best creative films and the 6th annual documentary film festival awarded the City of Salerno prize for best selection of colour films.

Filmmakers and their works

The NFB now had a new market: television. Among its TV series was Faces of Canada, about typical characters in Canadian life such as the notary, the photographer, the auctioneer, the taxi driver, the charwoman, the lock-keeper, the puppeteer. The material for the series was an invaluable anthropological resource that NFB Archives guarded jealously.

Production of films for the series Canada Carries On (En avant Canada) and Eye Witness (Coup d’œil) continued. As last year, the number of news stories incorporated into theatres or TV bulletins nearly doubled. There were 451 compared to 225 the previous year, all presenting some aspect of Canadian life to audiences here and abroad.


In May, Commissioner Arthur Irwin resigned. Most anglophone NFB staff opposed the move to Montreal that Irwin had tabled and the board of governors had approved in May 1950. His departure unleashed a powerful campaign inside and outside the NFB against the project.

In July, Albert Trueman, president of the University of New Brunswick and NFB board member, became the new commissioner. What met his arrival was an atmosphere of dispute strong enough to justify the intervention of Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent, who confirmed the government decision to move the NFB to Montreal.

When the project had been approved in 1950, general coordination had been entrusted to Technical Services. But which location to choose? Montreal was on the southern shore of an island 32 miles long and 11 miles broad, connected to the mainland by seven bridges. Three large airports, on and off the island, formed a rough triangle: a circle with a 10-mile radius centred on each airport covered the territory, so that noise was a serious problem everywhere. The NFB building would have to be properly soundproofed. Of 22 locations studied, five were retained and underwent tests for vibration, resistance to aircraft noise (jet aircraft were flown at 500 feet altitude) and water analyses. Finally, the northern suburb of Saint-Laurent was chosen.

The NFB acquired the land, and construction on the 204,016 square foot site began on September 25, 1956.

Another honour for the NFB this year: The Romance of Transportation in Canada by Colin Low won the best animation award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

Filmmakers and their works

The arrival of television in September 1952 deeply and permanently changed the face and habits of the NFB. In spring, two extra production teams were added: Studio E, headed by Bernard Devlin, in charge of TV productions, and Unit F, headed by Roger Blais, for French language films exclusively.

In this first year of television, the NFB produced the series On the Spot and its French equivalent, Sur le vif, exploring pan-Canadian topics with programs on the Alberta petroleum industry, Oil (1953), on dance, Winnipeg Ballet (1954), on the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade in Korea, Korea, After the War (1954), on gold mining, L’or de l’Abitibi (1954), and on trapping, Trappeur indien (1954). In 1953 to 1956 they were followed by the series Window on Canada and Regards sur le Canada, compilations of the best NFB films with commentaries. The Opening of the Parliament (1949) in Window on Canada No. 4 (1953), Les anciens Canadiens (1950) in Regards sur le Canada no 6 (1954), L’homme aux oiseaux in Regards sur le Canada no 24 (1954) and Germany, Key to Europe (1953) in Window on Canada No. 54 (1955) are worth mentioning.

Theatrical production continued with the series Canada Carries On (En avant Canada) featuring subjects such as the Nova Scotia coal crisis, a mission ship on the British Columbia coast, the mayor of a Quebec town, Canadians working in Ceylon under the Colombo plan, Germany’s role in uneasy Europe, free legal aid provided by the Canadian Bar Association, and an animated history of transport in Canada.

Eye Witness films treated such subjects as the Canadian fur industry, a Dutch family settling on Prince Edward Island, the Quebec army training school at Saint-Jean, Canadian troops in Europe and Canadian experts instructing Arab farmers.

Distributing and screening films

Canadian audiences for non-theatrical screenings numbered 14 million. This was calculated according to viewing, not viewer: One person attending ten different screenings counted as ten spectators. There were 200,900 NFB film screenings this year. People who attended several of these were counted each time as a new viewer. Non-theatrical distribution in Canada was made possible by 419 film councils comprising over 10,000 organizations.

Abroad, audiences for NFB films totalled nearly 14 million. This non-commercial distribution was done via the Departments of External Affairs and Trade and Commerce, and with the help of various arts organizations in different countries, and via film libraries, especially in the U.S.A.

The Film Board made its documentaries available to private and government-owned TV stations, with the result that bookings more than tripled.

Theatrical distribution also saw good results, with the Canada Carries On series loaned most often. However, after 1953 theatrical distribution declined steadily with the arrival of the new wide-screen format (Cinemascope) and the renewed popularity of the double-feature program.

Research and technology

The sound department simplified and perfected two 16 mm synchronized magnetic sound units that were portable and used ordinary voltage. The department also designed and built the “transfer room” where the final recording was made from magnetic tape to permanent optical track.

The Datatablet animation stand input device enabled animation movements to be plotted in seconds, thereby avoiding tedious hours of calculation.

The research department developed the “latensification process,” in which a negative that had been deliberately under-exposed during shooting was re-exposed in the laboratory. This permitted colour shooting under sub-normal lighting conditions and saved expenditure on elaborate lighting equipment as well as on power. Black-and-white latensification had been known for some time, but its use in colour was a major step forward and became the subject of a paper delivered at the annual convention of the American Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) in Washington. Inquiries about it came from major Hollywood and British studios.


The year 1954 was one of transition for the NFB. Building began on the new operational headquarters in Ville Saint-Laurent, north of Montreal. Staff were told to begin preparing for the move, slated for 1956, and preparations were made for the arrival of staff and equipment in the new building. Production and Technical Services staff in particular worked on design and construction. The engineering and sound departments tested new equipment, while Personnel provided staff with information on Montreal and its suburbs, including accommodation, transport and taxes.

The Quebec government under Duplessis, which had banned a number of NFB films since 1948, prohibited the use of NFB films in Quebec schools because it wanted to keep federal presence to a minimum and was convinced that NFB employees had communist affiliations. It also wanted to impose censorship fees, but backed down when Ottawa intervened.

This year, 31 films distributed by the Film Board won festival awards; some won several. The Canadian Film Awards proclaimed The Stratford Adventure Film of the Year and awarded it first prize in the commercial film category. The Venice Film Festival awarded Colin Low’s Corral first prize in the documentary category.

NFB expenses for administration, production and distribution of films and other material amounted to $3,381,447. At the end of the fiscal year, the Film Board had 567 regular employees.

Filmmakers and their works

Until the 1950s, filmmakers made very professional films fulfilling certain needs and made within budget, but often rather too conventional. Studio B began exploring new avenues and gave more and more weight to the aesthetic aspect. In 1954, Colin Low and Wolf Koenig dropped such respected traditions as the tripod and the documentary, and made Corral, the first NFB film with neither commentary nor sound. That adventure was followed by Paul Tomkowicz: Street-railway Switchman, directed by Roman Kroitor. This was the first time the voice of the actual subject was used on the soundtrack, not a commentary. The same filmmakers later made two films that become among the most widely distributed in the world: City of Gold by Wolf Koenig and Colin Low in 1957, and Universe by Roman Kroitor in 1960.

Pierre Juneau, who was in London working on European distribution, was made secretary to the board of governors and French advisor to the commissioner. As such he acquired general responsibility for French production. Until that point, no French Canadian had enjoyed such a high level of authority at the NFB.

It was still too early to predict how far television would influence documentary production for theatres and non-theatrical screenings, but filmmakers were keeping a close eye on the new medium. Some 25 stations were operating in Canada, and the Film Board supplied them with several series of programs, creating a heavy additional workload.

The Film Board made 235 films this year, 117 for television, 51 more than the previous year. The proportion of black-and-white and 16 mm films increased to meet TV requirements. In Canada and the U.S., most films for TV were shot in 16 mm, while those for cinema were in 35 mm.

The Film Board’s labs developed more than 5 million feet of 16 mm in black and white, up by 19% over the previous year. To speed up printing of 16 mm, without increasing staff or buying new equipment, Technical Services experimented with warmer developing solutions. A solution of 72 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 68 reduced the negative printing time from 8½ minutes to 5½ minutes, and a solution of 75 degrees instead of 68 reduced positive development time to three minutes instead of four. A new sensitometer controlled temperature and exposure more precisely, eliminated granulation and boosted production by 50% with no loss of quality. Developing at a higher temperature had already been used more or less successfully for TV films, but had never been widely used for other films. Electrolysis was used to recover the silver from the fixing solution, making considerable economies.

Television encouraged films with dialogue, plot and simultaneous sound and visuals. Some earlier films had followed this trend already: L’homme aux oiseaux (The Bird Fancier), The Son, A Musician in the Family and Opera School. For example, the Sur le vif series recorded sound and image simultaneously, instead of requiring post-synchronization in the studio. The NFB produced 25 original films for Sur le vif and 39 for the series On the Spot. For the Window on Canada program and its French equivalent, Regards sur le Canada, existing films were presented, specially revised for TV. They were enlivened by the presence of a commentator and experts who discussed the film afterwards.

The Film Board supplied Canadian newsreels to foreign TV stations. Thus for the anniversary of Confederation, the NFB and the Department of External Affairs prepared A Salute to Canada for the United States, which showed a variety of Canadian scenes to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing “O Canada.” The short film was screened by 111 American TV stations.

For some year, the Eye Witness series (Coup d’œil in French) had been an NFB production staple. Its films came out in both languages on alternate months and were short stories on different aspects of life all over Canada. They screened in theatres via Odeon Theatres (Canada) Limited. At the end of this fiscal year, the series was at its 73rd film.

Distributing and screening films

Taken enthusiastically to people’s hearts, television took up much of their spare time. Still, the NFB non-commercial distribution – meaning other than via theatre and TV – reached a global audience of over 14 million. The increase was slight, but it showed that many Canadians still wanted to use documentary and educational films for both formal and adult education.

Films in the series Canada Carries On and En avant Canada were booked into theatres across the country through a contract with Columbia Pictures of Canada Limited. They dealt with Canadian topics and presented a uniquely Canadian point of view amid the vast amount of material from outside Canada appearing on Canadian screens. However, the advent of cinemascope and “wide screen” reduced Canada Carries On bookings. The new presentations were longer and tended to crowd the short off the bill.


Preparations for the Montreal move (120 miles) occupied most of the year. Administration and Technical Services worked hard just setting up moving schedules for staff and equipment, while Production and Distribution had to continue their daily activities before and during the transfer.

In 1954, Personnel set up a special service to provide information to employees about accommodation, housing, taxes, transport and other details. Staff were authorized to travel to Montreal to find accommodation. A few months before the completion of the move the staffs of building and personnel services were split in an effort to provide essential services to the advanced guard in Montreal, while maintaining full service in Ottawa until most staff was transferred. Also during this period, new building services were organized in Montreal. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, operators of the staff cafeteria, cooperated closely in setting up the catering arrangement. The Department of Public Works also helped by providing furniture and fixtures to meet the moving schedule.

At the end of the fiscal year, the Film Board’s staff totalled 561, compared with 567 the previous year. However, there were more vacancies, as a result of difficulties recruiting clerical and stenographic staff to serve in Montreal.

The NFB won an award for its film selection at the Scholastic Teacher Magazine Annual Film Awards in New York. The renowned Norman McLaren garnered another award with Blinkity Blank. This animation, engraved on film with razor balde and pen-knife, won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in the short film category as well as the British Film Academy’s First Prize in the animation category. Maurice Blackburn composed the music for the film.

Filmmakers and their works

More and more, television was shouldering its way into productions. Nearly half the NFB films were for the small screen; the third quarter was sponsored films for various government departments and the last was the general program.

This year saw the end of Window on Canada and Regards sur le Canada. The Perspective series and its French equivalent Passe-Partout (1955-1958) succeeded On the Spot and Sur le vif with a body of dramatic films on Canadian social themes and important events. They included Les Canadiens français dans l’Ouest, Banff, Monkey on the Back, The Longer Trail (a film on Aboriginals) and Wolfe and Montcalm (1957), a re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. The half-hour episodes of the Perspective series were screened during the course of the year; those of Passe-Partout screened in 1956. On August 6, 1956 Monkey on the Back won an honourable mention in the Television Filmed Programs category at the Canadian Film Awards.

The Film Board used every recognized method of distribution to bring its films to as wide an audience as possible. Theatres and television played an important part. A system based on community film libraries brought film to some 11,000 groups organized in 500 community or local film councils; and monthly film programs, released through self-operating circuits, reached some 6,000 showing points in rural and urban areas.

Although it was impossible to know exactly how many people the world over saw NFB films, it was estimated that a total audience of 200 million was reached through the various channels of distribution.

Research and technology

Chester Beachell, an engineer working in NFB technical research, designed the light, mobile recording system known as the SprocketapeTM for production crews on the road, in particular the TV series On the Spot and Perspective. It used a 1/4 inch plastic magnetic recording tape synchronized with the camera. The first models proved entirely satisfactory under the difficult conditions of location shooting. Arrangements to market it were to be made with Canadian Patents and Development Limited.


On March 31, the move into the new Ville St. Laurent premises began. More than 400 employees and their families arrived within a few weeks. The timetable had been prepared minutely to keep any disruption of operations to a minimum and make most efficient use of the vans and staff of the moving companies. Very little working time was lost to the move: one or two days per staff member and in some cases none at all. The smoothness of the move on the staff side was attributed to the special help and advice services set up in 1954.

The move involved the transfer of more than three million pounds of equipment, the crating of which required more than 92,000 linear feet of lumber, 2,150 cardboard boxes and 200 typewriter cases.

The new premises occupied more than 204,016 square feet. The beige brick building structure was of steel and reinforced concrete. The central part housed the Commissioner, Administration and Distribution, a 290-seat auditorium and a cafeteria and health clinic. Production and Technical Services occupied two wings joined by a series of offices and editing rooms. One of the wings housed the largest studio in North America outside California. Its shooting stage measured 70 feet by 120 feet, with a clear height of 35 feet; wardrobe and dressing rooms flanked this studio.

A second, smaller studio, 70 feet by 50 feet, was designed primarily for recording musical scores and sound effects. It was also for re-recording and merging different soundtracks on one single track. The west wing housed film storage vaults, scientific film production facilities, technical research and engineering shops, photographic services, stills laboratories and stores.

The official opening of the new building took place in a public ceremony on September 24, attended by federal government representatives, the Government Film Commissioner Albert W. Trueman, members of the clergy, civic officials, and about 500 invited guests and members of the Film Board staff.

Now, for the first time in its 17-year span, the combined facilities of the Board – production, technical operations, administration and distribution branches – were under one roof. Almost 500 people, many of them skilled technicians and craftsmen, were employed in the new building.

The Commissioner’s office still remained in Ottawa, and a limited headquarters staff located there, in the Kent-Albert building, as well as the following: the liaison division (responsible for maintaining contact between Government departments and agencies) and the Board’s operating divisions; the chief of the still photography division, stills cameramen and writers, and the photo library; a small 16 mm film preview library; a theatre with both 16 mm and 35 mm projection facilities, equipped for interlock screenings; and distribution representatives for Eastern Ontario and Hull, Quebec.

The Film Board also maintained regional offices in St. John’s, Fredericton, Toronto, Saskatoon and Vancouver. In 37 other communities across Canada, district representatives promoted interest in and use of Canadian films. Abroad, the NFB had offices in London, New York and Chicago.

The Board’s regular staff increased from 561 to 593. The increase was due largely to additional production and technical services provided in the new Montreal building. An abnormally high turnover of 20.4 per cent could be attributed to the move. Many employees refused to work in Montreal and others who had made the move changed their minds after several months.

As well as the move, the NFB pursued its usual activities, presenting its best films in festivals. The quality of its selection was recognized at two events in Rome, with a silver cup from the 3rd Conference of the International Union for Sanitary Education, and a plaque from the International Exhibition of Electronics, Nuclear Energy, Wireless, Television and Cinema.

Filmmakers and their works

Despite the disruption of the move, the number of films completed in 1956 (261) was only down by 47 compared to the previous year. A second French Studio was created, Studio G, directed by Jacques Bobet, to take charge of all the French versions.

Two films from En avant Canada were very successful: Carnaval de Québec (Carnival in Quebec) tells of the popularity of winter sports in Quebec City; Déneigement (Snow Fighters) is a dramatic account of the men, money and machines needed to clear snow in Montreal.

The French series Passe-Partout and the English Perspective returned to Canadian TV screens for a second year, both with 39 half-hour episodes. There was considerable non-theatrical distribution of the films from these series, both by circuit distribution and through sales of copies.

In 1956, the uprising in Hungary forced thousands to leave the country. The fate of these refugees was of concern the world over. The NFB was asked to supply films to screen to those who might eventually immigrate to Canada, or to Hungarians recently arrived in Canada to give them an idea of the country. In the 48 hours following the request, the Film Board prepared special Hungarian versions of the films Canadian Notebook and Physical Regions of Canada. Copies were hurried out to Paris, Vienna, The Hague and London, also to eleven regional NFB offices. The reception was enthusiastic.

Canadian films were to play a major part in telling Canada’s story to the crowds of people expected to attend the Universal and International Exhibition in Brussels, Belgium, in 1958. The Board’s technical staff, as adviser to the Canadian Government Exhibition Commission, was asked to consult on plans and to prepare specifications for the projection facilities to be installed in the Canadian Pavilion. Branch staff made extensive studies and recommendations relating to the acoustics in the Pavilion and the placement of equipment; they also drew up the detailed tender forms and contracts required for competitive bidding by firms interested in supplying equipment for Canadian use at the Fair.

Distributing and screening films

All over Canada, NFB representatives worked with groups who used film. The work of Damase (“Dan”) Bouvier, one of the five Alberta reps, illustrates the extraordinary work of Distribution staff. Twice a year, Bouvier drove from Edmonton on a 3,000 mile, six-week tour of his territory. He drove to the north of the province, stopped everywhere and met hundreds of people. He discussed with clergymen what films their parishes needed, advised film councils, and showed people how to use a 16 mm projector. From Dawson Creek near the B.C. border he would veer north to Fort Vermillon so that every community had a chance to see NFB films. As he wouldn’t be returning for another six months, the distribution network in these vast and sparsely populated territories had to be very well organized. Bouvier also made many other trips of a week or several days to other districts.

When Bouvier began at the NFB in 1942, three years after it was founded, documentary films were only seen in densely populated centres. Now, 14 years on, an immense distribution network covered the country. It met demand from all corners: francophone and anglophone communities, missions and Indian schools. It mailed films to French-speaking groups in Vancouver and Prince George in B.C., to Duck Lake and Gravelbourg in Saskatchewan, and sent films by air to such far-flung places as Fort Chipewyan in the Northwest Territories. Here is the result of all this work: In the territory under Bouvier’s responsibility, each month there were 350 screenings, 75 for francophone groups, and there existed 21 film councils divided into two federations. The region held over 450 films, expedited from one place to another in blocks of three or four, by bus, train or plane. It was this incessant activity, this contact between the general public and the local NFB reps across Canada that allowed the documentary films to reach such a wide audience.

For nearly ten years, the NFB had been screening films on trans-Atlantic ships. For three years, it had been screening its films on all the ships that regularly visited Canada as well as on those serving other parts of the world. Special efforts were made to provide travel promotion films on cruise ships and those carrying vacationers. Examples are the travel films used on Canada Steamship Lines ships; the C.P.R. Great Lakes and West Coast Service, also the Furness Withy Trans-Atlantic Service during the summer months; the ferries between the mainland and Prince Edward Island, and between Maine and Nova Scotia; the Royal Inter-Ocean Lines cruising from Japan via India and Africa to South America; the Italian Line between New York and Italy, and the Orient Line between Vancouver and Australia. Special blocks of films – mostly German-language versions – were provided in collaboration with the Department of Citizenship and Immigration on ships of the Arosa Line for showing to groups of immigrants brought from Europe each summer.


This year the National Film Board welcomed to its Montreal building many distinguished visitors from Canada and other countries. Among the guests was the Governor General, Vincent Massey, whose interest in the Board was of long standing. It was he who in 1938 as Canadian High Commissioner in London heeded the suggestion of his secretary, Ross McLean, and persuaded the government to bring over the documentary filmmaker John Grierson to study film activity in Canada. This led to the founding of the NFB. It was also Massey who chaired the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences (Massey Commission). Its report, submitted in 1950, was in favour of the NFB.

Welcomed by the Chairman and in front of all the staff, Massey said: “This institution does and must, I feel, play a vital part in making Canadians conscious of their country and what is going on in it. Canada is vast and complex. Few of us have the chance to see more than a small part of it, but through the eyes of your cameras we can get to know every nook and cranny. Your imagination and skill can link our people more closely together and give us an awareness of our country and our own identity. And how well you do it! That wonderful film The Sceptre and the Mace, which I have seen recently, is an example of how you in the Film Board can show the meaning of our Canadian institutions. (…) Much that is important in our national life would be lost if it were not for the imaginative and sensitive record which the Film Board keeps. (…) I know from experience how valuable your work is in interpreting Canada and Canadians to the rest of the world. I often wonder if NFB films are not better known overseas than they are at home. Certainly wherever film festivals take place your entries are acclaimed and respected.”

In July 1954, Pierre Juneau was the first French Canadian to be given responsibility for French-language production. But francophones wanted to play a greater part in and have more independence at the NFB. When rumours began circulating that after the Montreal move, a French assistant commissioner would be appointed, hopes were raised, only to be dashed in February 1957. During the reorganization that followed the move, commissioner Albert Trueman opted for a triumvirate of assistants, two English, only one French: Donald Mulholland was appointed director of planning and research, Grant McLean director of production, and Pierre Juneau executive director of French affairs.

Francophone staff were not well impressed by this, nor was the French press, which launched a vituperative campaign denouncing the treatment of French Canadians at the NFB. The issue had been raised in the press the previous year but not so violently. The main grievances were that French Canadian staff had lower salaries, that there was no true French production and no separately funded French section. Rumours of a coming appointment of a French-Canadian commissioner whipped up even more speculation.

At the same time, Parliament created the Canada Council for the Arts and appointed NFB commissioner Albert Trueman director. A new commissioner had to be appointed and now was the time to pick a francophone. Guy Roberge had co-written the chapter in the Massey Commission report dealing with film and had served as a Liberal deputy in the Quebec legislative assembly, and had a seat on the NFB board of governors. He became commissioner in May 1957 and his arrival ended “l’affaire ONF.”

Filmmakers and their works

The film to which Massey referred in his speech, The Sceptre and the Mace, was made in October during the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to Canada and her presence at the opening of Parliament, led by the new prime minister, John Diefenbaker. Just eleven days later, the film was screening in theatres all over the country. This documentary showed all the colour and feeling of the historic spectacle, but also achieved a more enduring value by situating the event in the long evolution of British parliamentarism. The parts of the film illustrating the history of Parliament were planned and completed well in advance and the final work of filming the ceremony itself was hastened by the use of many cameras and special couriers to get the film to Montreal for editing and printing. The completed film was given its official premiere in Ottawa before His Excellency, the Governor General, and 1,500 guests. Shortly after, it had its European premiere in London, with evident pleasure on the part of the audience and critics.

Another successful film was City of Gold by Wolf Koenig and Colin Low, a vivid description of a legendary era in Canadian history – the growth and decline of Dawson City, which owed its existence to the discoveryof gold in the Yukon in the late 1890s. It makes liberal use of historic still photographs and an intriguing “ragtime” musical score. The French version, Capitale de l'or, was the Film Board’s entry in the International Film Festival, Cannes, where it earned the Silver Palm as an outstanding documentary film, while the French presss named it a chef-d’œuvre. Shortly afterwards the film, in English, also won first prize in the general interest category at the Cork, Ireland, festival, and won the film of the year award at the 10th Canadian Film Awards. At the Irish film festival, Basil Wright, British documentary filmmaker on the judging panel, commended City of Gold for “charm and poetic tenderness” and “faultless” music score (by Eldon Rathburn) and commentary. The film was followed soon after by Universe by Roman Kroitor, produced in 1960. Both films were among the most widely distributed in the world.

Another multiple award-winning film this year was A Chairy Tale/Il était une chaise, experimental film prize winner at the Venice Film Festival and recipient of a special award from the British Film Academy. The directors were Norman McLaren, whose critically acclaimed works delighted audiences worldwide, and Claude Jutra, an avant-garde filmmaker whose Mon oncle Antoine (Mon oncle Antoine) (1971) is considered the best Canadian film of all time.

Francophone TV programs were growing apace. The series Panoramique began with Les brûlés by Bernard Devlin, marking the advent of fiction at the the NFB. Others in the series such as Il était une guerre by Louis Portugais (1958), Le maître du Pérou and Pays neuf by Fernand Dansereau (1958), study the social history of Quebec from the 1930s to the 1950s, via events that moulded Canada’s fate: the Depression, the war, agricultural changes, post-war prosperity and industry.

Perhaps the boldest enterprise of the NFB so far was a series of thirteen films, The Commonwealth of Nations. This history of the Commonwealth tries, as a Canadian film, to unravel the meaning of this community of people. To make a 13-chapter series that was a complete study of the Commonwealth, the directors had to watch, choose and edit thousands of feet of film shot by the NFB and by foreign producers. With television, this panorama could be presented in digestible weekly chunks. The thirteen chapters formed a global view omitting nothing, yet each episode was complete in itself. One of the films, Ten Days that Shook the Commonwealth by Ronald Dick, is a critical study of the history, problems and future of the Commonwealth.

Distributing and screening films

Television was vital for reaching audiences. It was estimated that there were now around 60 million sets worldwide. The U.S. had 40 million, the U.K., six-and-a-half million, Canada two-and-a-half million and Europe two million. As well, there were an estimated million and a quarter in Russia and the same number in Latin America. In Asia, mainly Japan, there were around half a million. Australia was estimated to have 30,000.

Distribution expanded greatly in South Asia after an office was opened in New Delhi. (It closed in 1975.) To develop foreign markets further, a record 55 films were produced in foreign language versions, e.g., Urdu, Bengali, Spanish, German.

The NFB participated in the Brussels Universal Exhibition, where 3,600 visitors a day were attending screenings in the 280-seat theatre in the Canadian Pavilion. The screenings – in French and English – were jointly sponsored by the Board and the Department of Trade and Commerce. Film programs in German and Dutch were also presented. Most of the films were from the NFB film library, but a number of others were supplied by commercial film producers and Canadian film sponsors.

Research and technology

Technical operations changed from 35 mm magnetic sound reproducers (dubbers) to 16 mm Sprocketape magnetic dubbers. The 16 mm dubbers were a logical development from the light-weight Sprocketape recorders developed for film crews in the previous year. Like those, the new dubbers offered huge financial savings in film sound recording. The magnetic tape used in the new equipment cost $9 per 10-minute reel, against $42 for the old type. There were also space savings as the new Sprocketape dubbers were more compact. Two of the new dubbers required less floor space than one of the 35 mm units.

A new animation stand was put into operation. Its major features were ease of change between 16 mm and 35 mm film, greater flexibility in precise movement and partial automation of many operating controls. It sped production of animation films and allowed greater camera versatility.

For the Department of Trade and Commerce the Film Board designed and built an automatic slide changer for the Brussels Universal Exhibition. The themes were Canadian freedoms, the Government of Canada and the expansion of Canada. After all the slides had been shown, the machine returned to a start position and began the show again.


René Clair, world-famous film director, and Jacques Tati, creator of Monsieur Hulot and Mon oncle, were among the many movie stars, directors and producers who came from France in November 1958 to attend a French film festival in Montreal. Both men visited the National Film Board, which used the occasion to begin discussions on a co-production agreement between Canada and France.

René Clair talked for several hours to NFB filmmakers. Of the Film Board, he said: “This National Film Board for which you are working is something absolutely unique in the world. And this is not a mere compliment, it is simply the truth. . . The results of your work are known the world over and we all have been impressed by it.” He concluded, “Canada is giving, through example of its National Film Board, something that should be meditated on the world over and which is, in any case, admired by the world.” Norman McLaren presented René Clair with a copy of his most recent film, A Chairy Tale. Clair wrote: “It will remind me that film is not only a commercial machine but also a tool of artistic creativeness. Of course, I am aware of that, but nevertheless it is comforting to establish this fact with proofs of such quality.”

For the Panoramique series the French team was in close collaboration and the filmmakers wanted a place of their own to work in. The French program was divided into two studios (F and H) with executive producers Fernand Dansereau, Bernard Devlin, Louis Portugais and Léonard Forest. Jacques Bobet was still in charge of versions. Yet these studios were still not autonomous and in January Léonard Forest and Fernand Dansereau sent a memoir to commissioner Pierre Juneau demanding that a team be set up and allowed to devise its own program. They also wanted to continue making fiction films and features.

Filmmakers and their works

Studio B filmmakers Colin Low, Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor had been experimenting for some years with ways of getting closer to their subjects and using the soundtrack differently. With the Candid Eye series and its direct cinema approach, Studio B under the direction of Tom Daly reached its zenith. These films were inspired by the photojournalism of Cartier-Bresson and fit into the new direct cinema wave. The guiding principles were absence of script, use of lightweight cameras, spontaneity, empiricism and realism. The Days Before Christmas (1958) by Terence Macartney-Filgate, Stanley Jackson and Wolf Koenig, Police (1958) by Terence Macartney-Filgate, Emergency Ward (1959) by William Greaves, Festival in Puerto Rico (1961) by Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor on the well-known contralto Maureen Forrester, all reflect this major Canadian documentary trend.

The methods of the Candid Eye filmmakers reflected a general re-thinking of documentary fimmaking. In Great Britain and the U.S., spontaneity was the goal. In France, Jean Rouch was seeking change at his Comité du film ethnographique. For the French Canadians taking part in the Studio B experiments, here was finally a chance to assert their identity. The directors Michel Brault and Gilles Groulx and soundman Marcel Carrière filmed Les raquetteurs, which came to be regarded as the cinematic manifesto of part of the French team and the first film in Quebec cinéma direct. Gilles Groulx declared in Cahiers du Cinéma in 1966: “What’s now considered cinéma direct was initially just an experiment to free ourselves from the weight of the NFB tradition.” The filmmakers screened their work at the Robert Flaherty Seminar in California, attended by French documentarian Jean Rouch. The participants recognized the innovation of the film, which was to influence a whole generation of direct filmmakers.

Under the title Temps présent, the NFB presented on Radio-Canada and through private staions, a series of 26 films. They dealt with prominent personalities of French Canada, portraits of Canadians who had been influential in literature, music, painting, anthropology, social work and agriculture. More than filmed biographies, they showed how geographical, social and human environments influenced the lives of these people and how they in turn exerted an influence on their own environment. The gallery included the actor Fred Barry, novelist Germaine Guèvremont, organist Henri Gagnon, Acadian priest Charles Forest, troubadour Félix Leclerc, painter John Lyman, anthropologist Marius Barbeau and farmer Pierre Beaulieu.

The Temps présent series included the two-episode documentary L’essor féminin/Women on the March, a look back at the feminist movement since the start of the century, and a three-episode documentary on 50 years of aviation in Canada. Women on the March won the Grand Prize for television documentaries at Cannes.

The Leduc oil fields, the Arctic barrens, the Peace River country, coping with the cold, the history of mechanization, and the effects of automation on industry and society: these are some of the themes covered by NFB teams assigned to Frontiers. This series of 15 films screened on CBC and 33 private stations.

With the approval of the Department of External Affairs, in 1957 the NFB had begun production of an ambitious 12-film series entitled The Commonwealth of Nations. Because South Africa objected to the film Black and White in South Africa on apartheid, the government banned its distribution abroad.

Canada Carries On (En avant Canada) celebrated its 15th anniversary. Every month around 600 theatres screened its films.

Research and technology

The machine shop improved one of the Film Board’s older animation stands. The shooting speed was increased from 160 frames to 240 frames per minute. As part of the re-building, the main vertical column of the stand, eight feet long and of hardened steel, had to be re-ground to a tolerance of 1/1000th of an inch. Also, the camera could now handle both 16 mm and 35 mm film, whereas previously it had been limited to 35 mm stock.

Several films made during the year showed people being interviewed, and expanding use of this technique required some changes in equipment. Previously, most of the Film Board’s cameras and sound recorders had a capacity of ten minutes. Technical Operations modified several of these pieces of equipment during the year to provide half-hour continuous running and modified magnetic transfer equipment to accommodate these longer recordings.

Unobtrusive “lipstick” microphones also were introduced. They hung around the speaker’s neck, or could be hidden under a tie, allowing complete freedom of movement.


The minister responsible for the NFB, Ellen Fairclough, affirmed the independence of the NFB in the House of Commons, saying that she neither supervised it, nor would she interfere with its productions.

Over the 20 years of its existence, the NFB had won a considerable number of prizes, trophies and certificates that attested to the excellence of its films, slides and photos. But amidst all these honours, there is one that stands out because it clearly summarizes the mission of the NFB. It’s a National Citizenship Award, inscribed on a beaver pelt and given by the Canadian Citizenship Council to the National Film Board “for recording, depicting and interpreting on film, Canada, the Canadian people, Canadian achievements, Canadian institutions and the work of Canadian institutions, Canada’s cultural life and its varied and numerous aspects; for its promotion of the use of Canadian films by groups of all kinds, both in urban and rural areas; for its frequently courageous treatment of issues and ideas; for its imaginative efforts in informing and awakening Canadians through film of high quality, particularly documentary film, to the vast complex fabric of our nation.”

The actress Simone Signoret also used a few well-chosen words about the NFB that attracted a lot of press attention. After having won the Oscar® for best actress in Hollywood, she made a brief stop in Montreal on her way to Paris. “The short films made by the NFB are the best in the world,” she told journalists. Earlier in the year, Signoret had visited the National Film Board studios and bought a copy of the film City of Gold for her own film library.

At the end of February, the University of British Columbia, with the cooperation of the NFB, undertook a unique experiment. During five two-hour programs, presented by filmmaker Guy Glover, participants in this movie marathon watched highlights from 42 years of films made by the NFB at the request of the Canadian Government. Though the program included some venerable works about tourism and industry that were clearly outdated, they nevertheless showed how NFB films reflected the development of the country over the years. People wondered whether it was possible to link the various stages in the development of the Board with the evolution of the country, separating them into pre-war, wartime and post-war. Given the documentary nature of NFB production, it was often wondered whether these films should be treated as primary source material in tracing the history of Canada.

Filmmakers and their works

The NFB produced several documentaries about the work that went into building the St. Lawrence Seaway and as a result, thousands of people around the world learned about this impressive endeavour. The 30-minute film Royal River is about the historical significance of this undertaking, a massive effort that culminated in the inauguration of the Seaway by Queen Elizabeth II and President Eisenhower. Less than 48 hours after the Queen’s departure, this film had already been distributed to theatres across the country. A 20-minute version was made available for the Commonwealth countries, as well as a 10-minute version for screening in the U.S.A. and in 20 other countries. In the following few months, the film was seen in a total of 1,670 theatres around the world, and the NFB made German, Greek, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian versions of the original half-hour film.

The NFB had already produced another half-hour film, Here and There - The St. Lawrence Seaway (Part 1), about the work at different stages. It was distributed before the official opening of the Seaway and met with great success on television, where in a period of six months it was broadcast more than 300 times in the U.S.A. alone. The NFB then prepared different versions of the film for specific audiences, and the one broadcast in schools was particularly well received. As a result of its worldwide distribution it’s thought that no other NFB film was seen by so many in a single year. There were two reasons for this: first, the public interest in the St. Lawrence Seaway; and second, the availability of the film in so many languages.

During the visit by the Queen and Prince Philip, the still photography division organized and coordinated all the photographers working for both the Canadian and the foreign press. In this case, the division acted as both a point of exchange and supply service for the photographers. The Film Board also took many photographs for the Canadian archives. After the trip, on behalf of the Canadian government, it gave the royal visitors a souvenir album of 156 colour and black-and-white photos. The Photograph Service prepared a photo-reportage on the St. Lawrence Seaway and this was widely used by both Canadian and foreign newspapers, remaining in demand for several months after the Seaway opened.

Another NFB film entitled simply Vincent Massey was particularly well received by the public. It was filmed at Batterwood, near Port Hope in Ontario, and premiered on television shortly after Mr. Massey retired from his position as Governor General of Canada. In a relaxed and warm conversation with the former diplomat Blair Fraser, the Governor General shared his opinions and wisdom on such diverse topics as education, Canadians, the relations between French and English, and the relations between Canada, the Crown, and the Commonwealth. The critics responded very favourably: According to the Ottawa Citizen it was “a new and compelling portrait” of Mr. Massey, while the Montreal Star labelled it “an invaluable record for future historians.”

The NFB also produced Georges P. Vanier: Soldier, Diplomat, Governor General, which aired on both the French and English networks of the CBC, and The Record of the Installation of Major-General Georges P. Vanier as Governor General of Canada, September 15, 1959, devoted to the career of Major General Vanier. Le Droit of Ottawa described this film as “An excellent report, superbly produced,” while La Patrie of Montreal wrote that it was “one of the most captivating documentaries in the Temps présent series.”

In addition to the series Temps présent, the NFB also made seven biographical films, including two that were each an hour long. The first of these, La grande aventure industrielle racontée par Édouard Simard, describes how French Canadians joined the ranks of large industrial producers thanks to the success of Marine Industries and Sorel Industries, two companies Édouard Simard and his brothers founded.

The second film, Le chanoine Lionel Groulx, historien, tells the story of Lionel Groulx from his childhood to his adult life as a writer whose every deed was linked to the life of French Canada. The journalist and critic Roger Duhamel, referring to the series and particularly to the films on Canon Lionel Groulx and the poet Alfred DesRochers, wrote: “The National Film Board gradually is endowing us with a literary iconography which will assume, with the passing years, a very great value . . . Thanks to these films, our grandchildren will be able to re-discover the great names of our literature . . . I hope the National Film Board will pursue this very important anthology, for today – but mainly for tomorrow.”

The NFB launched a new series of hour-long films called Comparisons. The CBC national television network showed the first three films in the series, in which a parallel was established between a particular aspect of life in Canada and another country. In the first film, Four Families, we see the way a typical rural family raises its children in Canada, France, India and Japan. The NFB employed well-known anthropologists like Margaret Mead and Marcel Rioux to comment, analyze different kinds of parental authority and describe how certain national traits are passed on to small children at a very early age.

Distributing and screening films

The distribution of Canadian films in Eastern Europe was on the rise. The Romance of Transportation in Canada was sold for distribution to theatres in the U.S.S.R. and Sovexportfilm began negotiations to buy Fishermen and High Arctic: Life on the Land, which had both screened at the Moscow Film Festival. In Yugoslavia, an agreement was reached to distribute for free, with the help of a state-run agency, a range of films of a cultural or technical nature. In Czechoslovakia, where three films had already been sold for theatrical release, television also screened the documentary Thousand Islands Summer. At the Poznan Film Fair in Poland, 207 Canadian films were shown in Polish, and seven were added to the three that Poland had already decided to distribute theatrically. Finally, because of free screenings at the film libraries attached to Canadian diplomatic missions, a growing number of people abroad were able to watch Canadian films.


The arrival of television and the operational headquarters move from Ottawa to Montreal were major upheavals. New shooting techniques were adopted and film duration was set to match TV slots. Although the National Film Act seemed to grant the NFB exclusive production rights for news and films sponsored by the government and Radio-Canada, filmmakers feared they would be compelled to produce for TV only, to the detriment of their own projects. Furthermore, as TV sets multiplied in Canadian houses, audiences for non-theatrical distribution plummeted.

However, where production was concerned, studios multiplied, and at the end of the decade the French team came together and took their first steps in cinéma direct. Finally, the NFB became even better known because of film versions in several languages.

Many films won prestigious awards in Venice, England and Cannes. Hollywood awarded a second Oscar® to the NFB in 1952 for best documentary short for Norman McLaren’s Neighbours/Voisins. This film was the most popular in the history of the NFB so far.

Among the many numerous technical innovations of the fifties, it was sound that attracted researchers most. The NFB introduced magnetic audiotape for all recordings of original sound. Previously, sound was recorded optically. The outstanding event of the decade was probably filming Royal Journey, the NFB’s first 35 mm colour film and first technical co-production with the U.S., in 1951.