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    Albert Ohayon

Canada’s Diverse Cultures

Canada’s Diverse Cultures

The first films on cultural communities in Canada were made at the NFB in the 1940s.

They seem quaint to us today, concentrating on ancestral customs, religious beliefs, crafts, dress and traditional dance and music. The films say nothing about what drove these people to move here or what difficulties they faced, and consisting as they do of narration and music, they give no voice to the communities they represent.

These films wanted to show that Canada was an open and tolerant country where many cultures could co-exist. They also underline the concept of citizenship, recalling that despite their differences, immigrants were Canadian citizens, had espoused the values of their new country and spoke one of the two official languages.

By the late 1950s the advent of light portable cameras and synchronous sound equipment meant that NFB filmmakers had a great deal of freedom in filming their subjects. Synchronous sound also meant that the subjects in the films could themselves speak on camera in a more spontaneous fashion.

The people of these cultural communities would be allowed to speak about their experiences but, on seeing the films today, we sense that the filmmakers (who are Francophone or Anglophone and not members of the cultural community) want to interpret for us what is being presented.

In 1971 the Canadian Secretary of State announced a new policy of support to all cultures and ethnic groups in Canada to help break down discriminatory attitudes and cultural conflicts. In response to this policy, the National Film Board implemented a Multicultural program in August 1972 aimed at acquainting Canada’s ethnic groups with NFB movies versioned in their own languages.

One hundred sixty-five films were versioned into 19 languages and made available. Filmmakers from the various cultural groups were brought in and encouraged to make films about their communities. It was no longer a member of the dominant group casting an eye on these groups but someone from the community who explored the challenges and benefits of integration into mainstream Canadian culture.

In this way, we were shown the immigrant experience in Canada through the eyes of those who lived it.

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.

  • Shipbuilder
    1985|6 min

    What would drive a man to spend 10 years of his life building a ship in the middle of the prairie 17 miles (27 km) from the nearest body of water? In the case of Tom Sukanen, it might have something to do with returning to his native Finland to be reunited with the wife and baby he left behind. Shipbuilder explores the fine line between genius and madness as well as the great loneliness that afflict immigrants regardless of where they are.

  • Western Eyes
    2000|39 min

    One participant in Western Eyes says, “Life is about self improvement.” The question is, at what cost? Asian women who don’t feel that they fit our society’s ideal of beauty are portrayed in this film, which asks: Who decides what is beautiful and what if you don’t feel like you fit in?

  • Opre Roma: Gypsies in Canada
    1999|52 min

    Who are the Roma, the ones that we call Gypsies? Why have they been persecuted since the 11th century? Can Roma in Canada celebrate their culture without fear? Opre Roma: Gypsies in Canada presents a people with a tragic past but, more importantly, with passion in their hearts.

  • Ted Baryluk's Grocery

    A multicultural neighbourhood in Winnipeg is seen through the eyes of grocer Ted Baryluk. Over the 20 years that he has operated the store, the neighbourhood has changed considerably. The constant is that the people of the neighbourhood have always come from a mix of cultures, a microcosm of Canada. An exquisite film shot in the style of a photomontage.

  • Strangers at the Door
    1977|28 min

    This dramatized short film focuses on the arrival in Canada of a group of immigrants at the turn of the century. The main protagonists are a family with three young children who have left the old country in search of land to build the farm they have dreamt of for so many years. Fate will deal them a cruel blow when it is discovered that the young daughter must return because she has an infectious disease.

  • Earth to Mouth
    2002|41 min

    Lau King-Fai left China in 1994 at the age of 65 to join her son in Newcastle, Ontario and help run his farm. The Wing Fong farm produces succulent Asian vegetables for Chinese markets and restaurants across the country. thanks in part to the similarity of the soil in Canada and China. Mexican workers, who simply cannot support their families back home, are employed to help cultivate the land. This beautiful film shows two vastly different cultures working together to make the farm a success.

  • Speakers for the Dead

    You won’t find it in any history book but African Canadians inhabited the area near Priceville, Ontario in the 1830s. These were veterans of the War of 1812 who settled there after they were promised lands by the government but were forced to squat elsewhere when Whites were given the deeds to these lands. The Black community eventually disappeared but a link to this past remains: a cemetery. One that was later turned into a potato patch by a local farmer in the 1930s. Today, descendants of these settlers are trying to reclaim the cemetery but some members of the community feel it is best not to disturb the past. A powerful documentary on the connections to the past and the search for one’s identity.

  • Bronwen & Yaffa (Moving Towards Tolerance)
    1996|27 min

    Three extraordinary young people from Halifax unite to fight racism. Bronwen and Yaffa are alarmed to see how much racism is prevalent in their home town. Not content to sit around, they organize the Eastcoast Against Racism benefit concert and invite Scott, who just recently left the Ku Klux Klan, to tell his story. A powerful documentary that shows that people can work together and preach the message of tolerance, regardless of their ethnic background.

  • Canada Vignettes: Faces
    1978|1 min

    Using a series of drawn images, this clever one-minute film simply shows that whether we are Black, White, Inuit, woman, man or child, we are all Canadian. Former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau even makes a cameo appearance!