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The NFB celebrates pinscreen animation

The NFB celebrates pinscreen animation

Did you know that the National Film Board currently owns the world’s only working pinscreen? The pinscreen is a vertical screen fitted with retractable pins that, when lit from the side, cast varying shadows depending on their degree of retraction. The results are stunning animated images with the look of engravings or charcoal drawings. Invented by Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker in the 1930s, the rich legacy of the pinscreen was championed by Alexeieff’s daughter, Svetlana Alexeieff Rockwell, who passed away in January of 2015 at the age of 91.

In honour of Svetlana Alexeieff Rockwell’s contributions to the veneration of this innovative and intricate animation technology, we are proud to present a selection of films created with the pinscreen from our collection. Covering a wide range of historical periods, the films in this playlist range from a classic Jacques Drouin meditation on symbolism (Mindscape) to the contemporary short animation Here and the Great Elsewhere by Michèle Lemieux, a film about humanity’s eternal quest for meaning.

  • Mindscape
    1976|7 min

    A particularly creative example of the pinscreen animation technique, this film is about an artist who steps inside his painting and wanders about in a landscape peopled with symbols that trigger unexpected associations. Film without words.

  • Imprints
    2004|6 min

    In this short experimental film, animator Jacques Drouin explores and highlights both sides of Alexeïeff-Parker’s pinscreen. Led by the repeated harmonies of a rondo for harpsichord by François Couperin, the film shows the filmmaker hurling himself into a hand-to-hand tussle with his own favourite instrument. Positioning the camera and lighting to reveal the relief formed by the pins, Drouin continually pivots the screen so that the viewer can glimpse the images hidden behind this mysterious screen.

  • Here and the Great Elsewhere
    2012|14 min

    This abstract yet compelling philosophical tale uses the Alexeïeff-Parker pinscreen as a metaphor for the particles that make up the universe. Through 4 tableaux that explore her character’s thoughts, filmmaker Michèle Lemieux takes a look at the profound reflections of this everyman, whose questions are part of humanity’s eternal quest for meaning.

  • A Hunting Lesson
    2001|13 min

    This short animated film follows Antoine, a young boy fascinated by his mysterious neighbour, a man rumoured to have once been a big game hunter. Antoine is eager to learn about hunting, but the lesson he learns from the wise older man is not at all what he had expected: Antoine is left with a profound reverence for life. The film is based on Jacques Godbout’s book Une leçon de chasse, which was nominated for a 1997 Governor General's Award for children's literature.

  • Ex-Child
    1994|4 min

    This short animation tells the story of a young boy and his father, both of whom are enlisted to fight in the war. The boy's pride soon turns to fear as the bullets whistle overhead. His father takes his place and is immediately shot and killed. Horrified, the boy understands that war is not a game. Based on article 38 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, this film illustrates the right of children under the age of 15 not to be recruited into the armed forces.