History of Cinema in CANADA

Historical overview

A land of vast distances and rich natural resources, Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867 while retaining ties to the British crown. Economically and technologically the nation has developed in parallel with the US, its neighbor to the south across an unfortified border. Its paramount political problem continues to be the relationship of the province of Quebec, with its French-speaking residents and unique culture, to the remainder of the country.

History of cinema from 1896-2000

For Canada, moving pictures arrived on 28 June, 1896 in a former shooting gallery on rue de la Lagauchetière in downtown Montreal. From the fall of 1896 the movies appeared in various Canadian cities, as traveling showmen often brought to eager audiences a string of ten spectacles lasting one-to-five minutes. Most films originated in the United States, Britain, or France. Soon, in major Canadian cities, entrepreneurs built permanent theaters for exhibition, calling them nickelodeon after the American chain of the same name that charged five cents per show.

In 1898 the Canadian Pacific Railway hired Manitoban James S. Freer to tour Britain with his realistic films of life in the Canadian west, in order to attract immigrants. These silent films were exhibited in community halls or similar venues in the United Kingdom with a knowledgeable commentator at each performance. In 1902-03 the CPR engaged British producer/distributor Charles Urban, whose Bioscope Company of Canada shot promotional films, also to lure prospective British immigrants to Canada. Called scenics, the Living Canada films characteristically featured Canada au naturel, a vast untamed landscape that offered bounteous opportunity to those who seized it. The results were encouraging. From 1900 to 1908, 440,419 immigrants, some influenced by the CPR promotional films, came to Canada, a figure exceeding United States arrivals by some 120,000.

To deflect the widely held opinion that Canada was a land of ice and snow, the CPR had ordered winter scenes cut from its films. The Grand Trunk Railway Company tried its hand at these kinds of films too. Other producers like the Edison Company and Biograph, along with many small operators, continued to make actuality films featuring Canadian landscapes. Promotional films demonstrated primary production in lumbering, fishing, and mining; the Massey-Harris company stands as one of the earliest examples of a company making film commercials to promote its agricultural machinery. Never slow to seize a good business opportunity, the CPR in 1919-1920 bought half interest in Associated Screen News (ASN), hoping to cultivate the newsreel market. ASN would come to enjoy the status as one of the first (and most enduring) film production companies in Canada.


American producers tried their hand at shooting fictional films in Canada. They found the lowest common denominator worked best: stories often featured a villain, a sex-starved French Canadian wilderness man, or a 'half-breed' or a desperado on the run, lusting after the virtuous daughter of the Hudson's Bay post prefect or Mounted Police officer. All would be saved in the nick of time after the obligatory chase and rescue. This device, used early in Edwin S. Porter's The Great Train Robbery, and repeated ceaselessly, became the mainstay of what would later be called Hollywood's Canada. These short films did much to condition the world's impression of what was alleged to be essentially Canadian. Unfortunately, they were universally inaccurate. The irony was that Canadian actors hardly ever contributed to this distorted imagery. With its small population and few urban centers, no substantial theatrical or music hall tradition existed from which to draw talent. And when talent emerged, it almost always went south of the border. The predominant pattern became one in which an American company filmed these Canadian stories on sets or on location in the United States.

Failure to develop an indigenous Canadian film production industry can be ascribed to one other principal reason: for a film to be successful it had to be seen in either Britain or the United States. Both abroad and at home, distribution, that all important arm of the film business, was never Canadian controlled. As a result, the few companies that struggled to break into film in the 1910s shot Canadian historical dramas that did poorly at the box office. Probably to avoid that fate, the CPR engaged the Edison Company to shoot a series of dramatic, scenic, and comic films in 1910 which in turn were distributed in the United States, Britain, and Canada. Homegrown production and distribution woes notwithstanding, Canadians opened movie theaters by the dozens, featuring American, British and European films.

A typical early film program in Canada lasted from 20 to 60 minutes, and might include a foreign-made comedy, melodrama, and travelogue. One of the first successful Canadian entrepreneurs was Ernest Ouimet, whose opulent 1200 seat Ouimetoscope in Montreal tried to attract a more refined paying audience but ultimately failed because, like the nickelodeons, it had to cater to the lowest common denominator to survive. It was not until 1914 that Canada's first feature film, "Evangeline" (based on the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem of the same name), was brought to the "big screen".


Direct Canadian government involvement in film production began as early as 1902. American immigration was becoming a veritable flood, and to balance that torrent pouring into Canada's "Last Best West," Ottawa decided to commission films to appeal to potential British and to a somewhat lesser extent, other European settlers. The government also helped underwrite James Freer's CPR funded films in Britain to promote immigration and trade. Similar endeavors followed over the next decade as the government realized the potential of film to increase trade and commerce. Favorite film themes were grain and water resources.

With the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, Ottawa began using film for informational and propaganda purposes. Canada's first newsreel was the privately produced Canadian Animated Weekly. Britain's Cinematograph Trade Topical Committee became the central coordinating body for newsreels in October, 1915; it was replaced by the War Office Cinematograph Committee a year later. Thereafter, Canadian war films were made under the auspices of the Imperial War Office Committee.

One positive result of newsreel production in Canada was the training of a generation of Canadian newsreel cinematographers. Yet curiously, Ottawa preferred to hire American firms with established track records to do film work related to commercial activity. By 1917 the government realized that it would probably be more efficient to centralize the film efforts of various government departments to avoid duplication, especially since the provinces had censor boards and a few even had cinema offices that made films for tourist, immigration, and education purposes. In September 1918, the federal government officially established the Exhibits and Publicity Bureau to centralize all film work and to promote trade and commerce, primarily in the form of travelogues. From these beginnings, Canada would come to have the longest record of government presence in filmmaking of any democratic country in the world.

The Bureau was in place primarily to make industrial propaganda shorts. Filmmaker Ben Norrish became the architect of its principal series, Seeing Canada. With the success of a biweekly film release for domestic and foreign markets, Canada gained a new respect in the short film (one to two reels or 10-20 minute) niche. From 1920 Norrish's successor, Ray Peck, found major distributors for Bureau films in Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, France, Belgium, and Switzerland, as well as in Asia. The largest market was in the United States, where audiences grew accustomed to tourist films extolling Canadian scenic wonders, with cute titles such as Where the Moose Run Loose, Nimrods in Duckland, and Rushing Waters. Peck was very much aware of the American film industry's imperial engine, and, rather than attempt to stall it, he hoped to see Hollywood establish branch plant subsidiaries in Canada. He probably saw his position as a practical response to a Hollywood maw that swallowed up or buried worldwide competition through the 1920's.


In the postwar world of the twenties, the dream of establishing a viable commercial film industry in Canada remained elusive. The most important element, distribution, fell under Hollywood's hegemony in 1922-1923 after Canada's largest chain, Allen Theatres, was absorbed by Famous Players, which was backed by American money. Besides seeing distribution fall into American hands, Canadians themselves finished nailing the coffin shut. Unscrupulous promoters, sealed Canada's fate as a bad place to invest in film: half the projects never materialized and the other half proved to be dismal economic failures, in part, because of costing irregularities. Too many producers and stock promoters took the money and ran. And when a halfway decent film emerged, such as Bruce Bairnsfather's Carry On, Sergeant, in 1928, it failed at the box office because it suffered from cost overruns and it was launched into a sea of look-alike projects, mainly from Hollywood. For decades thereafter, Carry On, Sergeant was synonymous with Canada's most expensive film failure. For all these reasons then, the hope of forming a solid core of professional creative personnel to produce features was a dubious proposition.

A few Canadian success stories can be found, one of the best known being the producer "ten percent" Ernest Shipman, who was known for taking ten percent of a production's costs for his efforts. But aside from his greatest triumph, Back to God's Country, in 1919, he was a flash in the pan. Most producers left their investors high and dry. By the end of the 1920s, a fair conclusion is that Canada's attempt to create a feature film industry had been half-hearted and effete. Film mogul Adolph Zukor won control of most first run cinemas in Canada through Famous Players Canadian Corporation. Zukor's Paramount Pictures sought nothing less than a vertical monopoly, enabling them to control production, distribution, and exhibition.

Two films were made by Americans, and were ethnographic documentaries, Nanook of the North by Robert Flaherty and The Silent Enemy by Douglas Burden. Nanook was a 1922 film about an Inuit hunter whose struggle for existence in the pre-industrial Arctic. The filmed hunt for food was staged to occur as it would have been before the introduction of guns. John Grierson would call it "…a record of everyday life so selective in its detail and sequence, …and so appreciative of the nuances of common feeling, that it was a drama in many ways more telling than anything that had come out of …Hollywood. Flaherty's Nanook still stands as one of the greatest documentaries of all time. Ironically, few viewers ever learned that the year after this wondrous film was made, Nanook perished on an ill-fated hunting expedition, a victim of the very brutal landscape to which his minuscule figure had tried to accommodate itself.

Douglas Burden's The Silent Enemy similarly dealt with a first people's hunt for caribou as hunger stalks them. Set in a hostile northern landscape in the 1400s, with a love story intertwined in the ongoing struggle for survival, the Ojibway Indian cast created an authenticity that critics praised with effusive superlatives. Unfortunately this 1930 film was silent (sound had come to the movies in 1927), and the distributor failed to promote it adequately. The shortened film became a nontheatrical mainstay in schools and museums but never earned the success Nanook had garnered.


A footnote to these worthy exceptions is the first Canadian feature shot using location sound and dialogue, The Viking, by the American, Varrick Frissell. Released in 1931, it was shot during the annual Newfoundland seal hunt. This fictive love story of two rivals for a woman's love pales into insignificance against the stark beauty and awesome terror of men clamoring over the heaving ice floes of the North Atlantic in search of seal pups in a male right of passage that was as old as the colony itself. Unfortunately the film's storyline was hopelessly melodramatic, and, in spite of its unforgettable documentary footage and tragic circumstances, The Viking was a commercial failure. The tragedy was that Frissell and 25 of his crew died in a ship's explosion while shooting additional footage after they had completed the principal photography.

In 1930, an investigation began under the Combines Investigation Act into Hollywood's predatory monopolistic business practices. The legislation was not sufficient to prosecute successfully other industries whose operations were also deleterious to the national interest. For American big business, Canada remained the land of opportunity. Eight Hollywood studios came to control film distribution so effectively that Canada was considered part of their "domestic" market - it remains so to this day. The majors continue to distribute their products in Canada, although they share the market with a few Canadian firms.

There was in Canada a niche market for homegrown newsreel material to be edited into international newsreels as well as a need for so called sponsored films. The latter were often travelogues and/or industrial commercials. Associated Screen News, half owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, became a major production house from 1920, releasing almost two dozen items per year on such pedestrian themes as textiles, oil, health, farm machinery, telephones, and automobiles. From 1932, under the direction of Ben Norrish, ASN produced the Canadian Cameo series, mostly ten minute items for theatrical release, covering aspects of Canadian life including sport, music and famed Indian impersonator Grey Owl. They were screened at home and abroad but probably have more value today, as sociological documents, than they did when they appeared in theaters.


Meanwhile at the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau, formerly the Exhibits and Publicity Bureau, Frank Badgley succeeded Ray Peck in 1928. He presided over an agency whose output was functional and pedestrian; in 1930 all but eleven of the productions promoted tourism. Badgley's tenure was a disaster, in part, because he had the misfortune to be in charge during the Great Depression. Government retrenchment and austerity made impossible the Bureau's conversion to sound film until 1934, by which time Canada had lost its world market. In 1938, it was serendipitous that the British documentary movement's pioneer founder, Scotsman John Grierson, was available to help. Ross McLean, a Mackenzie King media aid working in London for Canada's High Commissioner, Vincent Massey, commissioned Grierson to travel to Canada to survey the Dominion's film needs.

Grierson's June report minced no words. The Motion Picture Bureau lacked dynamism; the staff seemed to have a complacent civil service attitude; Canada needed to establish a strong coordinating policy, an enduring film unit and a central agency to coordinate government film work. That fall, he received the go-ahead to act on his proposals. Only a few knew that, at the same time, he was working quietly for Imperial Relations Trust, a British Government shadow organization, for whom he was setting up a North American propaganda base to urge Canada and the United States into an active partnership with Britain at war, if war should come. He was under contract to do the same for Australia and New Zealand.

Propaganda was Grierson's lifelong operative word; by propaganda he meant education, deriving from its roots, the collegium de propaganda fide, the college of propaganda set up by Pope Gregory XV in 1622 to educate priests for proselytizing missions in response to the Reformation. In Grierson's opinion, twentieth century missionizing had little to do with religion and much to do with the conditioning of citizens' minds, not in some blind commitment to a person or policy but to the idea of an individual's primary democratic and public duty to society. His was a lifelong crusade to excite the imagination of a population so as to determine and to secure the future of the democratic idea at a time when people were flirting with the totalitarian ideologies of fascism or communism. Grierson had a glib way of putting it. He insisted always that he was being totalitarian for the good. He carried on his 'mission' with the fervor of a Calvinist who knew he was predestined for salvation. Some of the key men in the Canadian government would remark occasionally with a smile, "Watch out for St. John and his disciples." Grierson could never stop his crusading.


In March 1939 the energetic Scotsman began formulating the legislative bill that gave life to the National Film Board. It passed without debate that month and received royal assent in May. The organization's directorate was to have eight persons and the commissioner was to be the only paid person. By that fall, the world was at war and being the most experienced person around, Grierson became film commissioner. The suspicious staff at the Motion Picture Bureau thought he was an interloper. Unperturbed, he told the Prime Minister Mackenzie King's office that he wanted to develop national unity and show people and active Canada at war. He was thrilled when Famous Players Canada offered for free its 800 commercial cinemas nationally to show government propaganda films. At the same time he approached Louis de Rochemont, producer of the popular American screen journal series, The March of Time, to undertake a joint production in Canada to be called Canada at War. Grierson then left for a previously arranged two month trip to Australia and New Zealand, to set up informational services on behalf of Britain, now at war.

While he was away, Premier Hepburn of Ontario tried stopping release of Canada at War. He was carrying an old grudge against Prime Minister King, who actually looked competent in the film, a rarity for the camera shy leader. King's advisers tried to control the damage and were angered that Grierson, who should have been handling things, was thousands of miles away. The film played some role in the March federal election that King called, as his supporters urged Ottawa citizens to cross the river to Hull, Quebec to "See the film banned in Ontario." King swept to victory but was peeved both that film, a medium he hated ("I loathe my own appearance on the screen"), had caused him grief and that his peripatetic propaganda chief had failed him. Back in Canada following the election, Grierson tried to make amends, but his outsider status was now confirmed permanently.

The film commissioner had more important fences to mend, namely the Film Board's relationship with the Motion Picture Bureau. In fall 1940 Badgley had been undermining Grierson's authority by playing games and tying up personnel on loan from the Film Board to the Bureau. The real issue was that the young and active talent Grierson had brought into the Film Board was being held back by the Bureau's mediocre, complacent civil service mentality. Grierson saw through the tactics and decided to make an end run. He tendered his resignation, believing that the prime minister would support him. Months later, he had dinner with King, who was impressed by Grierson's knowledge of propaganda and publicity. King stood behind the man whom the press was soon calling "Canada's Propaganda Maestro." In June, 1941, the Motion Picture Bureau was amalgamated with the Film Board; instead of being responsible to the ministry of trade and commerce, the combined agency was now under the aegis of the ministry of national war services. The Bureau's staff remained civil servants, who worked alongside a Film Board staff of employees who were engaged under short term contracts. This battle was important because Grierson was trying to establish a policy that he believed would perpetuate his agency: no civil service rules of employment and raises based upon quality and amount of work. This general rule stayed in place until unionization came in the late 1960s.



In 1942, Grierson kept his eyes upon the whole picture of a democratic nation at war; he declared its anemic information services were in need of tonic. He was aware of the Vining Report of July 1942, which called for a general overhaul of Canada's propaganda effort and recommended replacing the Bureau of Public Information, the body responsible for print and radio information. The new organization was the Wartime Information Board. Grierson accepted the government's offer that he run it while continuing as head of the National Film Board. He was not building an empire for himself, but he saw the opportunity to put his propaganda philosophy into action. Like the films coming out of the Film Board, the context would give him an opportunity to create an active sense of social progress. He envisioned a propaganda machine that would complement and reinforce a key Film Board propaganda theme: this war was a people's war and out of it would come concrete measures for reconstruction that would diminish poverty and assure a broad based prosperity. As he confided to a friend in England, "We are going to reverse the unconsciously Fascist process and concentrate far more on information from the people to the Government than from the Government to the people." He believed his work was to oversee a gigantic Ministry of Education; as he put it elsewhere, he was "being totalitarian for the good." His political masters asked him to stay on at the WIB until January, 1944.

Grierson's primary concern remained the National Film Board, where Grierson was trying to balance two survey results, one of which showed that only 23 percent of the population considered films in theatres as the most effective channel of communication, and the other of which showed that film (and posters) were the principle ways to reach the less literate and the young. Canada's filmmakers had their jobs cut out for them. Grierson convinced a penurious Treasury Board to allow him to expand the creative team. Home to the NFB/ONF (Office National du Film) was a 22,000 square foot old lumber mill in Ottawa where two shifts worked around the clock to meet wartime demand. Young talented recruits like Tom Daly, James Beveridge, and Donald Fraser received their tutelage there, while the nucleus of a francophone group was formed by Philéas Coté and Vincent Paquette. The Film Board also had an obligation to existing Canadian production companies, and Grierson was deliberate in assigning productions to Associated Screen News, Cinecraft Studios of Montreal, General Films of Regina, Audio Pictures of Vancouver, and Crawley Films of Ottawa. These companies produced short films for the war effort and became well established in the Canadian audio visual scene.

Perhaps the greatest of the Film Board's creative talents was Stuart Legg, who had been part of the original documentary film school in Britain. He had come to Canada in the winter of 1939 to make two films for the Motion Picture Bureau and the Dominion Youth Training Programme: The Case of Charlie Gordon and Youth is Tomorrow. The former is thought to be the first Film Board film, since Legg was also on the NFB staff when he made it for the Motion Picture Bureau. This 20 minute scripted documentary showed the success of a federal program that put unemployed youth to work as apprentices. In response to those critics who opposed a film that depicted unemployment, Grierson argued that only by taking both the rough and smooth scraps of reality and by bringing them to order and significance could one achieve beauty. His remarks not only characterized how he intended to use documentary in Canada, but also defined the core philosophy of Canadian documentary film for decades to come.


Legg brought the style of de Rochemont's The March of Time to the pioneering theatrical series of the Film Board, Canada Carries On. From its first number in April 1940, the 20 minute films articulated wartime propaganda themes of collective energy, purpose in activity, wartime strategies, women's new roles, and preparation for a brave new postwar world. These shorts were meant to promote national unity and national understanding. As Grierson put it in 1942, the films were designed to interpret the various regions to each other and to integrate sectional interests with the interests of the whole country. Such films were also a valid way to interpret Canada to the world at large while showing how the country had matured.

In retrospect one can identify four key intellectual themes that characterized the series: organization for war and production strategies, Canada's expanded geopolitical role in transportation and communication, a thorough articulation of war aims, and predictions of changes to come once the war was won. Of course there were also the obligatory 'shot and shell' items shot mainly by the Canadian Army Film Unit (CAFU), films that were devoted to military strategies that might include battle footage. Within this shot and shell rubric, a dozen films concentrated on training for combat and preparations for military engagement. In all, the NFB propaganda avoided crude hate mongering and used crisp, concise and direct English in a didactic manner. French translations of the English originals usually followed a month or two later. Visually, Canada Carries On depended largely upon stock shots for images, and in addition to the CAFU footage, there was occasional original shooting. The music, composed mainly by Lucio Agostini, was a series of stirring crescendos that inevitably ended in a major chord. The predominant voice over was narrator Lorne Greene, whose paternal and authoritative tone provided viewers with consistency, hope, assurance, and a sense of purpose.

The confluence of visuals, music and narration left the audience fairly breathless. The films also had theatrical appeal. In 1942 Churchill's Island won the first ever Academy Award for best documentary film. Its message was that the Battle of Britain (July-September 1940) had been won by the Royal Air Force and "the people's army below." It evoked the British documentary theme of the 1930s, that the workers shared an inner strength, "a stubborn calm which iron and steel and bombs can never pierce." The indomitable British common people may have been down, but they were not out. This film probably helped convince the United States, still six months away from entering the fray, not to abandon Britain which was united in spirit and resolve.

Good luck as well as good filmmaking helped some Canadian films to reach American theatres. In the case of Warclouds in the Pacific (November 1941), audiences received a lesson in geopolitics and the uncanny prediction that a militaristic Japan was ready to strike at will in the Pacific. Released on the eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it found instant North American distribution and made Americans familiar with the National Film Board name.


The NFB had some success in representing to Canadians the French fact in the context of the war. In November 1940, the first Canada Carries On film with an original French script appeared, Un de 22ième, a fictive story about training recruits, which was geared to encourage French Canadian enlistment. Reflecting the Quebec reality of the time, it could not be shot without the approval of Quebec's archbishop. In Quebec, Path to Conquest, the palatable (if clichéd) line was that Quebec's real strength lay in the land and in the men whose lives were governed by the seasons of the soil. These films tended to evoke tradition because the province's elite, both clerical and political, continued to treat with suspicion any film emanating from Ottawa.

For the NFB to establish a bridgehead there was not easy, even though all the theatrical films were translated into French. As for the films dealing with women, such as The Home Front (1940), Women Are Warriors (1942), and Proudly She Marches (1943), the NFB offered a progressive interpretation of women who the propaganda boasted were critical to the war effort. These items received little public exposure in French. If Quebec's churchmen would not countenance shots of women in overalls, the rest of Canada did not mind. Occasionally the propaganda line condemned men's traditional prejudice about women belonging home or serving as ornaments. In fact, these shorts tried to assert that women now belonged in men's jobs. The unspoken understanding however, was that this situation was only for the duration of the war. When looking at the final impact of Canada Carries On, one sees the films stressing cooperative and corporate energies in the context of war and its aftermath. Grierson engineered the propaganda as much to prepare for the peace as to prosecute the war.

A second theatrical series, The World in Action, began in April 1942. It was similar to Canada Carries On, except that it was geared more to international themes as well as to the United States and British markets. Identified as "a screen editorial on great events shaping the destiny of nations the world over," this series covered two main topics, wartime strategies and the world that was likely to follow the war. There were two films each dealing with the Soviet Union and with women, and a single film on labor. Only four items featured battle footage exclusively. The World in Action avoided narrow nationalism and unabashedly pushed internationalist ideas, including a serious approach to geopolitics.


The series reached a larger market than its predecessor, but accurate audience figures are elusive. One educated guess is that a good number of these monthly releases were seen by a total of thirty to forty million people. When the films touched the controversial subject of the Soviet Union, a new member of the Allies after June 1941, United States distribution figures plunged. Films like Inside Fighting Russia (1942) and Our Northern Neighbour (1944) were careful to ignore political differences. For example they never mentioned the word 'communism' nor did they remind the viewer that the USSR had been western democracy's erstwhile godless foe since 1917. These two films raised political eyebrows both inside and outside of Canada, even though the Russian ally was carrying on the lion's share of the fighting. In response, Grierson's glib explanation was that he stood in general "one inch to the left of the party in power." Glibness rarely wins political friends.

Grierson's favorite film in the series was The War for Men's Minds, a long piece on the importance of information and participatory democracy as a way of ensuring that Roosevelt's Four Freedoms would prevail in the postwar world. Thinking of the film's propaganda strength, he felt confident that, as people watched, their attitudes were strengthened through the process of mass suggestion inherent in film. Grierson believed that this piece as well as other NFB propaganda would convince citizens that an interdependency of nations existed such as had never before been realized, and that the new reality would replace the old nationalism which had been partly responsible for both world wars; the idealist in him also hoped this new internationalism would mean the coming of a brave new world. He believed that regular government propaganda should continue in the postwar world. Silence from the Prime Minister's Office convinced him he had blessing from the top. The fact was though, that Prime Minister Mackenzie King, consumed by the urgencies of war, devoted little time to reflect critically on Grierson or his idealistic hopes for government sponsored propaganda as education.

As to Ottawa's actual position in foreign affairs, the policy that was evolving was called functionalism, not internationalism. It was a belief, based on real politics, that effective international authority in any given matter should be concentrated in bodies in which the countries mainly concerned were represented. In short, the hope was that the world would be bound together by a large number of different international institutions organized to deal separately with the many functions requiring international cooperation. Canada would pursue the establishment of a world security organization in which member states had sufficient confidence that they would not embark on individual policies leading to strained relations. But in the years that followed, as it appeared that the United States and USSR were entering into a state of permanent tension, Canada would follow the United States' drift into the Cold War. If internationalism and functionalism shared some common ideological ground, none of the key players in Ottawa would be interested in Grierson's hope to wage a postwar information crusade.


Reaching people with a message was itself a herculean task in pre-television wartime Canada. Grierson believed that nontheatrical film provided for the additional informational needs of the nation at war while at the same time providing work for fledgling Canadian film companies. He supervised the expansion of a network of traveling film circuits from forty-three to eighty-five; a 16 mm. projectionist would visit twenty rural communities over a month, showing a program of 70 to 90 minutes. A typical show consisted of a retired theatrical series item, a homemaking film like Four New Apple Dishes, made in color by Crawley Films, or Wings of Youth, explaining Canada's pivotal role in training fliers for the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, produced by Audio Pictures of Vancouver; a sing along animation by Norman McLaren from the series Chants Populaires or Let's All Sing Together, or perhaps a two minute Hollywood-style musical such as The Proudest Girl in the World, directed by Julian Roffman, to encourage female enlistment.

The rural circuits did much to cover the gap in those towns and villages across Canada that did not have cinemas: they succeeded in involving every corner of the Dominion in the war effort. On a monthly basis, about one-half million saw English items while some 133,000 saw French language versions. Further reinforcement came from creation of a system of industrial film circuits and the series Front Line Reports, where workers at lunch or between shifts saw a number of informational items in English or French, depending on the target audience. To complement these, a system of trade union circuits started functioning in mid-1942 to promote government labor policy. Further, by 1944, besides the NFB libraries that offered films to the public, twenty other libraries existed across the country. The men in uniform also saw newsreel series each month; material shot by the Canadian Army Film Unit appeared in Eyes Front, Canada Communiqué, and Pictorial Home Town News, all short items that the NFB edited from retired theatrical releases.

Besides the wartime propaganda, one might find NFB ethnographic films on Inuit and native life, Eskimos of the Eastern Arctic or People of the Potlatch by Laura Boulton, or a short from Associated Screen News on cultural pluralism, called Peoples of Canada, by Gordon Sparling. In sum, nontheatrical distribution linked rural and working class Canada to global events, made school children think in national terms, and informed citizens in other countries that Canada and its diverse population were active partners in the war to make a better world.


The NFB itself enjoyed worldwide recognition of the quality of its documentaries and animated films. Among the 787 employees in 1945, a group of young Canadians coalesced around the original imported talent Grierson had invited. Besides Legg, the key teachers were Stanley Hawes and Raymond Spottiswoode. The core group of students included Tom Daly, who would become perhaps the greatest producer in the organization; Stanley Jackson, one of the most talented wordsmiths in documentary film; Jane Marsh and Evelyn Cherry, two artists who brought great sensitivity to their work; and Sydney Newman and Grant McLean, who would become future film commissioners. Norman McLaren, one of the century's geniuses of animation art, had formed the first animation studio in 1941 and had begun training young Canadians like Evelyn Lambart. The earlier mentioned Philéas Coté and Vincent Pacquette were two francophones who would herald tentatively Quebec's entry into the world of film for the first time without the protective wing of the Catholic Church in that province.

All the while Grierson stood astride his agency, planning both for its survival and staking out new territory for a growing and vigorous group of filmmakers. In 1944 he looked to the postwar world and wondered how, once the peace was secured, Canadians could continue to produce film art. He hoped that the government would consent to the Film Board keeping up the documentary propaganda crusade in peacetime; after all, the job of education was never done. The Department of External Affairs agreed to use NFB films to publicize Canada abroad, and Grierson promised to help the small film companies by giving them some of these production contracts. With the natural reversion to peacetime habits, it was expected that American and British theatre owners in Canada would no longer make available significant screen time for Canadian film. To confront them with measures to protect Canada's tiny film industry seemed unthinkable. During the war, the Allies had established a pattern of cooperation, and no one thought seriously to challenge Hollywood's and Britain's dominant position as exhibitors.

Grierson knew that his Ottawa masters would never have agreed to a film quota system to help encourage a Canadian feature film industry. For one thing, Canada still had too small a core of experienced filmmakers. Also, the response from the foreign owners would have been swift and devastating. Besides, a policy establishing a national film quota was improbable legally, since each province had a censor board which was responsible for determining what could be shown. Thus, if Ottawa had no teeth when it came to American and British domination of Canadian screens, obviously it was not going to try to apply the bite of protectionism. The government was happy to continue its laisser faire policy.


None the less, Grierson wanted to do something for Canadian film, though not, as he put it, conjuring it up out of the local sky. Ever the pragmatist, in 1944 he wrote a report titled "A Film Policy for Canada" in which he maintained that Canada might be able to continue producing short films that could find their way to American screens. Canadians might even make occasional features in Hollywood; at the same time he thought Hollywood could shoot more films in Canada and/or make reference to Canada in more of its scripts. As he put it, half a loaf was better than none at all. Early in 1945 Grierson made known his intention to leave the country once the war was won. He was by nature a pioneer who found life as a bureaucrat unappealing. He resigned just after Japan's surrender in August and left for New York in the fall. There he intended to produce two monthly documentary series for international distribution. His successor as film commissioner, Ross McLean, suggested to the government in June 1947 that the Americans invest some 30 to 40 percent of their $17 million annual Canadian net profits in the host country's nascent film industry.

This scheme was not what the Hollywood moguls had in mind. Their idea was something far less ambitious. Rather than investing such monies, they proposed the Canadian Cooperation Project (CCP), which, after the fact, was a sad reminder of the disadvantage of being adjacent to the world's greatest economic power. Under the CCP, Hollywood promised to shoot a few features in Canada, to insert favorable references to Canada in their film scripts (to promote tourism), and to encourage more distribution of Film Board shorts in the United States. To be fair, Canadian tourist films produced by the private sector did find U.S. exhibitors, but this was not exactly the half a loaf that Grierson had envisioned. But the businessmen of Tinseltown were in a dour mood as they lost an antitrust suit at home and were forced to divest themselves of their cinema chains in 1948. This did not apply to Canada, where Paramount Pictures continued to control the Famous Players network of 800 theatres.


The Canadian Cooperation Project was mainly a boondoggle, but the postwar NFB was in no position to ask for more. The agency was dragged into the wake created by the infamous Gouzenko spy scandal that the press revealed in February 1946. Grierson himself was forced to testify before the Royal Commission on Espionage in Government Service, on account of a former secretary's association with Communist member of Parliament, Fred Rose. Soon the Conservative opposition organized a hostile campaign in The Financial Post against so called Film Board communist spies. Several independent Canadian film companies, hungry for work the Film Board was doing, were alleged to be feeding negative information to the media too. There were reports that an NFB cinematographer who had been assigned to photograph some top secret equipment for a Canadian army training film, had once been a communist. Shortly thereafter, the Film Board lost the right to make films for the Department of National Defence. Crawley Films and Associated Screen News picked up the contracts. Then, the NFB's production division and top administrators were declared "vulnerable" and in need of a security screening. Once this was done, the RCMP recommended that film commissioner McLean fire 36 employees. He refused and the government did not renew his contract in 1950. In sympathy, others resigned or threatened to resign. The organization appeared to be foundering.

As the new decade began, a pall hung over the NFB which was, for all intents and purposes, the major film producer in Canada. Some of the more pessimistic observers thought the end of the agency might be in sight, while others thought that perhaps, with television on the horizon, a new lease on life for filmmakers was possible. One thing was sure, after fifty-five years of film culture, feature filmmaking was Hollywood's firmly entrenched bailiwick. For Canada, that left documentaries and animated shorts to the National Film Board, if it survived, and made-for-television fare to the new television arm of the publicly funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The 1950s opened then with a pertinent question: would there be a niche for significant Canadian film production in the last half of the century? Uncertainty, that old Canadian friend, offered no firm answer.


In a belated but much-welcomed effort to challenge the predominance of foreign-made feature films, the Canadian Film Development Corporation was established by an act of Parliament in 1967. Its intent was to promote feature productions and encourage filmmakers through investments, grants and loans. By 1970, the annual production of feature films had risen to more than two dozen compared to only three in 1960. Still, despite the talents of such directors as Paul Almond ("Final Assignment", "Captive Hearts"), Claude Jutra (mostly French-titled movies), Williams Fruet ("Cries in the Night", "Bedroom Eyes"), and Eric Till (known for his direction of television series including "The Streets of San Francisco", "Fraggle Rock" and "The Hitchhiker", along with television movies like "Getting Married in Buffalo Jump"), the Canadian feature film industry in the 1970s was generally portrayed as mediocre. The only film that had won a measure of success was Ted Kotcheff's "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" in 1974.

Canadian film during the 1980s and 1990s finally broke through its historic stagnation. David Cronenberg's horror pictures and Denys Arcand's art-house hits "The Decline of the American Empire" and "Jesus of Montreal" became increasingly marketable to international audiences. Unfortunately, much of this success occurred in small doses and beyond the commercial mainstream, meaning the all-important final result of the equation, money, was still absent from any of these realized successes. Female filmmakers such as Lea Pool (French-titled films), Cynthia Scott ("Canada Vignettes: Holidays" and "Canada Vignettes: The Thirties"), Gail Singer ("You Can't Beat a Woman!" and "Destiny in Space"), and Patricia Rozema (the television series on classical music called "Yo-Yo Ma Inspired by Bach" and the one-hour production of "Bach Cello Suite #6: Six Gestures"), achieved considerable distinction during this period of growth. Immigrant filmmakers such as Atom Egoyan from Egypt ("Exotica" and "The Sweet Hereafter") and Deepa Mehta from India (with her "Fire", "Earth" and "Water" series of productions) also added their own cultural influences to Canadian productions. Canada also established itself at this time in the field of avant-garde productions from such artists as Guy Maddin (now over 16 movie credits including last year's highly acclaimed "The Heart of the World), Michael Snow (with over 20 film credits between 1956 and the 2001 release of "Corpus Callosum"), and Jean Pierre Lefebvre (with almost three dozen writer or director credits since 1967). These factors, along with the generous support of the NFB and provincial governments, had created a new vitality previously lacking in Canadian film.

In recent years Canada has contributed to the industry in many other ways including regional film festivals, of which Toronto's annual gala is among the largest and best organized and attended in the world. Vancouver and other areas of British Columbia continue to attract the attention of Hollywood as a venue for the production of American film and television, which benefit from lower costs, the abundance of local talent that emerges every year, and new panoramic scenery that can double for almost any place on Earth. Yes, Canada may have finally turned the corner in competing with its foreign competitors, albeit nearly a century late. We have some catching up to do, but by all indications we are headed in the right direction.




Trailers from CANADA

name year country type trailer
51st State 2001 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
6th Day 2000 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Afterglow 1997 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Air Bud 1997 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Air Bud 2: Golden Receiver 1998 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
American History X 1998 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
American Psycho 2000 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Angel Heart 1987 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Apt Pupil 1998 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Atanar Juat 2002 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Bait 2000 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Better Than Chocolate 1999 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Boondock Saints 2000 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Bowling for Columbine 2002 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Claim, The 2000 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Crash 1996 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Cube 1997 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Dead Ringers 1987 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Double Jeopardy 1999 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
eXistenZ 1999 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Exotica 1994 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Hanging Garden. The 1997 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
High Art 1998 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Highwaymen 2003 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Hole, The 2001 CANADA RAM Click to Watch
Owning Mahowny 2003 CANADA RAM Click to Watch

Cinema links from CANADA

NAME DESCRIPTION
Academy of Canadian Film and Television The ACF&F is a national non-profit professional association designed to promote, recognize and celebrate achievements in the film and television industries
Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Arts (ACTRA) ACTRA is dedicated to improve the quality of life for Canadian performers and increase the richness and diversity of Canadian culture
Antimatter Festival of Underground Short Film & Video Dedicated to the exhibition and nurturing of film and video as art, Antimatter has grown into the premier showcase of experimental film in the west.
Atlantic Film Festival Atlantic Film Festival is one of the premier Canadian film festivals of the year, with an international reputation
Banff Mountain Film Festival The Banff Mountain Film Festival is an international competition featuring the world's best films and videos on mountain and adventure subjects.
Banff Television Film Festival The prime international event for content creators combines an international program competition with a conference attended by industry professionals from around the world.
Bloodchalker International Horror Film Festival Missions, real and imagined, fought and abandoned, evil and beloved, coming together under the rubric of horror.Horror Reborn.
Calgary Film Festival The Calgary International Film Festival was launched in 2000, with the goal of making recent, compelling films from Canada and the world accessible to Calgary audiences.
Canadian Actor Online Canadian Actor Online is a web portal that lists, organizes and links to legitimate information and business resources that can help Canadian actors
Canadian Film and television production Association The CFTPA is a non-profit, trade association representing almost 400 Canadian production companies involved in television, film and interactive media.
Canadian Film Insitute The CFI's mandate is to encourage and promote the production, diffusion, study, appreciation, and use of cultural and educational moving images
Canadian Radio-Television Commission The CRTC is an independent agency responsible for regulating Canada's broadcasting and telecommunications systems.
Cinema Scope Now hosted on a Canadian magazine search engine, it's basically a subscription site. However, several articles from each issue are available online.
Cinema Site Site with general information on contemporary movies
Cinematheque Quebec The Cinémathèque québécoise is a modern institution. Its mission is to preserve, document and promote national and international film and television heritage.
Cineplex Odeon Site featuring reviews, trailers, ticket service and an extensive movie agenda.
Dawson City Short Film Festival An international short film/video festival set in the historic Gold Rush town of Dawson City,Yukon Territory,Canada. We are interested in short(35'max.) independent films/videos/DVDs produced in the last two years
Digital Gun Awards Toronto's online film festival in which everybody can participate
DOXA film festival DOXA is an international documentary film and video festival featuring new work selected by a jury, as well a thematic programming presented by independent curators
Dreamspeakers Film Festival The festival provides a venue for Aboriginal filmmakers and offers a unique exploration into Aboriginal filmmaking and culture from all parts of the globe
Film Journals Comprehensive list of Canadian Cinematic journals, hosted at the University of Toronto
Filmi South Asian Film Festival The festival tries to Strengthening the emerging South Asian identity within the global film industry
Genie Awards Inaugurated in 1980, the Genie Awards honour outstanding achievement in the Canadian film industry
Global Vision Film Festival The festival is an educational and empowering showcase of documentary films, information and culture.
Hot Docs Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is Toronto's annual celebration of excellence in documentary film and television.
Inside Out Large festival subtitled 'Inside Out'. For queer international filmmakers
Just for Laughs The Festival is the world's largest comedy festival. Last year over 1.6 million people attended shows featuring over 2000 performers from 16 countries
Kingston Canadian Film Festival The KCFF is an annual four-day celebration of the very best in Canadian cinema
Light Plays Tricks Short Film Festival Light Plays Tricks shows an eclectic mix of short films, videos, computer animation, and other audio visual works
Montreal International Festival New Cinema New Media FCMM is a multidisciplinary happening that fuses mediums and genres. In keeping with its aim of promoting cinéma d'auteur, independent video, and creativity in new media
Montreal World Film Festival The only competitive film festival in North America recognized by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations
National Screen Institute Canada's oldest national Canadian training school for writers, producers and directors working in film and television.
Playback Production, Broadcasting and Interactive Media in Canada.
Reelworld film festival ReelWorld Film Festival, a new and exciting celebration of excellence and diversity in film and video
Telefilm Canada Telefilm Canada is a federal cultural agency dedicated primarily to the development and promotion of the Canadian film
Toronto Jewish Film Festival The TJFF presents the best feature films, documentaries and shorts from around the world on themes of Jewish culture and identity
Vancouver Asian Film Festival The festival Invites all film lovers to the event showcasing the stories created by Asian Canadian and Asian American writers, producers and directors.
Vancouver International Film Festival One of the largest North American festivals, Vancouver attracts buyers and critics from around the world
Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival The Festival exposes youth and adults to a broad range of cultural, artistic and philosophical ideas and lifestyles
Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema The Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema (WFAC) seeks to promote awareness of animation as a viable art form
World of Comedy International Film Festival Held in Toronto, The WCIFF offers a feast of comedies from international filmmakers as well as a few comedy classics
Worldwide Short Film Festival The Canadian Film Centre's Worldwide Short Film Festival features shorts from around the globe.



Mary Pickford

Florence Lawrence

Mack Sennet

Marie dressle

Raymond Massey

Raymond Burr

Lorne Greene



John Flaherty



Adolph Zukor

John Grierson

Atom Egoyan

Louis de Rochemont

Norman Mclaren


David Cronenberg

Patricia Rozema

Denys Arcand

Gary Burns






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