Posts Tagged ‘the Walrus’

National Film Board of Canada logoI made a spectacular personal discovery a month ago.  And I say “personal” only because when I search the topic online it appears as though everyone else, from print media to the blogosphere,  is in-the-know.  I missed the press release, obviously.

But no matter, because this is the type of announcement that is, unlike most other current news stories, only getting progressively better and better.  Curious?

In January, the National Film Board of Canada launched an online screening room, effectively blowing the dust off 70 years of archived films.  Hundreds of experimental films,  animations, and Canada-focused documentaries are now available to stream, to share, to embed.  And more are added monthly.  It’s an incredible film and culture resource as well as a great way to ‘kill’ 10 minutes, or half an hour, or a whole evening.

For the NFB, this is mostly about brand awareness.  Their brand is damn good (over 5000 awards, including 12 Oscars) and many of their films have been widely influential; but popularly, the NFB remains relatively obscure.  Despite their films’ presence in public libraries, in classrooms, and in the past billings of every major film festival, Canadians seem passively aware of the institution and its legacy.

Which is what makes this offer so fantastic.  Prior to this online endeavoNFB Mediatheque stations on John St, Torontour, NFB films were really only accessible by VHS (though poorly distributed) or at the NFB’s mediatheque stations in Toronto.  This is to say that you had to seek out the films.  I mean, really them seek out.

During almost every trip I have made into Toronto over the past four years (say, two dozen downtown adventures), I have tried to carve out some time at the mediatheque booths.  I made it there three times.  The third time, only last summer, Colleen and I managed a record hour and a half at the self-service mini-theaters ($2 all-day access!), but really never got beyond the index.  We scrolled (and scrolled), managing only to write down titles we’d like to see…at some point…in the future…when we have more time.  We were, incidentally, in Toronto that day to submit our applications for an E2 working visa at the Korean consulate– a move that effectively rendered our “must see” list as obsolete as an all-access pass to the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival.  Alas.

Hence, my (our) excitement when I stumbled across a Walrus article detailing the new online screening room.  Hence our delight over the course of the last month as we’ve holed ourselves up in our Korean apartment with our laptop, our cable connection, and, now, our Canadian film archive.  We’ve forsaken society to spend evenings with the NFB; we’ve dined with the NFB; we’ve fallen asleep to the NFB; we’ve been late for work because of the NFB.

But enough now.  I want to share some with you. I had hopes of embedding the films into this post, but it appears that I am unable to do so on wordpress.com — which is an open-invitation (read: cry for help) to anyone tech-savvy enough to solve this problem.  Click on the photo image to access the film on the NFB site and click on the director’s name to access their bio on wikipedia.


The SweaterThe Sweater” by Sheldon Cohen, 1980, 10 min 21 s

Who remembers this classic rendering of Roch Carrier‘s “The Hockey Sweater”?

"Canada Vignettes: Log Driver's Waltz" by John Weldon

Canada Vignettes: Log Driver’s Waltz
By John Weldon, 1978, 3 min

A delightful staple from the Saturday morning cartoons of my childhood.

Honourable Mention:

The Big Snit by Richard Condie, 1985, 9 min 54 s
The Cat Came Back
by Cordell Barker, 1988, 7 min 39 s


"Neighbours" by Norman McLaren

Neighbours” by Norman McLaren, 1952, 8 min 6 s

McLaren, a pioneer of stop motion animation, takes a comic look at the escalating violence of neighbours in this Oscar-winning short. — see also McLaren’s A Chairy Tale, 1957, 9 min 54 s

"Very Nice, Very Nice" by Arthur LipsettVery Nice, Very Nice
by Arthur Lipsett, 1961, 6 min 59 s

Lipsett was an influential collage artist, piecing his films together from sound and audio scraps.  Read an overview of his life and work here — see also “21-87“, which influenced George Lucas’ concept of ‘The Force’.


The documentary technique, in Canada, has been widely used in all areas and aspects of art.  Some poets and critics have even gone so far as to claim that “documentary poetry” is a uniquely Canadian mode of writing.  However true that may (or may not) be, there can be little doubt that Canadian writers and filmmakers have lent considerable breadth and innovation to the field of documentary-making.  The NFB, itself, was first headed by the very man who coined the term ‘documentary’, John Grierson.  Under Grierson’s direction, the NFB began cataloguing the lives of ordinary Canadians, eventually also supplying the equipment and technical know-how to immigrant and First Nations communities so that they could represent themselves– a notable shift in perspective.  Here are a few recommendations:

Ted Baryluk's GroceryTed Baryluk’s Grocery
John Paskievich, Michael Mirus, 1982, 10 min 19 s

This fantastic, Genie Award-winning short on Ukrainian-Canadian Ted Baryluk’s Winnipeg Grocery store is visualized entirely of photographic images and narrated personally by Mr. Baryluk.

"Lonely Boy" by Wolf Koenig and Roman KroitorLonely Boy
Wolf Koenig, Roman Kroitor, 1962, 26 min 35 s

A highly influential, cinéma-vérité documentary on Paul Anka in his early teen-sensation days.  It’s also a nice reminder that Beatlemania didn’t create the swoon-screaming-female type.

Kanehsatake 270 Years of ResistanceKanehsatake 270 Years of Resistance
Alanis Obomsawin, 1993, 119 min 15 s

This feature-length documentary, centering on the Oka crisis in 1990, has won 18 international film awards.  Obomsawin filmed the armed-standoff from behind the barricades for the duration of the 78 day-long standoff.  In light of Ipperwash and Caledonia, make time to see this.

RiP! A Remix ManifestoRiP! A Remix Manifesto
Brett Gaylor, 2008, Chapter 1 (0f 13): 5 min 23 s

RiP! proves to the doubting crowd that the NFB remains bold and avant-guard. Here, Gaylor marshals an open-sourced afront to corporate media culture, creating a digital mash-up of culture to challenge current copyright laws.

Needless to say, the archive has a lot of depth.  The NFB’s “expert playlists” can help you categorize and navigate the archive.  I’d love for you to add your own film links in the comment section; there are a lot more NFB films that deserve mentioning (and many more still that I haven’t seen).  So please pass on the love and enjoy the viewing while you’re at it!


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