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THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD*
THE National Film Board, as we have observed in Part I, was organized in 1939 to co-ordinate government film activities, to advise government departments on the production and distribution of films, and to act as an intermediary between government departments and the Government Motion Picture Bureau. The Board was composed of seven members: the Minister of Trade and Commerce as Chairman, three government officials, and three private citizens representative of the country as a whole. The outbreak of war led to a great expansion of Film Board activities, including the taking over of the Government Motion Picture Bureau and its responsibilities for production and distribution. After a period of rapid expansion, in 1946 the budget of the Film Board was drastically cut, and its future place in our national life came up for review.
2. In 1949 the National Film Board was included among the agencies of government upon which this Royal Commission was instructed to make recommendations. On the initiative of the Minister of Resources and Development and of this Commission, the firm of Messrs. J. D. Woods and Gordon of Toronto, management consultants, was commissioned to prepare a report on the organization and on the business administration of the National Film Board. This careful report, and the implementation of some of its recommendations by the National Film Act of 1950, has relieved us of the responsibility for reviewing a number of administrative details, and has left us free to devote ourselves to what seem to us the principal issues, the proper function of the Film Board, and the manner in which the Board can most effectively contribute to the welfare of the nation.
3. The National Film Act of 1950 removes the responsibility of direct participation in the deliberations of the Film Board from Ministers of the Crown, and increases the proportion of members who are not in the government service. The new Board consists of the Film Commissioner as Chairman, and eight others: three are members of the government service
and five are private citizens nominated to represent the different parts of Canada. The Film Commissioner is the chief executive officer of the Board as before; and, as before, the Board operates under the control and direction of a Minister. The function of the Board as defined in the Act is, in general
4. On these functions and their proper interpretation in relation to Canadian national life and culture, we conceive it to be our duty to report and to make recommendations. As we have stated in Part I, we have received convincing evidence, from many and varied sources, that the work of the Board is in general acceptable to the Canadian people. More than a hundred voluntary societies have expressed their views on Film Board matters to us. Many have offered helpful suggestions and constructive, if occasionally severe, criticisms. There is, however, general agreement that the activities of the Board in the distribution, production, procurement and evaluation of films, and in research and experimental work, should be developed and expanded. These activities, we think, are rightly regarded as an essential service of public information, whether in peace or war; and in time of peace, we believe, the capacities of the Board should be developed so that at all times they may be used with the efficiency, the moderation and the good sense appropriate to a democratic society. Two circumstances stimulate interest in and appreciation of the work of the Film Board today. The first is that the Board has made popular throughout Canada, especially in rural areas, the documentary or educational film; the second is that in a country inundated by foreign films, the Board has demonstrated the immense though undeveloped possibilities of films made in Canada dealing with Canadian life and Canadian achievements. The fact that these films when sent abroad are received with enthusiasm is a further cause of pride to Canadians.
5. A unique achievement of the Film Board has been the distribution of documentary films throughout this vast country. The nature of this service, its partial disruption after the war, and the improvisations of Film Board employees, working with the willing aid of voluntary societies and interested citizens, have been sketched in Part I. We have observed
that these services, dependent as they are on voluntary co-operation, must be left flexible and free to develop as the public interest requires. Their value is not questioned, although some contend that they could all be left to voluntary effort. We are unable to agree; especially in rural and distant areas, we are convinced that volunatary [sic] effort alone would be inadequate. At present these services are limited by two factors. One is the smallness of the field staff, each member of which must be responsible for a very large territory. The other is the limited number of film prints available for distribution. This limitation is an inconvenience and an annoyance to those who must wait months or even years for a desired film, and who even then often receive a print battered and blurred by long and faithful service.
6. There is a widespread, and, we think, a reasonable demand for the maintenance of a distribution service which can adequately serve rural film circuits, film councils and all other interested voluntary organizations There is an apparent need for the extension of the Board's distribution services, in co-operation with voluntary efforts, to areas of the country such as the Northwest Territories and parts of Newfoundland, which are not covered at present. We have also heard complaints from urban areas that documentary films are poorly advertised and often are not available to many people who wish to see them.
We therefore recommend:
EVALUATION AND PROCUREMENT
7. A number of groups and individuals interested in documentary films discussed with us the need for two kinds of service closely connected with distribution. One is the maintenance of a national collection of
films which would be of value not only as an aid to development in the art and technique of the film, but as an historical record. The other consists not in one but in several services planned to make readily available the films appropriate to varied interests and needs. All western countries are now producing films, many of them of great value and interest throughout the western world. If all these films were readily available to Canadians, our own producers could concentrate their time and energy on Canadian films which they alone can produce. For this purpose and to make Canadian films also fully available, three things, we are told, are requisite: complete catalogues and classified lists of all current documentary films whether Canadian or foreign; an evaluation service to appraise films and to advise upon their suitability for specific purposes; a procurement service through which any film, Canadian or foreign, could be purchased easily and promptly. In short, for the proper distribution of the documentary film we need services comparable to those now provided for books by libraries, book reviews and book stores.
8. We do not think it advisable that all these services be performed by the National Film Board. We have learned with interest of the work already done by the National Film Society, by the Film Councils, and by other national and local voluntary bodies, with the help and co-operation of the Film Board. In the Spring of 1950 these bodies united to form a Canadian Film Institute, which has as one of its objects to provide an efficient service in the evaluation and procurement of films. It seems evident, however, that a purely voluntary body will not be able to perform these services without some public aid, direct or indirect.
We therefore recommend:
9. We have mentioned as one reason for facilitating the use of foreign documentary films in Canada, that Canadian energies may thus be devoted more fully to films especially suited to Canadian needs, particularly in the portrayal of Canadian life and Canadian art. The value of the film in time of war to provide information and to maintain morale is unques-
tioned. In Part I we have reported that voluntary groups are convinced that films can be equally valuable in time of peace. In a democratic state, national effort in war and national unity in peace are maintained only by the informed conviction of its citizens. No democratic government can afford to neglect at any time a means of public information so far-reaching and so persuasive as the film. The provision and distribution of films by the national government is as little open to question as the issue of the white paper or the blue book.
10. Commercial groups have not questioned the use of films by Government. They have, however, expressed misgivings about the production division of the National Film Board as we have noted in Part I. They have argued that the National Film Board should confine itself to advising on and co-ordinating government film activities. The actual production of government films, in their view, should be entrusted to private producers commissioned and supervised by the Film Board; and the commercial field should be left entirely to the private producer. They object to the operations of the Film Board in still photography on the same grounds. Neither in films nor in still work, it is argued, should an agency be subsidized by the Government to compete with private industry.
11. We are unable to accept these views; and we support fully the policy of production by the Film Board for two reasons. First, film-making is not only a technical craft; it is also a creative art. It is not possible to order films according to exact specifications. A house-painter may be engaged to tint walls a certain shade; but an artist must paint his own picture, and must be left free to work out his own problem. We do not wish to force the analogy, but we believe it to be fair. To act effectively and with knowledge as an advisory, co-ordinating and distributing body, the Film Board must itself produce films. Only in this way can it be aware of the problems and possibilities of the documentary film. It will be remembered that the National research Council, whose direct research activities are today of vital importance to the nation, began its work as a co-ordinating and subsidizing body.
12. This first reason we believe to be in itself adequate to justify direct production by the National Film Board. But there is a second reason; as we have suggested in Part I, it is doubtful whether existing producers are capable of meeting the growing demand for documentary films dealing with a wide variety of subjects and designed for many different uses. Although we were informed that twenty commercial film companies are operating in Canada, we understand that only a few of these are fully equipped to produce acceptable documentary films. Several of these companies are dependent on facilities provided by the laboratories of the National Film Board. To ensure free and full public information, and to develop not only documentary but all kinds of films, we think it essential
that production by private companies be encouraged. Private production in fact has already been stimulated by the work of the National Film Board which, through its energetic distribution and its imaginative production, has created in this country the large and growing demand for documentary films which private producers now propose should be left to them to exploit. We are convinced that the public interest requires both government and private activity in film production.
13. We are in full agreement with the policy of the Film Board to undertake no commercial production of films for private companies or individuals; and we believe that this policy should be clearly defined and rigidly applied.
We therefore recommend:
RESEARCH AND EXPERIMENT
14. The need for facilities in research and experiment is the more apparent in view of the expected requirements of television broadcasting in Canada in the near future. We do not suggest that private producers are incapable of experimental work; they were kind enough to show us some excellent films they had produced. At present, however, only the National Film Board has at its command the equipment and resources necessary for sustained research and experiment. The experimental work of the Film Board has been warmly praised in Canada and abroad. This work must be continued, and this is one of the reasons for our belief that the National Film Board should continue to produce films.
15. We share the pleasure of Canadians in the technical excellence of many National Film Board films, particularly of certain imaginative
fantasies in the form of animations. We should like to stress the importance of the more prosaic but important field of informative and instructional films. It seems to us that in Canada insufficient attention has been paid to the film which teaches not by pictorial or dramatic effects, but by coherent and logical presentation of facts. The choice of subject, the selection of material, and its preparation are difficult matters, requiring the closest co-operation and understanding between those with expert knowledge of the material and those responsible for the artistic and technical production. Only the development of knowledge and of artistry combined can reveal the possibilities of this method of instruction, and give to it its proper place in our intellectual life. In those films where the object is to convey information in a clear and striking form with accuracy and fairness, the subject must determine the manner; facile, theatrical effects have no place.
16. This problem of the instructional film has been brought to our attention; it is well known to the Film Board which has achieved some success in producing films of this nature. We have nothing but praise for many of these efforts and for the intentions of all of them. We believe, however, that progress could be made if a few employees of the Board could be appointed, not for technical knowledge and skill, but for their scholarship, intelligence and imagination, and for their enthusiasm in developing this new medium of information and education. It would be their responsibility to guard the matter, as the producers would guard the manner, of the film. We do not think that occasional expert advice is adequate.
We therefore recommend:
FRENCH LANGUAGE FILMS
17. We have been told that French-speaking Canadians (less well-supplied than their English-speaking countrymen who can readily supplement National Film Board films with English language films from the United States) need more and better documentary films. It has also been suggested to us that National Film Board films on French Canada emphasize too much the picturesque, old-world aspects of French Canada to the comparative neglect of contemporary subjects.
We therefore recommend:
THE FUNCTION OF THE BOARD
18. The Film Act of 1950 confers wide powers on the Government Film Commissioner with a view to efficient and easy administration. We are aware that orderly, prompt and economical execution of Film Board business is essential; but since it is clearly a part of our duty to represent and to take thought for the intellectual and cultural needs of Canadians, we feel it proper to point out that this arrangement established by the Film Act may in practice put effective control into the hands of the Commissioner and may leave to the Board little real power or responsibility. We are not sure that even the increase of members not in the government service fully guards against this possibility, remote as it now may seem. The effectiveness of the Film Board will be limited unless its members, who represent tbe citizens of Canada, are able to express clearly and with knowledge the needs and interests of the Canadian people in documentary films. These members share a serious responsibility to the public, and we trust that the Minister and the Film Commissioner will give full attention and weight to their views.
FILM BOARD PREMISES
19. We have observed with anxious concern that the various premises in which the Film Board conducts its operations are cramped, scattered, inconvenient and hazardous. In the interests of economy and efficiency, and in justice to Film Board employees, this deplorable situation should be changed.
We therefore recommend:
* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.