National Film Board of Canada fonds, ca. 1900-1992

John Grierson (left), Chairman of the Wartime Information Board, meeting with Ralph Foster, Head of Graphics, National Film Board of Canada, to examine a series of posters produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Copy negative [1971-271 NPC] PA-179108 [Access 90 Open] Terms of use:Credit: Ronny Jaques / National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque/Library and Archives Canada/PA-179108 Restrictions on use: Nil Copyright: Expired

National Film Board of Canada at Library & Archives Canada

The creation of the National Film Board had its beginnings in 1938, when Vincent Massey, while on duty as the Canadian High Commissioner to London and his Secretary, Ross McLean, highlighted a need to improve upon the quality of films produced by the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau and expand their marketability in England.

Subsequently, John Grierson, a British documentary film maker, was appointed to survey and report on the potential of the Canadian film industry. In June 1938, he submitted a report containing recommendations for the establishment of a coordinating body for the Canadian film industry and the need for corresponding legislation to deal with Canadian films.

As a result, the National Film Board (NFB) was established on 2 May 1939 by virtue of the National Film Act (SC. 1939, c. 20) with a mandate for federal film activities, and to work in partnership with the Government Motion Picture Bureau.Later that year, John Grierson became the first Government Film Commissioner.

The first year of operation was devoted to production and distribution of films designed to help Canadians understand their realities. It was also involved in the coordination of film-related activities within government departments.

In the following year, Canada became increasingly involved in war activities, thus, the National Film Board shifted its focus from Canadian reality themes to the production of patriotic films in support of the war effort.

It also expanded its activities by becoming more involved in the creation of animated filmstrips. In the early 1940’s, the operations of the NFB were directly influenced by John Grierson’s, the Government Film Commissioner, participation as Director of the Wartime Information Board. Through this position, John Grierson was able to finance the production and distribution of NFB films.

Norman McLaren, film creator at the National Film Board, working on a film in a studio. Copy negative [1971-271 NPC] PA-160780 [Access 90 Open] Terms of use:Credit: Arliss / National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque/Library and Archives Canada/PA-160780 Restrictions on use: Nil Copyright: Expired

In 1941, the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau merged with the NFB by virtue of Orders-in-Council P.C. 3549 (11 June 1941) and P.C. 6047 (8 August 1941). The Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau which had been established as early as 1914, stemmed from the Department of Trade and Commerce’s Exhibits and Publicity Bureau and reported to Parliament through the Minister of Trade and Commerce. Through this merger, the National Film Board became responsible for the production of still and motion pictures.

By 1943, the National Film Board expanded it services by opening offices in London, Chicago and New York. In the late 1940’s, John Grierson was replaced by Ross McLean as the Acting Government Film Commissioner. This change in management, altered the course of NFB by expanding its program activities to include the production of newsreels, animation and filmstrips. The NFB also accommodated the need for French-language perspectives within the Canadian film industry.

By 1948, the NFB had restructured its studio activities with specializations in agriculture; French and foreign languages; interpretative materials; theatrical; tourism; animation; scientific, cultural and international affairs.

In October 1950, a new National Film Act (SC 1950, c. 44) was passed and later revised (RSC, 1952, ch. 185), replacing the earlier National Film Act of 1939. The need for a new National Film Act was born out of the anticipated need to become more involved in the development of television programs. Thus, the new Act authorized the NFB to become more involved in the promotion and distribution of films with a national interest. It was now the responsibility of a single minister; with nine board members representing regions from across Canada. Four of those members, including the Film Commissioner represented the public service, the remaining members represented private interests.

In 1953, the NFB began reporting to Parliament through the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Between 1955-1957, NFB film activities were kept to a minimum within the Province of Quebec’s Duplessis government. The political environment, kindled by the French press, steered the course for the appointment of Guy Roberge as the NFB Board of Governnor’s Francophone Deputy Commissioner. While the NFB head office was situated in Ottawa, the operational headquarters moved to the Montreal region.

Girl handling film in vaults of the National Film Board, Ottawa. Box [NATIONAL FILM BOARD 1971-271] 3/X3 [Access 90 Open] Terms of use:Credit : Library and Archives Canada ; Copyright : Expired.

By 1963, the NFB was becoming more autonomous and gaining recognition on an international basis. Ministerial responsibility for NFB was transferred from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration to the Department of Secretary of State. In the following year, the NFB structured its activities according to French and English production activities.

In 1965, the NFB took on the full regionalization of its activities with the private sector becoming more involved in the production of films. The still photography division, based in Ottawa, endured a name change to the Canadian Government Photo Centre.

In 1970, the 1950 National Film Act was once again repealed and replaced by the National Film Act (RSC, 1970, c. N-7). The revisions to the National Film Act were necessary to reflect changes to the NFB mandate. The new mandate allowed for greater participation by private-sector filmmakers and increased regionalization.

In 1976, the NFB developed its first five-year plan. In 1979, the NFB was designated as a federal department under the terms of the Financial Administration Act (OIC P.C. 1952-1903, 31 March 1952), however, appropriation of funds were administered by the Department of Secretary of State.

In 1980, upon a review of the NFB mandate, the Board of Trustees assented to some major changes within the NFB mandate. Shortly thereafter, a Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee reviewed and released their report on the NFB organization. The Committee’s report, known as the Applebaum-HĂ©bert report, recommended that the NFB limit its film production and distribution activities, and focus on research and training. Consequently, the private sector would play a larger part in the production of films, where the NFB would oversee the production of films by private and student filmmakers.

Staff member framed by stacks of film cans, National Film Board of Canada, John Street. Copy negative [1971-271 NPC] PA-179892 [Access 90 Open] Terms of use:Credit: National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque/Library and Archives Canada/PA-179892 Restrictions on use: Nil Copyright: Expired

In 1984, the Minister of Communications released a National Film and Video Policy which affected the NFB by expanding on its mandate. The National Film and Video Policy, developed under the authority of Francis Fox, suggested that the NFB would have a pivotal role in the production of both films and videos, and more importantly, that it would become a national research and training centre for this type of media. In 1985, the National Film Act (R.S.C. 1985, c. N-8) was revised to reflect the NFB focus on production and working more closely with the private sector. It also established the NFB as a learning centre for filmmakers.

Since 1992, the NFB has been reporting to the Minister of Canadian Heritage. The NFB continues to produce films, videos and other audiovisual works that broadly reflect Canadian social and cultural themes. The activities of the English and French Programs, which handle production for both respective audiences, are assisted by several other branches including: Services and Technological Development, Communications and Distribution Services, Administration, International Program, Planning, Program Evaluation and Audit, and Human Resources. The NFB offices are located in Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Moncton, and Halifax.

Extent: ca. 1.5 m of textual records.
22 microfilm reels.
ca. 640,000 photographs various formats.
ca. 642 technical drawings.
ca. 1472 architectural drawings.
10 bird’s-eye views some mss., some col. 478 x 80 cm or smaller.
ca. 21,000 film reels (ca. 2450 hrs.).
23 video reels (ca. 23 hrs.).
3683 videocassettes (ca. 1638 hrs.).
42 audio reels (ca. 17 hrs., 30 min.).
2 audio discs (ca. 30 min.).

Scope and content: Fonds consists of records created and/or maintained by the National Film Board and its predecessors. Researchers are cautioned that unprocessed textual records and records in other media are not reflected in this description.

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