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National Film Board of Canada pays tribute to Michael Spencer (1918-2016). Architect of Canada’s feature film sector.


April 22, 2016 – Montreal – National Film Board of Canada (NFB)

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is saddened to learn of the passing of Michael Spencer, a true pioneer of Canadian cinema, who played a key role in laying the very foundations of Canada’s feature film industry.

A young Englishman abroad, Michael was stranded in Canada in 1939 when World War II began. He would make Canada his home, arriving at the NFB in 1941, starting as a cameraman and becoming a producer in 1945.

While NFB founder John Grierson favoured documentaries, Spencer wanted to make dramatic features. He was intent on creating a domestic movie industry, independent from Hollywood, and in 1966, NFB management tasked him with devising a system of public film financing.

Receptive to the plan, the federal government created the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC)―precursor of Telefilm Canada―and appointed Spencer as its first Executive Director. He occupied the post from 1968 to 1978, overseeing the production of such classics of Canadian cinema as Les ordres and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.

“Michael Spencer was a visionary, tireless champion of Canadian cinema. As a newcomer to Canada, he embraced this country and the vital importance of bringing authentic, homegrown Canadian stories to the screen―in both of Canada’s official languages. Canadian feature filmmaking had no greater ally than Michael. I’m deeply saddened by his loss, and immensely grateful to him for the legacy he’s left us,” said Claude Joli-Coeur, Government Film Commissioner and NFB Chairperson.

A 2010 interview with Michael Spencer by Denys Desjardins appears in the NFB web project Making Movie History: A Portrait in 61 Parts.


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    The NFB is Canada’s public producer and distributor of award-winning documentaries, auteur animation, interactive stories and participatory experiences, working with talented creators across the country. The NFB is taking action to combat systemic racism and become a more open and diverse organization, while working to strengthen Indigenous-led production and gender equity in film and digital media. NFB productions have won more than 7,000 awards, including 12 Oscars. To access this unique content, visit NFB.ca.