The NFB: Stories to Tell
THE NFB IN 100 WORDS
The History of the NFB
The NFB at Îlot Balmoral
Unique in the world, the NFB, a public producer and distributor, presents original Canadian perspectives through the thousands of films it makes and shares in collaboration with creators, communities and partners across the country and abroad. Renowned for its artistry, social impact, technological experimentation, and continuous innovation, the NFB has been embraced by Canadians as an iconic fixture in our public life. Its point of view documentaries, auteur animation, and ground-breaking interactive works reach millions each year and inspire conversation, learning and delight.
How well do you know the NFB?
The NFB’s headquarters is located in the heart of Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles, at 1501 De Bleury Street. You’ll find everything the NFB’s famous for under one roof, occupying six of the building’s 13 floors. The office has a public space and a high-tech 135-seat screening room. It also houses:
● More than 400 employees, experts, craftspeople and creators;
● Dedicated spaces to produce animation, documentaries, interactive and immersive works;
● Post-production facilities for mixing and editing;
● A laboratory for experimenting with new technologies;
● A library, a photo library and archives;
● The combined expertise of staff working to promote NFB works and develop and maintain technical infrastructures (festivals’ office, national and international sales, legal services, communications and marketing, audience development, technical services, IT, research and development, etc.).
Îlot Balmoral, owned by the Société d’habitation et de développement de Montréal (SHDM), revolves around two architectural structures separated by an oblique fault line. It’s a place where its tenants’ creativity, innovation and vitality converge. Designed by the architectural firm of Provencher_Roy, the building is a candidate for LEED Gold NC 2009 certification.
The NFB’s conservation and digitization rooms have moved to a new building, at 4725 Cousens Street in the Montreal borough of Saint-Laurent.
Did you know?
1. Canada’s one and only public producer and distributor
The keeper of Canada’s collective memory, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) produces and distributes powerful documentaries, world-renowned auteur animation, participatory experiences, and bold interactive and immersive stories about Canada—works made by and for Canadians.
2. Demonstrating our creativity, from coast to coast
Every year across Canada, production teams work closely with hundreds of seasoned and emerging artists and creators from every field, reflecting our country’s rich diversity, from the East Coast to the West Coast, from the Great Lakes to the Arctic, and covering a wide spectrum of social issues and personal stories.
3. One of the largest online film collections in Canada
At NFB.ca/ONF.ca, curious minds can discover an array of experiences and unique Canadian perspectives on a variety of relevant, inspiring and touching topics.
4. Everywhere and at any time
Movie theatres, festivals, television, community centres, libraries and other public spaces, multiple platforms… so many places to discover our productions and co-productions, at home and abroad.
5. A huge and vibrant collection
The NFB preserves, restores and digitizes its works, archives and photographs to pass on this rich collective heritage to the Canadian public. A large number of films and interactive works have already been added to the NFB’s online collection, where Canadians can watch them free of charge in English and French.
6. Tackling topics from different points of view
NFB documentaries create dialogue and debate about issues at home and abroad, presenting original and compelling points of view that are often marginalized, but have been brought to light with the filmmakers’ insights. What better way to stimulate discussion and enrich social debates?
7. Driven by tradition and innovation
The NFB’s daring, innovative animated films continue the legacy of Norman McLaren—a long tradition of auteur filmmaking that’s been kept alive by artists experimenting with new techniques and technologies.
8. Interactive and immersive works, exploring unknown narrative territory
Our stories harness the full potential of new technologies and platforms, exploring new social currents engendered by new types of communication, to the benefit of all.
9. Education beyond classrooms
An invaluable partner to schools, the NFB provides adapted and enhanced content that’s innovative and timely. Take CAMPUS, an online media portal, and Ocean School, an immersive learning experience, two groundbreaking platforms that push teaching forward using new digital tools.
10. Representing Canadians and their diversity
The NFB has made firm, measurable and public commitments to represent the population of Canada in all its richness, as an employer, a producer and a distributor.
– …won the first-ever Oscar® for best documentary in 1941, with Stuart Legg’s Churchill’s Island.
– …was where the foundations of Direct Cinema were developed in 1958 and expanded upon by legendary documentarians like Michel Brault, Pierre Perrault, Gilles Groulx, and Marcel Carrière.
– …produced the first Canadian feature film selected to screen in competition at the Cannes Film Festival: Pierre Perrault and Michel Brault’s Pour la suite du monde.
– …helped pioneer technology at Expo 67 that would eventually become IMAX®.
– …has invented and pioneered animation technologies and techniques that are still used today, including stereoscopy, pixilation, and SANDDE.
– …created one of the first-ever computer-animated films in the world: Peter Foldès’s Oscar-nominated Hunger.
– … created an all-female-led production studio called Studio D in 1974. Women held every key creative and technical position within the studio, whose films would go on to win three Oscars.
– … created, on the French production side, the En tant que femmes program in 1972, where films were produced and directed by women, notably Anne Claire Poirier. In 1986, the Regards de femmes Studio, led by Josée Beaudet, was founded.
– … has proudly created programs and grants for more than 20 years—such as the Filmmaker Assistance Program, Aide au cinéma indépendant du Canada (ACIC), Stories from Our Land, Doc Lab Saskatchewan, and the Tremplin and Cinéaste recherché(e) competitions, among others—aimed at encouraging up-and-coming, emerging, or developing directors from all walks of life in Canada.
– … has the largest online collection of Indigenous-directed films in the world. In 2018, it launched its Indigenous Cinema web page, which features more than 400 titles by and about Indigenous creators.
– … received its 75th Academy Award® nomination in 80 years, for Animal Behaviour, directed by Alison Snowden and David Fine.
PROJECTS IN PRODUCTION
– Canadian directors Guy Maddin, Denis Villeneuve, Atom Egoyan, Sarah Polley, Don McKellar, Sudz Sutherland, Denys Arcand, and Robert Lepage have all made a film with the NFB.
– The NFB has worked with the voice talents of actors Meryl Streep, Forest Whitaker, Christopher Plummer, Donald Sutherland, Leslie Nielsen, Richard Burton, Xavier Dolan, and Caroline Dhavernas.
– George Lucas was famously inspired to create “the Force” in Star Wars after watching Arthur Lipsett’s 21-87. There are two nods to this NFB film in the Star Wars series: Princess Leia’s cell number in A New Hope and ex-Stormtrooper-turned-Rebel-hero Finn’s First Order name, FN-2187.
– Roman Kroitor and Colin Low’s NFB film Universe was a key source for Stanley Kubrick’s vision of space in his masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick also cast Douglas Rain, the narrator of Universe, to voice the hostile AI, HAL 9000.
– Every director selected to represent Canada at the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film has previously worked with the NFB.
WOMEN AT THE NFB
The NFB’s English Program is a unique creative laboratory. Our producers work with creators from across Canada—filmmakers and other media artists—in the production of POV documentaries (more than 50% of our work), auteur animation and original interactive digital content for all platforms.
Here is an overview of upcoming productions from our studios across the country.
The NFB’s French Program supports French-language auteur filmmaking (including digital and interactive productions). It takes a wide range of approaches to producing and co-producing a variety of works in a variety of formats, from social-issue documentaries and auteur animation to bold interactive projects. Its productions deal with major social and cultural issues affecting francophones in Quebec and Canada.
Here is an overview of upcoming productions from our studios across the country.
The NFB also produces innovative works with traditional and non-traditional partners, including Space for Life (Kyma, Power of Waves), the Canadian Museum of Nature (Beyond Ice), Global Affairs Canada (TRACES for Expo 2020 Dubai), the Vimy Foundation (Return to Vimy) and the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership (Wind Instrument). It also contributes to important commemorations, like Montreal’s 375th anniversary (Expo 67 Live).
Who gets to tell stories matters. A pioneer in the empowerment of women filmmakers for decades—including as the home of the world’s first women’s production unit, the legendary Studio D—the NFB has spurred producers around the world to do more, by boldly doing more itself. In 2016, the NFB made a formal commitment to ensure that by 2019, half of its productions would be directed by women and half of production spending would be allocated to projects directed by women. In 2017, the NFB added new objectives for parity by 2020 in key creative positions—including screenwriting, editing, cinematography and music composition.
In 2020–2021, the NFB achieved its goals in terms of both the number of productions and budget allocation, for the fifth consecutive year. Parity is well entrenched within the NFB today and will always remain a priority objective. The NFB will continue its efforts, particularly with respect to certain key creative positions, especially in the areas of cinematography and music composition, where objectives have not been met. These efforts will be coordinated with those of industry partners.
- Women have been directing films at the NFB for over 75 years.
- Legendary NFB filmmaker Evelyn Lambart was the first female animation director in Canada.
- In 1974, the NFB created an all-female-led production studio called Studio D. Women held every key creative and technical position within the studio, whose films would go on to win three Oscars.
- On the French production side, the NFB created the En tant que femmes program in 1972, where films were produced and directed by women, notably Anne Claire Poirier.
THE BIRTHPLACE OF QUEBEC’S CINEMA
The NFB has produced more than 400 works by First Nations, Métis and Inuit filmmakers—an unparalleled collection that pushes past dominant narratives and provides Indigenous perspectives to Canadian and global audiences. An early voice, now revered as the world’s most prolific and influential Indigenous filmmaker, is the NFB’s Alanis Obomsawin. A member of the Abenaki Nation, Obomsawin has directed 53 films to date in a career spanning 54 years—more than a half-century of sharing her people’s stories with urgency, compassion and cinematic power.
Building on these important creative histories and guided by the recommendations of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the NFB is undertaking an action plan that includes a series of commitments, such as ensuring that Indigenous-led production represents a minimum of 15 percent of the NFB’s total production spending. In doing so, the NFB will be benefiting from a vibrant creative force in Canada while promoting greater understanding and reconciliation among Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.
GROUNDBREAKING ENGLISH-LANGUAGE PRODUCTION
As a Quiet Revolution transformed Quebec society, the Montreal studio became the focal point for the birth of Quebec’s cinema.
Under leaders like Guy Roberge, the NFB’s first francophone commissioner, from 1957 to 1966 – as well as pioneering figures lire Jacques Bobet and Pierre Juneau – the NFB brought together a critical mass of young visionary francophone Quebec filmmakers.
Hubert Aquin, Denys Arcand, Michel Brault, Marcel Carrière, Gilles Carle, Gilles Groulx, Claude Fournier, Claude Jutra, Pierre Perrault
Landmark Quebec films such as :
- Les Raquetteurs, 1958, d. Michel Brault and Gilles Groulx
- Golden Gloves, 1961, d. Gilles Groulx
- À St-Henri le cinq septembre, 1962, d. Hubert Aquin
- La Lutte, 1961, d. Michel Brault, Marcel Carrière, Claude Fournier and Claude Jutra
- À tout prendre, 1963, d. Claude Jutra
- Pour la suite du monde, 1963, d. Michel Brault, Marcel Carrière and Pierre Perrault
- Le chat dans le sac, 1964, d. Gilles Groulx
- La vie heureuse de Léopold Z, 1965, d. Gilles Carle
- Mon oncle Antoine, 1970, d. d. Claude Jutra – widely regarded as the greatest Canadian film of all time (SG1)
Link: Explore films by director
MONTREAL AS A WORLD CENTRE FOR ANIMATION
Originally formed in 1948, the pioneering ‘’Unit B’’ arrived in Montreal with producer Tom Daly heading a talented team that of cinematic innovators: Norman McLaren, already a legend in his own right, alongside such greats as Colin Low, Roman Kroitor, Terence Macartney-Filgate, Stanley Jackson, Robert Verall and prolific composer Eldon Rathburn, to name but a few.
- Candid Eye, 1958, d. Terence Macartney-Filgate, 1958
Building on NFB breakthroughs in light-weight film technology, and influenced by the work of French photographer and Henri Cartier-Bresson, the Candide Eye series was one of the NFB’s very first experiments in cinema vérité and has been credited as helping to inspire a revolution documentary storytelling.
Other landmark works
- Lonely Boy, 1962, d. Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor – a cinéma vérité look at Canadian teen idol Paul Anka that was a substantial influence on Peter Watkins and his 1967 film about a fictional popstar, Privilege.
- Universe, 1960, d. Colin Low and Roman Kroitor – which was an important influence for Stanley Kubrick on 2001, including the use of film’s narrator, Canadian actor Douglas Rain, as voice of HAL.
- City of Gold, 1957, d. Colin Low and Roman Kroitor – whose innovative use of animation camera and archival photographs became an inspiration for U.S. documentarian Ken Burns.
- Experimental Montreal filmmaker Arthur Lipsett began working with the NFB in 1958, going to create pioneering collage films such as Very Nice, Very Nice (1961) and 21-87 (1963) – work that would have an influence on a young California film student named George Lucas.
Link: Explore films by director
IN THE LABYRINTH, THE BIRTH OF IMAX
The NFB has been home to decades of animation excellence, with two Oscar-winning animation studios that have helped to establish Montreal as a world-class centre for groundbreaking auteur animation.
- McLaren’s first film in the NFB’s Montreal studios was the acclaimed pixilation short A Chairy Tale (1957), a collaboration with Claude Jutra that underscored the greater opportunities offered for new ventures between English-Canadian and francophone Quebec filmmakers in the NFB’s new home, which at the time was on Côte de Liesse Road.
- In 1966, the NFB’s new French Program animation studio was created, under the leadership of René Jodoin:
- Jodoin produced two Academy Award-nominated animated shorts: La faim, by Peter Foldes and Monsieur Pointu, by André Leduc and Bernard Longpré, as well as Balablok by Bretislav Pojar, winner of the Grand Prix du Festival for Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival.
- The Studio would also produce such works here as Co Hoedeman’s 1977 Oscar winner Le château de sable.
- NFB English Program’s animation studio in Montreal has produced or co-produced five Academy Award-winning films: Eunice Macaulay and John Weldon’s Special Delivery (1978), Eugene Fedorenko’s Every Child (1979), Alison Snowden and David Fine’s Bob’s Birthday (1994), Chris Landreth’s Ryan (2004), and mostly recently, Torill Kove’s The Danish Poet (2006).
CHALLENGE FOR CHANGE
When Montreal played host to the world at Expo 67, the NFB’S groundbreaking multi-screen presentation In the Labyrinth at the Labyrinth pavilion was one of the star attractions at the world’s fair, attracting over 1.3 million visitors in 1967.
- Co-directed by Roman Kroitor, Colin Low and Hugh O’Connor, In the Labyrinth helped set the stage for the development of the Canadian IMAX giant-screen film format, with Kroitor leaving the NFB to work on his new company.
- The NFB’s Montreal studio would continue to make giant-screen motion picture history with such films as Transitions (1986) the first full-colour 3D IMAX film and Momentum (1992), the first 48fps IMAX HD film.
NFB Headquarters, from Ottawa to Montreal
An NFB participatory film and video project originally created for Canada’s Centennial year, Challenge for Change/Société nouvelles created a new model of community-based media, from its base in Montreal. In total, the program would lead to the creation of over 200 films and videos: approximately 145 works in English and more than 60 in French, from 1967 to 1980.
Includes such works as:
- Colin Low’s 27 Fogo Island films, 1967-1968
- Saint-Jérôme, 1968, d. Fernand Dansereau
- VTR St-Jacques, 1969, d. Bonnie Sherr Klein – a pioneering community video project
- La noce est pas finie, 1971, d. Léonard Forest
- En tant que femmes, 1972, d. Anne Claire Poirier – a landmark series broadcast on SRC
- Working Mothers Series, 1974-1975, d. Kathleen Shannon
THE NFB COMMISSIONER : CLAUDE JOLI-COEUR
1939: NFB headquarters is founded in Ottawa, located at 25 John Street and in nine other buildings.
1956: There is a need to integrate all NFB activities under the same roof, in keeping with the highest standards of the film industry. NFB headquarters relocates to Montreal, to 3155 Côte-de-Liesse Road, which at the time was a brand-new, world-class, fully integrated motion-picture studio, the only one of its kind in Canada. Being in Montreal also allowed the NFB to recruit new talent from the city’s pool of creators, including more francophone artists.
Film Commissioners over the years
- Claude Joli-Coeur has been an influential figure in the film and audiovisual industry throughout a career spanning more than 30 years. In 2014, he became the 16th Government Film Commissioner and Chairperson of the National Film Board of Canada. He began working at the NFB in 2003, and served as Assistant Commissioner from 2007 to 2014, leading Government Relations, Strategic Planning, Business Relations and Legal Services.
- Mr. Joli-Coeur is known for his ability to motivate and inspire, a leadership style focused on results, and his strong commitment to Canadian communities, notably to official-language minority communities, as demonstrated by his support for many projects in French-speaking communities across Canada, and the signing of the first multi-party agreement with English-speaking Quebecers.
- He became one of the first voices in the Canadian audiovisual industry to make a strong commitment to gender parity (2016), to launch an action plan supporting Indigenous perspectives (2017), and to establish measures and concrete goals promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (2021). He also introduced the 2020–2023 Strategic Plan, a catalyst for the future of the NFB, with creation and audience engagement at its core.
- A law graduate from the Université de Montréal and member of the Quebec Bar, Mr. Joli-Coeur has been an entertainment law expert in the private sector, where he contributed to several international co-productions with a number of European countries and held various leadership positions within the Astral Entertainment Group, Groupe Coscient (Motion International), TVA International, and Zone 3.
As stipulated in the National Film Act of 1950, the person who holds the position of Government Film Commissioner is the head of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). As such, he or she is responsible for the administration of the Board, directs its activities and, subject to its by-laws, exercises in the Board’s name all the powers granted to the organization.
In addition to advising the Governor in Council on film matters, the Commissioner is mainly involved in the long-term planning of activities at the NFB, in developing its resources, clarifying its general policies and formulating its production policies.
The Commissioner is appointed for a five-year term, subject to removal for cause by the Governor in Council, upon the recommendation of the NFB.
The current Government Film Commissioner is Mr. Claude Joli-Coeur.
W. Arthur Irwin
Albert William Trueman
James de Beaujeu Domville
François N. Macerola
Sandra M. Macdonald
2014-2019 (first term)
2019-2022 (second term)
About the NFB
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.