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The National Film Board: The 'Eyes of Canada'

Filmmaker Paul Donovan once compared the difficulty of making a movie in Canada to climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. Faced with an indifferent public, harsh critics, limited funds, and foreign-owned movie houses, filmmaking in Canada is, by necessity, a labour of love. Canadian gems like The Barbarian Invasions and Nobody Waved Goodbye have succeeded because of steadfast determination. CBC Archives explores the birth and growth of Canada's film industry.

Forget Charlie Chaplin's pratfalls and Rudolph Valentino's melodrama -- Canadian filmmakers are rooted in reality. For now, they're busy selling Canada to Canadians. Directed by the National Film Board (NFB), movie-makers in our home and native land have produced informative documentaries and short films. Explicitly, the NFB's mandate is to be the "eyes of Canada." But implicitly, Canadian filmmakers are working diligently to curb American influences. In this CBC Radio news report, the NFB and burgeoning Canadian film industry celebrates its 10th anniversary. 
• The National Film Board of Canada was not our country's first government filmmaking agency. In 1918, the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau began producing propaganda films designed to promote Canadian industry and tourism. Under Mackenzie King's government, Scottish filmmaker John Grierson was recruited to evaluate the Canadian film industry. Grierson produced a scathing 60-page report which criticized Canada's limited scope and creativity. Subsequently, the NFB was created in 1939 and Grierson was hired on as its director.

• During his term at the helm of the NFB, Grierson was also appointed general manager of the Canadian Wartime and Information Board. Wielding considerable influence over public opinion, Grierson rallied Canadian pride and produced a series of nationalistic films touting Canada's war efforts. At the end of the Second World War, Grierson retired from the NFB. In the post-war Communist hysteria, Grierson was called before a government tribunal and questioned about his former secretary who apparently had ties to a spy ring. He subsequently moved to Paris.

• The year 1941 was a turning point for the NFB. Acclaimed filmmaker Norman McLaren joined the NFB and opened up a division to produce animated films. Also in 1941, the NFB-produced Churchill's Island was the first film to win the Academy Award for best documentary. Directed by John Grierson, the 18-minute black and white film detailed Britain's defensive efforts in the early days of the Second World War.

• McLaren made a total of 59 films over the course of his career and pushed the boundaries of experimental animation. He received more than 200 awards including an Academy Award in 1953 for Neighbours and the short films Palme d'or for Blinkity Blank in 1955 at the Cannes Festival.
• In 1995, the NFB re-evaluated its mandate and confirmed that the organization should still function as a public producer. Among the Board's new directions: focusing on television as a distribution channel.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: May 2, 1949
Host: Bill Reid
Reporter: Ross MacLean
Duration: 2:24

Last updated: February 21, 2014

Page consulted on February 21, 2014

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