This Week in History


The National Film Board of Canada

For the week of Monday March 10, 2014

On March 16, 1939, Parliament passed the National Film Act and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) was created to help Canadians understand their country and each other, and to promote Canada internationally. This year the NFB celebrates its 75th anniversary and a tradition of excellence in the movie industry.

John Grierson (left) meets with another NFB executive to look at wartime movie posters, 1944
© Ronny Jaques / National Film Board of Canada / Library and Archives Canada / PA-179108

As the Second World War began, the NFB quickly began work under its first film commissioner John Grierson. By the end of 1945 it had made more than 500 movies, many about the war effort at home and abroad. They were viewed across continents from the Americas to the South Pacific.

To distribute films throughout Canada, the NFB supplied local film councils with equipment and set up circuits for travelling projectionists to reach rural areas. At one time it even showed nature movies in national parks such as Jasper and Elk Island. This system became a model for other countries.

The post-war years saw the NFB continue to innovate. It introduced new technologies in its well-known animation department and began making content for television. In 1957 the Board appointed its first francophone commissioner, Guy Roberge. In 1975 it became the first such organization to have a separate women’s production unit and, in 1989, Joan Pennefather became its first official female commissioner. In recent years it has created smartphone apps, free online movie collections, and interactive documentary websites.

Poster for Norman McLaren’s Oscar®-winning film Neighbours. It is one of the best-known NFB films.
© 1952 National Film Board of Canada / Office national du film du Canada. All rights reserved.

One constant in all this change is the quality of the NFB’s work. The NFB won its first Academy Award for Churchill’s Island in 1941, when the category for best documentary (short subject) was introduced. Since then the Board has won 11 more Oscars®, including an honorary one on its 50th anniversary to celebrate its contributions to cinema. NFB productions have also earned hundreds of Genie, Peabody, Annie, Webby, and international festival awards.

Over the years the NFB has made films about the people, events, and sites that the Historic Sites and Monuments Board has recommended for national historic commemoration. There are movies about Samuel de Champlain, the Asahi Baseball Team and the Fortress of Louisbourg, among others, and national parks including Point Pelee. The NFB’s Montréal headquarters are a Federal Heritage Building.

To learn more about movie culture in Canada, please read about early cinemas in  Canada’s first movie palace, “The Show Place of Toronto” and The Golden Age of Theatres. Also, explore the NFB’s official website and watch NFB movies.

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