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National Film Board of Canada

National Film Board of Canada logo
Abbreviation NFB
Formation 1939
Type Federal agency
Purpose/focus Public film producer and distributor
Headquarters Montreal
Official languages English, French
Government Film Commissioner and NFB Chairperson Tom Perlmutter

The National Film Board of Canada (or simply National Film Board or NFB) is Canada's public film producer and distributor. An agency of the Government of Canada, the NFB produces and distributes innovative, socially relevant documentary, animation, alternative drama and digital media productions. Its name in French is Office national du film du Canada or ONF. In total, the NFB has produced over 13,000 productions which have won over 5000 awards.[1] The NFB reports to the Parliament of Canada through the Minister of Canadian Heritage. It has English language and French language production branches.

In January 2009, the NFB launched its online Screening Room, offering Canadian and international web users the ability to stream hundreds of NFB films for free as well as embed links in blogs and social sites.[2][3][4] In October 2009, the NFB launched an iPhone application that was downloaded more than 170,000 times and led to more than 500,000 film views in the first four months.[5] In January 2010, the NFB added high-definition and 3D films to the over 1400 productions available for viewing online.[6]



NFB headquarters building, Montreal.

The organization's purpose and mission have been re-defined numerous times throughout its history. Currently, the NFB's mandate is defined by the Minister of Canadian Heritage:

The overarching objective of the National Film Board is to produce and distribute audio-visual works which provoke discussion and debate on subjects of interest to Canadian audiences and foreign markets; which explore the creative potential of the audio-visual media; and which achieve recognition by Canadians and others for excellence, relevance and innovation.Sheila Copps, Minister of Canadian Heritage (2000)

The National Film Board has defined a list of primary and secondary goals to fulfill in order to meet its mandate, as well as a set of related activities that can be performed to meet those goals. Primary activities are:

  • create programming reflecting Canada's linguistic duality and cultural diversity
  • create programming of film and audiovisual works on subjects relevant to the general public or niche audiences
  • support innovative and experimental projects in new and interactive media
  • exploit the audiovisual heritage of the NFB

These are to be achieved through various programs, such as the Aboriginal Film Program, implementing a major bilingual website on the history of Canada, and incorporating Internet and interactive tools into film making.

Secondary activities include:

  • broadcasting NFB films on national television networks and specialty services
  • developing and maintaining an e-commerce system to sell products directly to Canadian and international customers
  • developing and diversifying markets for NFB products

The National Film Board's extensive library of short films, documentaries and animation has led to an enthusiastic fan base. Various festivals, film exhibits and university clubs host retrospectives and showings designed to promote the work of the NFB.[7]


Toronto Mediatheque.
Montreal CineRobotheque.

The National Film Board maintains its head office in Saint-Laurent, a borough of Montreal, in the Norman McLaren electoral district, named in honour of the NFB animation pioneer.[8] The NFB HQ building is also named for McLaren, and is home to much of its production activity. Interactive public access centres operate in downtown Toronto (NFB Mediatheque) and Montreal (NFB CineRobotheque).[9][10] International distribution centres are also located in New York and Paris.

In addition to the English and French-language studios in its Montreal HQ, there are centres throughout Canada. English-language production occurs at centres in Toronto (Ontario Centre), Vancouver (Pacific & Yukon Centre), Edmonton (North West Centre), Winnipeg (Prairie Centre), and Halifax (Atlantic Centre). As of October 2009, the Atlantic Centre also operates an office in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador.[11] Outside Quebec, French language productions are also made in Moncton (Studio Acadie).[12] The NFB also offers support programs for independent filmmakers: in English, via the Filmmaker Assistance Program (FAP) and in French through its Aide du cinéma indépendant - Canada (ACIC) program.

The organization has a hierarchical structure headed by a Board of Trustees, which is chaired by the Government Film Commissioner and NFB Chairperson. It is overseen by the Board of Trustees Secretariat and Legal Affairs.

The NFB employs 490 full-time equivalent staff, with an annual budget of $70 million (for 2000-2004). Funding is derived primarily from government of Canada transfer payments, and also from its own revenue streams. These revenues are from print sales, film production services, rentals, and royalties, and total up to $10 million yearly; the NFB lists this as Respendable Revenues in its financial statements.



  • In 1938, the Government of Canada invited John Grierson, a British documentary film-maker, to study the state of the government's film production. Up to that date, the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau, established in 1918, had been the major Canadian film producer. The results of Grierson's report were included in the National Film Act of 1939, which led to the establishment of the NFB. In part, it was founded to create propaganda in support of the Second World War.


  • In 1940, with Canada at war, the NFB launched its Canada Carries On series of morale boosting theatrical shorts.[13] The success of Canada Carries On led to the creation of The World in Action, which was more geared to international audiences.[14]
  • During the ’40s and early ’50s, the NFB employed 'travelling projectionists' who toured the country, bringing films and public discussions to rural communities.[15][16]


  • A revision of the National Film Act in 1950 removed any direct government intervention into the operation and administration of the NFB.[17]


  • With the creation of the Canadian Film Development Corporation (now known as Telefilm Canada) in 1967, the mandate for the National Film Board was refined. The Canadian Film Development Corporation would become responsible for promoting the development of the film industry.[18]
  • 1967 also saw the creation of Challenge for Change, a community media project that would develop the use of film and video as a tool for initiating social change.[19]


  • During the 1970s and early 1980s, the National Film Board produced a series of vignettes, some of which aired on CBC and other Canadian broadcasters during commercial breaks. The vignettes became popular because of their cultural depiction of Canada, and because they represented its changing state. Indeed, the vignette Faces was made to represent the increasing cultural and ethnic diversity of Canada.



  • In 2006, the NFB marked the 65th anniversary of NFB animation with an international retrospective of restored Norman McLaren classics and the launch of the DVD box set, Norman McLaren - The Master's Edition.
  • The NFB has also absorbed smaller budget cuts in recent years. The six-storey John Grierson Building at its Montreal headquarters has sat empty for several years – with HQ staff now based solely in its adjacent Norman McLaren Building.
  • In October 2009, the NFB released a free app for Apple's iPhone that would allow users to watch thousands of NFB films directly on their cell phones.

NFB studios and divisions

The current head of NFB English Program is Cindy Witten. The head of NFB French Program is Monique Simard. In 2009, Simard introduced a filmmaker in residence program, bringing in leading Quebec filmmakers for two year terms, beginning with Paule Baillargeon and Philippe Baylaucq.[20]

As of 2009, the NFB is organized along nine branches and departments:

  • English Program
  • French Program
  • Strategic Planning and Government Relations
  • Marketing and Communications
  • Distribution
  • Administration
  • Business Affairs and Legal Services
  • Technical Innovation and Resources
  • Human Resources


When Norman McLaren joined the organization in 1941, the NFB began production of animation. The NFB proved to be an organization that would give Canada a presence in the film world. The animation department eventually gained distinction, particularly with the pioneering work of McLaren, an internationally recognized experimental filmmaker. The NFB was a pioneer in several novel techniques such as pinscreen animation, but most of the Oscars and many other awards it won were done in traditional cell animation.

McLaren's Oscar-winning Neighbours popularized the form of character movement referred to as pixillation, a variant of stop motion.

Former studios and departments

Studio D

In 1974, in conjunction with International Women's Year, the National Film Board of Canada, on the recommendation of long-time employee Kathleen Shannon created Studio D, the first government-funded film studio dedicated to women filmmakers in the world. Shannon was designated as Executive Director of the new studio which became one of the NFB's most celebrated filmmaking units, winning awards and breaking distribution records.[21][22]

High profile films produced by the studio include:

Studio D was shut down in 1996, amidst a sweeping set of federal government budget cuts, which impacted the NFB as a whole.

Still Photography Division

Upon its merger with the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau in 1941, the NFB's mandate expanded to include motion as well as still pictures, resulting in the creation of the Still Photography Division of the NFB.

From 1941 to 1984, the Division commissioned freelance photographers to document every aspect of life in Canada. These images were widely distributed through publication in various media.

In 1985, this Division officially became the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography.[23]

Key NFB people

A brief list of some key NFB filmmakers, artisans and staff.

Government Film Commissioner

As stipulated in the National Film Act of 1950, the person who holds the position of Government Film Commissioner is the head of the NFB. On May 17, 2007, Tom Perlmutter was named the NFB's 15th Commissioner, having served as its head of English Program since 2001.[24]

Former NFB Commissioners:


In addition to Neighbours, other NFB productions have been criticised for their content, either for moral and social reasons, or because the production presents an unpopular interpretation of widely-held beliefs.

Two NFB productions broadcast on CBC Television criticizing the role of Canadians in wartime were the source of controversy, including questions in the Canadian Senate. The Kid Who Couldn't Miss (1982) cast doubt on the accomplishments of Canadian World War I flying ace Billy Bishop, sparking widespread outrage, including complaints in the Senate subcommittee on Veterans' Affairs.[37]

A decade later, The Valour and the Horror sparked outrage in some quarters when it suggested that there was incompetence on the part of Canadian military command, and that Canadian soldiers had committed unprosecuted war crimes against German soldiers. The series became the subject of an inquiry by the Senate.

The 1982 film If You Love This Planet, which won an Academy Award for best documentary short subject, was labelled foreign propaganda under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 in the United States.[38]

Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography was a 1981 Studio D documentary critiquing pornography that was itself banned in the province of Ontario on the basis of a brief scene of child pornography.[39]

During the height of the pro-rights and pro-life abortion debate of the 1980s, the NFB released the documentary film Abortion: Stories from North and South (1984).[40]


Over the years, the NFB has been internationally recognized with more than 5000 film awards.[41][42] In 2009, the complete film works of Norman McLaren were added to UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme, listing the most significant documentary heritage collections in the world.[43]

Genie Awards

The NFB has received more than 90 Genie Awards, including a Special Achievement Genie in 1989 for its 50th anniversary. The following is an incomplete list:



Academy Awards

The NFB has garnered a total of 70 Academy Award nominations. The first-ever Oscar for documentary went to the NFB production, Churchill's Island. On January 23, 2007, the NFB received its 12th Academy Award for the animated short The Danish Poet, directed by Torill Kove and co-produced with MikroFilm AS (Norway).[44]


Nominated: (incomplete list)


The NFB is a minority owner of the digital television channel, Documentary in Canada. NFB-branded series Retrovision appeared on VisionTV, along with the French-language Carnets ONF series on APTN. Moreover, in 1997 the American cable channel Cartoon Network created a weekly 30-minute show called O Canada specifically showcasing a compilation of NFB-produced works; the segment was discontinued in favour of Adult Swim.[46][47]

The old NFB logo.

The Board's logo consists of a standing stylized figure (originally green) with its arms wide upward. The arms are met by an arch that mirrors them. The round head in between then resembles a pupil, making the entire symbol appear to be an eye with legs. Launched in 1969, the logo symbolized a vision of humanity and was called "Man Seeing / L'homme qui voit". It was designed by Georges Beaupré. It was updated in 2002 by the firm of Paprika Communications.[48]

NFB in popular media

  • The Scottish music act Boards of Canada takes its name from the NFB.
  • An episode of the cartoon The Simpsons, "E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)", has the Simpson family watching a Zorro movie whose production is credited to the National Film Board of Canada.[49]
  • In the 1960 film Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, the car Marion Crane buys from a used-car dealership has the license plate NFB 418. NFB, obviously standing for National Film Board, while 418 is the area code for Quebec City. Alfred Hitchcock filmed I Confess in Quebec City in 1953 and met with producers of the National Film Board in Montreal. In the opening scene of the film, Marion and Sam are making love in a hotel room numbered 514. 514 is the area code for Montreal.

See also


  1. ^ About the NFB
  2. ^ "NFB makes films free online". CBC News. 2009-01-21. Retrieved 2009-02-05. 
  3. ^ Abel, Kris (2009-01-21). "National Film Board Of Canada Launches New Movie Site, 700 Free Films For Streaming, Linking, And Embedding". Kris Abel's Tech Life (CTV News). Retrieved 2009-02-05. 
  4. ^ Griffin, John (2009-01-31). "900 free films on NFB website". Montreal Gazette (Canwest). Retrieved 2009-02-05. 
  5. ^ Geist, Michael (February 2, 2010). "The National Film Board's online success out in the open". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 2 March 2010. 
  6. ^ "NFB puts 3-D, HD content online". CBC News (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 2 March 2010. 
  7. ^ "National Film Board Retrospective". The Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival. Retrieved 2006-08-30. 
  8. ^ "Un territoire, deux districts électoraux" (in French). City of Montreal Web site. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  9. ^ "Mediatheque". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  10. ^ "CineRobotheque". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  11. ^ Wicks, Heidi (2009-10-23). "Digital is the future of film, television, new media, says Tom Perlmutter". The Telegram (St. John's). Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  12. ^ "L'ONF en Acadie, 35 ans de création" (in French). National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  13. ^ Morris, Peter. "Canada Carries On". Canadian Film Encyclopedia. Film Reference Library. Retrieved 2009-10-17. 
  14. ^ Ohayon, Albert (September 30, 2009). "Propaganda Cinema at the NFB – The World in Action". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2009-10-19. 
  15. ^ Graham, Gerald (2002-11-19). "Five Filmmakers in Conversation with Gerald Pratley". Kinema (University of Waterloo). Retrieved 2009-02-17. 
  16. ^ Spak, Harvey. "Movie Showman". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2009-02-17. 
  17. ^ "National Film Board of Canada/Office national du film du Canada". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Foundation of Canada. Retrieved 2006-08-30. 
  18. ^ "Canadian Film Policy: History of Federal Initiatives". Heritage Canada. 2003-01-22. Retrieved 2006-08-30. 
  19. ^ Schugurensky, Daniel (2005). "Challenge for Change launched, a participatory media approach to citizenship education". History of Education. The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT). Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  20. ^ Cauchon, Paul (2009-04-09). "Les cinéastes Paule Baillargeon et Philippe Baylaucq en résidence à l'ONF" (in French). Le Devoir. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  21. ^ "Canadian Women in Film". Library and Archives Canada. 2005-04-12. Retrieved 2009-02-02. 
  22. ^ Hays, Matthew (August 21, 1997). "Screen legend". Montreal Mirror. Retrieved 2009-08-10. 
  23. ^ "Photo Collections" in Project Naming, the identification of Inuit portrayed in photographic collections at Library and Archives Canada
  24. ^ "Filmmaker, writer Tom Perlmutter named to top NFB post". CBC News. 2007-05-17. Retrieved 2009-02-02. 
  25. ^ NFB Portraits: Ross McLean
  26. ^ NFB Portraits: W. Arthur Irwin
  27. ^ NFB Portraits: Albert W. Trueman
  28. ^ NFB Portraits: Guy Roberge
  29. ^ NFB Portraits: Grant McLean
  30. ^ NFB Portraits: Hugo McPherson
  31. ^ NFB Portraits: André Lamy
  32. ^ NFB Portraits: James de Beaujeu Domville
  33. ^ NFB Portraits: François N. Macerola
  34. ^ NFB Portraits: Joan Pennefather
  35. ^ NFB Portraits: Sandra M. Macdonald
  36. ^ "Government Film Commissioner and Chairperson of the NFB". National Film Board of Canada Web site. Retrieved 2009-02-02. 
  37. ^ Alioff, Maurie (2002). "Paul Cowan's inquisitive eye: war games porn stars and the Ghosts of Westray". TAKE ONE. Retrieved 2006-08-30. 
  38. ^ The politicized Oscar. (political aspects of Academy Awards, 1983).Richard Grenier. Commentary 75.(June 1983): pp68(7).
  39. ^ Sherr Klein, Bonnie
  40. ^ "Films on Ireland". American Friends Service Committee. 2004. Archived from the original on 25 March 2008. Retrieved 2006-08-30. 
  41. ^ "The National Film Board Of Canada:Eyes of Canada". Canadian Tributes. Government of Canada Digital Collections. Retrieved 2006-08-30. 
  42. ^ "The National Film Board of Canada: Auteur Animation". Animation World Network. 2008-11-28. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  43. ^ Boswell, Randy (July 31, 2009). "Montreal filmmaker honoured by UN". Montreal Gazette (Canwest). Retrieved 2009-08-04. 
  44. ^ Ayscough, Suzan (May 11, 2009). "NFB'S 12 Oscar wins". Playback (Brunico). Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  45. ^ Unger, Leslie (1999-11-01). "Academy to Celebrate National Film Board of Canada Anniversary". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2006-08-30. 
  46. ^ Simensky, Linda (1997). "O Canada: Canadian animators". TAKE ONE. Retrieved 2006-08-30. 
  47. ^ "O Canada". Toonarific Cartoons. Retrieved 2006-08-30. 
  48. ^ Canadian Design Resource
  49. ^ Penner, Wade. "Simpsons, Eh?". Retrieved 2006-08-30. 

Further reading

  • Evans, Gary (1991). In the National Interest: A Chronicle of the National Film Board of Canada from 1949–1989. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-2784-9. 
  • Terry Kolomeychuk, ed (1991). Donald Brittain:Never the Ordinary Way. Winnipeg: National Film Board of Canada. ISBN 0-7722-0188-9. 

External links

NFB Web Sites

Articles concerning the NFB

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