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In the National Interest

In the National Interest: A Chronicle of the National Film Board of Canada from 1949 to 1989

Gary Evans
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 426
  • Book Info
    In the National Interest
    Book Description:

    Gary Evans traces the development of the postwar NFB, picking up the story where he left it at the end of his earlier work,John Grierson and the National Film Board: The Politics of Wartime Propaganda

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7608-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-2)
  5. 1 Almost Derailed: Trying to Fit the National Film Board into the Postwar World
    (pp. 3-28)

    It all began in May 1939 with a mad, frenetic, feisty, vibrant, idealistic Scotsman named John Grierson. He lived life as a modern-day Prophet of Cinema, a visionary who founded the documentary-film movement, a teacher whose primary interest in film was its potential as an agent of social change. He had a political agenda connected to no party: to use the apparatus and money of the liberal state to create universal humanitarian loyalties in the hearts of its citizenry. His was also a crusade to convince filmmakers to use the magnetism of the medium to rescue the ordinary citizen, who...

  6. 2 Down the Road from Ottawa to Montreal
    (pp. 29-48)

    Robert Winters hoped to ensure continuity by finding a film commissioner who had been privy to policy development and who had the prestige to fill Irwin’s shoes. He spotted his man in Albert W. ‘Bud’ Trueman, who sat on the board of governors of both the Film Board and the cbc and was president of the University of New Brunswick.

    Trueman was astonished when Winters phoned him in the spring of 1953, offering the Film Board’s top post. Film was not exactly his line of work, the academic protested, but, like Irwin, he agreed to do the job for a...

  7. 3 The Golden Years
    (pp. 49-67)

    In the wake of theLe Devoirpress campaign, all eyes at the Film Board turned expectantly to the new commissioner to see how this lawyer, rumoured to be more a man of literature than of film, intended to operate. Roberge decided to spend three days a week in Montreal, close to production activity, while the remaining two days in Ottawa would allow him to ‘mend fences’ and read the various political currents.

    There was a diplomatic problem in the first days – it was John Grierson. The indefatigable Scot and Film Board founder had been visiting Canada on a...

  8. 4 The Golden Years, Part II – At the Heart of the Film Board: Unit B and L’équipe française
    (pp. 68-90)

    The group that perhaps had the most profound effect on English-Canadian film during the Golden Years was Tom Daly’s Unit B, the second of the four units to issue from the reorganization in 1948. As executive producer since 1951, Daly bonded his creative staff together with a curious blend of Aristotelian logic, paternalism, and unwavering ethical care for each creative person. A self-described rational idealist, his intellectual roots stemmed from two major, if contrasting, influences: the esoteric philosophy of Gurdieff and the commitment to public duty as enunciated by John Grierson. The two threads combined to create a recognizably Canadian...

  9. 5 Art for Whose Sake?
    (pp. 91-114)

    In 1960, the Diefenbaker government appointed the Glassco Royal Commission to find the most efficient means of organizing and operating the government bureaucracy, which had expanded with dizzying speed. One prominent question was ‘To make or buy?,’ as experts debated whether the government should maintain its own internal sources of supply for goods and services or look to external ones. In its general conclusion, the commission recommended the use of outside sources for support services in order to strengthen the private sector of the economy.¹

    The commission gave the Film Board a clean bill of health for its efficiency and...

  10. 6 Clouds Gather above Centennial Glamour
    (pp. 115-134)

    Roberge’s sudden departure left the organization with no heir apparent, so as a stopgap measure Minister LaMarsh appointed Grant McLean the acting film commissioner. The exiting commissioner had left the organization a full plate of activity. From November 1962, preparations had been under way in Montreal to stage the 1967 world’s fair, Expo 67, an extravagant spectacular that promised to be an audiovisual bonanza. The Film Board’s official contribution was to be a theme pavilion and to provide one commissioned film for the Canadian pavilion. All other film needs were left to the commercial industry to furnish. At least twenty-five...

  11. 7 Austerity
    (pp. 135-150)

    In July 1967 LaMarsh informed McPherson that there would probably be heavy cuts in all department spending in the coming fiscal year. The board of governors took the news somberly and anticipated that departmental sponsored films would be the first casualty. McPherson put on a brave face, hoped that this would not hamper things seriously, and allowed Distribution to add thirty-seven new employees.¹ In October, the Treasury Board recommended that expenses be kept at $10.2 million, but the commissioner pleaded with LaMarsh for special consideration. She signed a submission for $10.45 million, and he prided himself on his good relations...

  12. 8 In Search of a Mission: Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle
    (pp. 151-176)

    Austerity had brought down the commissioner, but the bureaucracy lumbered on. In 1968, efficiency experts concluded that the Film Board suffered from a lack of policy development and planning.¹ They blamed filmmakers for ignoring the board of governors and for neglecting to assume the necessary fiscal responsibility that must accompany every project. In short, the programming system was ‘a source of delusion at all levels.’² Relations with the departmental sponsors were poor, the experts continued, because the filmmakers resented their meddling. The way out of the impasse, they concluded, was to move out of sponsored and educational films and into...

  13. 9 ‘On a Chariot of Fire’: Sydney Newman’s Tenure
    (pp. 177-191)

    The pall of despondency that had hovered over the Film Board for almost two years appeared to lift when Sydney Newman became commissioner in August 1970. The former Film Board director and producer had returned to Canada after twelve years in British television. He had learned to make documentaries during the war under Grierson, and then had moved into television drama until 1958, when a private British network hired him. In 1962 he took over bbc television drama and soon proved that his eye for the popular was unfailing, as he backed the successful science-fiction television series, ‘Dr. No.’ The...

  14. 10 The Chariot Disintegrates and Burns
    (pp. 192-220)

    The film commissioner had unwillingly drawn the public’s attention to the organization in Quebec, but such publicity did little to boost audience statistics. The Distribution Branch seemed unable to address the weaknesses in both theatrical and non-theatrical exhibition, and to improve the former, Newman contacted Grierson’s old crony Harvey Harnick, of Columbia Pictures of Canada, who obliged him, and by 1971–2, the theatrical distribution figures grew to over 12,000 bookings, breaking the 1953–4 record. Board member Phyllis Grosskurth wondered if these theatrical films had much social significance for Canadians.¹

    Perhaps she was being too severe, since a glance...

  15. 11 André Lamy, Controlled by Events
    (pp. 221-253)

    At the midpoint of the 1970s, the Film Board’s financial malaise seemed to have become like a stuck record. Inflation was consuming the budget voraciously, as two-thirds of every production dollar was going to salaries. The public remained largely ignorant of the ironic spectacle of too many idle staff collecting their wages while waiting for enough money to make films. Film Commissioner André Lamy inherited Newman’s ever-worsening financial woes, stemming from the government’s policy of cutting budgets wherever non-essential activity was identified. Sadly, the Film Board fell into this category. That fact demonstrated the ongoing failure of the organization to...

  16. 12 The Atmosphere Changes from Seige to Neglect
    (pp. 254-287)

    Faced with double-digit inflation, the Liberal government had dug in its heels and planned once again to apply across-the-board cuts in ‘non-essential’ sectors like culture, which included the beleaguered Film Board. The board of governors had almost four months to find Lamy’s successor. They thought that the ideal candidate should be a high-profile outsider who could articulate a new mission and convince Canadians that the institution was indispensable. At the same time, Ottawa’s demand for retrenchment made it imperative that someone who knew how to work the financial levers should assume leadership and slim down the operation as painlessly as...

  17. 13 Not with a Bang or a Whimper: Approaching a Second Half-century
    (pp. 288-315)

    In his capacity as acting commissioner, Macerola met with Minister Fox a number of times, from January to May 1984, to discuss the National Film and Video Policy. The bad news was that with the production of sponsored films about to disappear to the private sector forever, Fox also determined that the Film Board should cease being their executive producer. The good news was that he said he intended to ignore the Applebaum-Hébert guillotine. The Film Board would continue as a public producer of film and video.

    By the time Fox’s Film and Video Policy was unveiled in May, Macerola...

  18. Afterword
    (pp. 316-320)

    In speaking of the glory days of the Second World War and his role as a production secretary, James Beveridge recalled that invariably, as a director was finishing a documentary opus, he or she was left holding ‘six beautiful shots’ that could not fit into the completed film and had to be left on the cutting-room floor. In the past thirteen chapters, there have been many such ‘shots’ or glimpses of the films and life of this remarkable organization that have been withheld for reasons of space and time. One wishes that the thousands of men and women who have...

  19. Appendix 1 Television films completed in fiscal year 1964–5
    (pp. 321-322)
  20. Appendix 2 Sponsored films made for various government departments and agencies, 1966–7
    (pp. 323-327)
  21. Appendix 3 Films of the Challenge for Change programme
    (pp. 328-329)
  22. Appendix 4 Oscar awards and nominations through 1989
    (pp. 330-331)
  23. Appendix 5 Chronology of the best films of French Production to 1984
    (pp. 332-333)
  24. Appendix 6 Film commissioners and directors of English and French Production, Distribution, and Technical Operations
    (pp. 334-335)
  25. Appendix 7 Museum of Modern Art 50th anniversary sampler of Film Board films (May 1989)
    (pp. 336-338)
  26. Notes
    (pp. 339-390)
  27. Index
    (pp. 391-407)