nfb_logo_canadian_designFinally! Maple-coated films like Blackfly (1991) Beaver Family (1929) and Being Caribou (2004), are all freely available online. And those are just three of my favourites from the “B” section of the National Film Board of Canada’s new Online Screening Room.

As part of it’s 200th (? me so crazy) 70th anniversary the NFB launched its free digital archives, putting 400 full-length feature films and another 300 shorts and clips online.  And while I have a personal penchant for films featuring Canadian wildlife (especially those in northern Ontario), urban sophisticates, do not fear. Try Ryan Larkin’s Street Musique (1972) an animated take on a group of Montreal buskers; Murray Siple’s Carts of Darkness (2008), a doc about bottle collectors/extreme sport inventors in Vancouver; and Sad Song of the Yellow Skin, a 1970 film by three American journalists following ordinary Saigon residents living in the midst of war.

We talked to NFB Chair and Government Film Commissioner on Take 5 last Thursday, when the site went live.  As someone who’s written for a public broadcaster’s digital archives website, I was curious to know how much the project had cost – paying performers, animators and musicians for rights is expensive and often determines what ends up online – but Perlmutter didn’t divulge figures, saying only that NFB had shifted other priorities to pay for this project.  He did say the 700 films now online are only a start and the NFB plans to continue adding to its online archives.  Maybe one day all 13,000 films will be available to Canadians, bringing back hazy memories of sitting in darkened classrooms watching The Sweater.

And if you don’t trust my recommendations (you should really check out Alanis Obomsawin’s work), who better than the Government Film Commissioner himself?

Perlmutter’s picks:

Norman McLaren’s 1952 Oscar-winning stop-motion animated short, Neighbours (to see footage of McLaren at work check out this CBC Archives clip)

And Pour la Suite du Monde, by Pierre Perrault and Michel Brault (1962) a french-language “classic that changed the nature of looking at the world,” according to Perlmutter.  (An English synopsis).

He also recommended Ryan – an animated film on brilliant, former NFB producer Ryan Larkin’s struggle with addiction – but sadly, I can’t find this in the Screening Room.

Which brings me to other complaints about the site.  The search engine needs tweaking (a search for Pour la Suite du Monde brings up five films, but not that one…), and on the main page for the film on the NFB site, there is no indication that one can go to the Screening Room page and view the film for free, just a link to buy it.

Moaning aside, it’s sweet to have access to these homegrown gems.  So pop the corn and cozy up to your laptop.



Filed under cheap fun, journalism, thrifty

4 responses to “www.great(free)canadianfilm

  1. swankola

    200th anniversary? the nfb predated the invention of cinema by about 90 years? what were they doing back in 1809? 😀

  2. Thanks for a great post. Actually, the NFB is celebrating its 7oth anniversary this year.

    To clear up a few other things you mentioned, Ryan will be online mid-February and if you haven’t seen it, it’s an incredible little film. Also, when searching for a French title, you should be on the French site – the French films will not turn up in an English search. Finally, thanks for bringing up the collections pages. You’re right, there is currently no link on those pages to films that are available in the Screening Room. I’ll look into that.

  3. The site cost $1.3 million. And you’re right – much of it was rights.

  4. um, wow. thanks for correcting that Ridiculous error swankola… I have no excuse for that except for an overall degree of imperfection. Julie, thanks for the heads up on Ryan and for addressing the search function, all very exciting.

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