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National Film Board: a tradition of excellence

By Archives November 27, 2007

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is a cultural treasure. Since its creation in 1939, it has produced over 12 000 films and accumulated more than 5000 awards, including 12 Oscars and 90 Genies. The socially-engaged NFB has set the bar internationally in artistic innovation, playing key roles in advancements in documentary filmmaking, alternative drama, and auteur animation.
Founded in 1942, its animation department is largely responsible for the development of Canadian animation. While collaborating with animators around the world, the NFB has contributed in the creation of new styles and techniques.
The Concordian talked with NFB veteran Helene Tanguay. A native of Montreal, Tanguay joined the National Film Board of Canada in 1970. In her early years at the NFB Tanguay worked with all genres of cinema, but her preference for animated film grew into a lifetime passion.
For over 30 years, she has built a career mastering the art form and forging special ties with the animation community. She has been a jury member for several international festivals, such as the Cinanima Animation Festival in Espinho, Portugal, in 1991, and the 1992 Hiroshima International Animation Festival in Japan.
In 1998 she served as a pre-selection jury member for the prestigious Annecy International Animation Festival. The Ottawa International Animation Festival named her their 2007 honorary president.

What is the role and importance of NFB in the development and promotion of animation in Canada?

Following the footsteps of animation pioneers like Norman McLaren, the NFB has, since its creation in 1946, maintained a tradition of excellence. It is a place where people can express themselves freely through creation. The model of the NFB, a government-funded film production institution, is unique in the world. In contrast with the private sector, NFB only produces film d’auteur (animated films). It provides a space for experimentation, collaboration work, and constant learning. NFB is also very important because it seeks to represent all cultural groups through out Canada.

Is the NFB a Canadian a model of international collaboration?

Definitely, art always reassembles. NFB is a Canadian pride through which fantastic exchanges and collaborations are possible. People from all over the world envy it! Like I’ve mentioned earlier, it is a unique national system that produces, promotes and distributes films. We work with artists from around the world, while offering great aid and support to Canadian filmmakers throughout the country.

We seem to be living in the era of the “Fast and Cheap”, where audiences rather consume low content reality TV programs and game shows. In this mass popular culture, is there still a place for auteur’s films?

It’s true. in many cases we don’t get much attention. No matter how many Oscars and other prestigious prizes we win, we constantly have to rebuild our reputation. But then there are movies like “Ryan” that unexpectedly go mainstream, and are seen by a considerable amount of people. This is always good for the NFB. People associate the NFB with quality.
I remember how many people thought Frédéric Back, one of the great Canadian animators, was from the NFB.even though he had never even worked with us. At some point, I stopped telling them that they were wrong, because I realized this actually had a positive effect and was contributing to our good reputation! You know it’s very hard for independent filmmakers to succeed in this industry; many of them often have to go private in order to survive. The NFB provides them with technical and professional support, so that auteur’s films can still be produced and have a place in this highly competitive industry.

Animation is often associated with the culture of children, when indeed it can touch on very serious subjects. Can animation be considered a communicative tool?

Animation films are special because they can, in a very short time, touch on a variety of subjects, convey several messages and awake many emotions. There is something very powerful in symbols.
I like documentary film, but I prefer animation because everything is allowed, anything can be said. It can explain and show in fashions that film can’t. There is a way of telling that is unique to animation; it allows the audience to connect privately, even secretly. Animation has unlimited possibilities, it is freedom.

How can young filmmakers get involved with the NFB?

Well the NFB offers opportunities through creative programs for beginners such as Hot House (in the English animation department), an intensive three month program where a selected group of young talents are given the chance to produce a first professional short film. In order to work with the NFB, new talents need to have good ideas and a lot of motivation. You have to want it, to be interested, dedicated, and most of all, passionate.

How does the NFB perceive the future of animation in Canada?

Their will always be people that are interested in making films, in expressing themselves. The NFB is a place where filmmakers can meet and share thoughts, knowledge, and techniques. This Canadian tradition will live on, as long as there will be creative minds with a love for the medium of animation.

For more information on the NFB visit the website www.NFB.ca