National Film Board – 80 Years of Popularizing Film

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On May 2, the National Film Board (NFB) will mark its 80th anniversary and begin moving its employees to its new headquarters in the heart of the Quartier des spectacles. Claude Joli-Cœur, president and curator of NFB Cinematography, talks about this new step in the relationship between the famous organization and its audience.

The year 2019 will be a notable one for the National Film Board: established in 1956 on Côte-de-Liesse Rd., the organization will move in the fall to downtown Montreal. The official inauguration of l’Îlot Balmoral is planned for November. In addition, Vancouver filmmakers Alison Snowden and David Fine, already Oscar winners, received a fourth nomination at the end of January from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their hilarious new animated short film Animal Behavior (Zootherapy), offering the NFB its 75th Oscar nomination.

Forget the gray building on the edge of the highway: the architecture of Îlot Balmoral stands tall as an arrow in the heart of the city center. Like the Louvre and its pyramid that expanded attendance, the Guggenheim of Bilbao and the daring Remai Museum of Modern Art that transformed Saskatoon into a cultural destination, Claude Joli-Coeur predicts that the new building devoted to cinema will have a positive impact on tourism in the city but also country-wide. Joli-Coeur is looking forward to greater proximity with the people of Montreal and sees only the benefits to this relocation: “The NFB is a place of encounters and must be accessible to all, in the heart of the creation sector of the province.” The NFB seizes here a great opportunity to meet different audiences – first of all the music lovers, who feverishly come to the Place des Festivals every summer. Music lovers are getting closer to target audience: “Many films are supported by music, there are film-music lovers and we will make sure to bring our regular programming closer to these interests,” Joli-Coeur says.

The NFB curator of cinematography recommends Le plus haut niveau, a documentary on the musicians of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. The proximity of the Wilder Espace danse building opens an opportunity for other partnerships. There will be spontaneous effervescence and symbiosis because filmmakers, choreographers, dancers and musicians will meet in the street and these fortuitous encounters will spark creation. “I believe in accidental genius,” says Joli-Coeur.

The animation studio, one of the National Film Board’s leading projects, has of course been integrated into the new location according to the specific needs of the genre. As animation cameras need space to scope, the ceilings of the studios are very high. Definitely a plus: it will be possible to see the craftsmen working without disturbance, through glazed galleries designed and manufactured by the NFB. Artifacts, testimonies of the pioneering role that the NFB has always played in animation will be exhibited in the public space. “That the short film Animal Therapy by Alison Snowden and David Fine makes it to the Oscars is the type of event we would like to celebrate with a special setting,” Joli-Coeur says. “So, in the meantime, the NFB is inviting Canadians to celebrate this event by offering a free streaming of the film from Feb. 11 to Feb. 24. The film tells a session of group therapy for animals afflicted by problems similar to ours. Smiles are guaranteed.

Voice Recording of Animal Behaviour (Zoothérapie), the new animation short film of Oscar-winners Alison Snowden and David Fine, nominated for the Best Short Film, Animation.  Oscars(R) Ceremony 2019. Photo: David Fine

The documentary department remains the other pillar of the NFB. Online broadcasts reach a peak each year: 45,623,000 online views counted for 2017-2018. These results are enhanced by all major aggregators which broadcast the NFB’s content: “This meteoric progression is encouraging, because film popularization has always been the primary objective of the institution.” The director recalls the robots-visual cams on St. Denis Street: “We now have 4,000 free films, which are not ‘geolocated,’ offered to the whole world.”

Several generations of Canadians have grown up with NFB films, but because of the exponential growth of film offer these past few years, this bond has weakened. To win over the public again, it is important to cultivate relationships and set meetings with schools: “We are very active in the field of new-technology practice and in the field of virtual reality, which is vital for reaching out to young people across the country.” Rêve, a set of virtual-reality works (Philippe Lambert), and Draw Me Close (Jordan Tannahill), which the NFB co-produced with the National Theatre of London and which were recommended to the Young Vic Theatre in late January, are beautiful examples of this accomplishment.

Joli-Coeur: “L’Îlot Balmoral is about to become a unmistakable and international window to the expertise of the NFB and a place of encounters between creators and the public. Thousands of people around the world contribute to NFB films. Traveling to our Côte-de-Liesse office was always complicated. They will now be able to come to us by subway and reduce their ecological footprint.”

Translation by Justin Bernard

Watch Animal Behavior (Zoothérapie) for free from Feb. 11 to 24 at www.nfb.ca.

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