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The 1960s: An Explosion of Creativity

The 1960s: An Explosion of Creativity

The 1960s was a period of great change at the National Film Board (NFB). Filmmakers had embraced direct cinema at the end of the previous decade and would continue to make classic films in this style throughout the 1960s. Animated films would start to win prizes around the world, and the NFB would try its hand at producing feature-length fiction for the first time.

Television would play an ever increasing role in the broadcast of NFB films. As in the 1950s, many classic direct cinema films would be made for television. The seminal series Candid Eye would end its run in 1961, but the NFB would continue to produce great direct cinema films such as Colin Low’s The Hutterites for television.

The production of feature-length fiction in both English and French came about when filmmakers used the techniques learned in shooting documentary and adapted them to dramatizing events of importance to Canadian society. Don Owen’s Nobody Waved Good-bye started off as a documentary on juvenile delinquency but along the way the filmmaker realized that fiction was the best way to tell this story and shot the film in this way.

Experimental film and animated productions really came of age during this decade. NFB filmmakers were recognized around the world for unique styles that contrasted with what was available commercially at the time. Following in the footsteps of animation pioneer Norman McLaren, filmmakers such as Ryan Larkin and Arthur Lipsett gained international reputations for work that refused to conform to conventional filmmaking techniques, thus creating a new type of film. These filmmakers would inspire a generation of Hollywood greats such as Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas.

The decade would end with the NFB’s filmmakers tackling society’s problems through the use of film in such series as Challenge for Change.

Albert Ohayon

Having viewed over 7,500 films, Albert Ohayon is our resident collections expert. He studied film production and journalism at Concordia University in Montreal and has been working at the National Film Board since 1984.

  • Universe
    1960|27 min

    Universe by Roman Kroitor and Colin Low was so realistic that it would inspire Stanley Kubrick to make his classic sci-fi opus 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick would also borrow Universe’s narrator Douglas Rain to be the voice of HAL-9000 in the same film!

  • Drylanders
    1962|1 h 9 min

    Drylanders was the first feature-length fiction film produced in English at the NFB and came about because the 1-hour documentary on farming in Saskatchewan that was originally proposed was rejected by the CBC. Filmmaker Donald Haldane instead adapted the idea to a dramatic feature. The resulting film would play in over 500 theatres across Canada.

  • Nobody Waved Good-bye
    1964|1 h 20 min

    Nobody Waved Good-bye was shot in just three weeks in Toronto by Don Owen and a small crew of actors and technicians. The film was originally intended as a short documentary on juvenile delinquents but it grew and grew until it was decided to shoot it as a fiction film. Improvised by the actors, it told the story of teen alienation and became a surprise hit in the United States.

  • The Hutterites
    1964|28 min

    The Hutterites was Colin Low’s attempt to give a voice to the little-known Hutterite community in Canada. With only a cameraman and soundman to accompany him, Low spent three weeks living in a Hutterite community in Alberta, recording the lives and rituals of this misunderstood people.

  • The Days of Whiskey Gap
    1961|28 min

    The troubled early history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is the subject of The Days of Whiskey Gap, a rollicking documentary on the days of the Wild West in Canada. This is by no means a romanticized look at the Mounties but a critical look at the settling of the Canadian West.

  • 21-87
    1964|9 min

    Arthur Lipsett and his experimental 21-87, a collage of seemingly unrelated snippets of film that offered a wry commentary on the machine age, would inspire young filmmakers of an entire generation. George Lucas would be so impressed with Lipsett and this film that he would refer to the film’s title in the first Star Wars film (It is Princess Leia’s prison cell number)!

  • Walking
    1968|5 min

    Walking would earn Ryan Larkin an Oscar® nomination in the category of short animated film. Using a variety of techniques, Larkin transformed the ordinary action of people walking into a study of the beauty of the human body.

  • Cosmic Zoom
    1968|8 min

    Cosmic Zoom is a clever animated film showing the vastness of the galaxy and the intricacies of the human living organism. From an atom of a living human cell to the farthest conceivable point of the universe and all points in between!

  • You Are on Indian Land
    1969|36 min

    Part of the seminal series Challenge for Change, You Are on Indian Land was one of the first films to voice the concerns of First Peoples in Canada. Filmmaker Mort Ransen, shooting in the style of direct cinema, records the blocking of the international bridge that cuts through the St. Regis Reserve. While the news media focused on altercations with the police, Ransen showed what led to these altercations and let the Mohawks of the Reserve speak for themselves and tell their own story.