Finally! 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?
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.