The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is a federal cultural agency within the portfolio of the Canadian Heritage Department. Initially known as the National Film Commission, it was created by an act of Parliament in 1939. Its mandate, as set forth in the National Film Act, 1950, is “to produce and distribute and to promote the production and distribution of films designed to interpret Canada to Canadians and to other nations.”
The NFB’s mandate has been revised several times over the years to take into account the changing audiovisual environment and financial and social situation.
The following interpretation of the mandate reflects the new vision of the NFB’s role: “The National Film Board’s mission is to provide new perspectives on Canada and the world from Canadian points of view, perspectives that are not provided by anyone else and that serve Canadian and global audiences by an imaginative exploration of who we are and what we may be. We will do this by creating, distributing and engaging audiences with innovative and distinctive audiovisual works and immersive experiences that will find their place in classrooms, communities, and cinemas, and on all the platforms where audiences watch, exchange and network around creative content.”
- 1939: Creation of a National Film Commission
- 1950: The National Film Act
- 1965: Regionalization of NFB activities
- 1973: Greater assistance for private-sector filmmakers
- 1978: Contracting-out of sponsored films to the private sector
- 1980: NFB Board of Trustees makes changes to the original mandate
- 1980: Creation of the Applebaum-Hébert Committee
- 1984: The National Film and Video Policy
- 1995: Re-evaluation of the NFB’s mandate by the Mandate Review Committee
- 1996: NFB Board approves the NFB’s Action Plan for the NFB in the Year 2000
- 2002: NFB Board approves the 2002–2006 Strategic Plan
- 2008: A New NFB Strategy for the Digital Age – 2008–2013 Strategic Plan
- 2009: Launch of the NFB.ca online Screening Room
- 2013: Launch of the 2013–2018 Strategic Plan – Imagine, Engage, Transform
1939: Creation of a National Film Commission
In May 1939, the federal government proposed the creation of a National Film Commission (soon to be known as the National Film Board), to complement the activities of the Government Motion Picture Bureau. The enabling legislation stipulated that the NFB was to “make and distribute films designed to help Canadians in all parts of Canada to understand the ways of living and the problems of Canadians in other parts.”
The legislation also provided that the NFB, with its headquarters in Ottawa, Ontario, would co-ordinate the film activities of all federal departments.
1950: The National Film Act
In October, the Canadian Parliament approved The National Film Act, which defines the Board as an agency established “to initiate and promote the production and distribution of films in the national interest and, in particular, to produce and distribute films designed to interpret Canada to Canadians and to other nations” and to
- represent the Government of Canada in its relations with persons engaged in commercial motion picture film activity in connection with motion picture films for the Government or any department thereof;
- engage in research in film activity and make available the results thereof to persons engaged in the production of films;
- advise the Governor in Council in connection with film activities;
- discharge such other duties relating to film activity as the Governor in Council may direct the Board to undertake.
1965: Regionalization of NFB activities
As a result of a report commissioned by the federal government and written by independent producer Gordon Sheppard on government cultural policies and activities, the NFB began regionalizing its English production activities. Producers were appointed in Vancouver and Toronto and, soon thereafter, in the Prairies and the Maritimes.
The goal of this initiative was to recruit young filmmakers and encourage local production, particularly by spreading sponsorships more widely throughout the regions. The report also recommended that more films be made by the private sector.
Finally, the NFB closed some film depots in a number of Canadian communities, to begin the distribution of its own films in 21 Canadian cities. This marked the beginning of the decline of what were known as film councils.
1973: Greater assistance for private-sector filmmakers
This year saw the introduction of the regionalization program in Quebec, Aide artisanale au cinéma et à la formation. The program, today known as Aide au cinéma indépendant — Canada, or ACIC, in French, was introduced on the English side seven years later as the Program to Assist Filmmakers in the Private Sector, or PAFPS. It was intended to help independent filmmakers by providing them with different services related to production.
1978: Contracting-out of sponsored films to the private sector
Secretary of State John Roberts, appearing before the Standing Committee on Broadcasting, Films and Assistance to the Arts, announced that the government intended to contract out more than 50 percent of its government-sponsored films to the private sector. The NFB created a review committee for sponsored films.
Three years later, in response to long-standing pressure from private industry and Ottawa’s desire to strengthen that sector’s economic viability, the NFB announced that most sponsored films for government departments, accounting for about 25 percent of its activities, would be made by the private sector. The NFB would act as executive producer, a role that represented a major shift in its mandate.
1980: NFB Board of Trustees makes changes to the original mandate
The NFB Board of Trustees ratified changes to the NFB mandate, with five new objectives:
- to serve the public interest;
- to facilitate access to NFB films;
- to be part of the international film scene, especially in the developing world;
- to be a leader in film technology, research and development and professional training; and
- to play an instrumental role in Ottawa’s national film policy.
1980: Creation of the Applebaum-Hébert Committee
The federal government established the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee, better known as the Applebaum-Hébert Committee, in part to study the NFB’s role. Two years later, the Committee recommended in its report that the NFB be transformed into a research and training centre and give up producing and distributing films. The NFB rejected this recommendation but accepted the cultural thrust of the report.
1984: The National Film and Video Policy
Minister of Communications Francis Fox released his National Film and Video Policy, which added two new dimensions to the NFB’s original mandate. In addition to “making and distributing films designed to interpret Canada to Canadians and to other nations,” the NFB was now to become “a world centre of excellence in production of films and videos” and “a national training and research centre in the art and technique of film and video.”
What is meant by a “world centre of excellence”?
Since its creation in 1939, the NFB had always enjoyed an enviable international reputation for the high quality of its products, in particular its documentary and animation films. While the NFB had maintained a “Canadian” viewpoint, it had often surpassed its mandate of “interpreting Canada to Canadians and to other nations.”
The federal government, in its National Film and Video Policy, wished to change the NFB’s mandate to give it the opportunity to focus on its skills as a producer working on the cutting edge of the artistically possible and as a commentator on major issues affecting Canada and the world, and thereby to complement private-sector production.
And what is a “national training and research centre”?
The federal government, in line with the recommendations of the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee, also urged the NFB to devote more of its resources and energy to research, asking it in part to:
- push back the technological boundaries of film and video, for instance by working on film proposals for giant screens;
- make the best use of its own resources, by working closely with the private sector, educational institutions, other federal bodies, provincial film and broadcasting bodies and government research centres; and
- become a learning centre for young filmmakers and others in the film industry wishing to refresh their skills.
1995: Re-evaluation of the NFB’s mandate by the Mandate Review Committee
When the federal government brought down its budget in February, it informed the National Film Board, along with Telefilm Canada and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, that their mandates would be redefined during the course of the year.
A special committee made up of Pierre Juneau, Peter Herrndorf and Catherine Murray was formed to study the mandate of each institution and to report back. The committee’s report, entitled “Making Your Voices Heard: Canadian Broadcasting and Film for the 21st Century,” was tabled on January 31, 1996. While supporting the National Film Board’s role as a public producer, the report suggests, among other things, that the NFB’s activities be rationalized in order to focus on production, that this production be renewed and that television be emphasized as a distribution channel.
1996: NFB Board approves the Action Plan for the NFB in the Year 2000
The Board of Trustees of the National Film Board of Canada, at a meeting held in March 1996, approved the comprehensive plan to restructure the organization. The restructuring reflects budgetary reductions, technological changes and the Mandate Review Committee’s Report.
2002: NFB Board approves the 2002–2006 Strategic Plan
In January 2002, the NFB Board of Trustees approved the 2002–2006 Strategic Plan, which was designed to address the impact of major reductions to the NFB’s parliamentary allocation in the 1990s, which was cut by approximately 32 percent. The new Plan placed particular emphasis on rebuilding the NFB brand and rekindling the NFB’s connection with Canadians, while recommitting the NFB to producing and distributing distinctive, culturally diverse, challenging and relevant audiovisual works that provide Canada and the world with a unique Canadian perspective.
2008: A new NFB strategy for the Digital Age – 2008–2013 Strategic Plan
In April 2008, the NFB introduced its five-year Strategic Plan. At the heart of the plan was a return to the roots of the NFB: supporting creators, privileging imagination and socially engaged creation in all technological forms, and making the results accessible to all Canadians.
2009: Launch of the NFB.ca online Screening Room
With digital technologies transforming how media is created, experienced and shared, the NFB was changing too: utilizing new technologies to push boundaries, take risks, and connect with Canadians in every region of the country, in exciting new ways. In stride with these changes, the NFB’s online Screening Room was launched in January of 2009.
2013: Launch of the 2013–2018 Strategic Plan – Imagine, Engage, Transform
In May, the NFB launched its 2013–2018 Strategic Plan, Imagine, Engage, Transform: A Vision; A Plan; A Manifesto, which called for the NFB to create, distribute and engage audiences with innovative and distinctive audiovisual works and immersive experiences that could find their place in classrooms, communities, and cinemas, and on all the platforms where audiences watch, exchange and network around creative content.
Some of the goals of the Plan are: to further the NFB’s global leadership in creativity and innovation throughout all its activities, to increase the presence and the impact of the NFB by promoting meaningful relationships with Canadian and world audiences, to develop a new economic model and new business opportunities, and to transform the NFB into a dynamic and evolving organization that enhances its ability to work and create differently.
To find out more about the NFB’s vision for the future of public filmmaking, click here.