(This story is sponsored by the National Film Board of Canada.)
After the pandemic began one year ago, cinemas went dark. No more hot buttered popcorn. None of the excitement that comes with watching a highly anticipated festival film combined with meeting the filmmakers for a vibrant post-screening debate. It was a crushing blow, not only for audiences but also for film directors, festivals, and everyone else who makes a living in Canada’s booming cinema industry.
In the face of COVID-19’s unexpected arrival, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) had to navigate many unanticipated challenges. Founded in 1939, the NFB represents all regions in Canada and is responsible for producing and distributing documentaries, animation, and interactive works. Along the way, it’s won countless awards, including 12 Oscars and more Academy Award nominations than any film studio outside of Hollywood.
Canada’s public film and digital media producer needed to get inventive with content creation and collaborating with professionals from other provinces and territories.
“We put projects on hold to assess what would happen but we were still able to complete three films, two of them were already in post-production,” says Shirley Vercruysse, executive producer at the NFB’s B.C. and Yukon Studio. “We set up remote operations for editing and music, and had some of the subjects record themselves on iPhones for the film that was not yet in post-production.”
The NFB also produced a nation-wide program called The Curve, an online platform filled with animation, documentaries, and digital storytelling showing how the pandemic has impacted Canadians. It can be accessed through the NFB’s website and YouTube.
“The Curve really demonstrates the NFB’s exceptional abilities to engage Canadians, specifically during these pandemic times,” says Rob McLaughlin, the executive producer and head of the NFB’s Digital Studio in Vancouver.
“As the public film producer, we’re fascinated with how story and art can help people understand themselves and help the world understand us. It’s a unique institution within the cultural fabric of Canada and it continually succeeds in producing audio visual work across the country that highlights local stories, perspectives, including the work of artists in B.C. and in the Yukon.”
Aside from The Curve, both studios have been busy producing other exciting works that will engage audiences.
They include a documentary, virtual reality, and spoken-word hybrid that examines systemic racism in Canada, created at the NFB’s Digital Studio. This Is Not a Ceremony is by a Vancouver-based artist named Ahnahktsipiitaa, otherwise known as Colin Van Loon.
“The production explores the Indigenous male perspective and focuses on systemic racism in our public institutions, it’s extremely powerful,” says McLaughlin. “Diversity and inclusion has always been paramount for us and it’s ingrained in the NFB’s DNA.”
The Digital Studio has also produced Far Away From Far Away, an interactive story for smartphones led by Vancouver creators Bruce Alcock and Jeremy Mendes.
“The project focuses on a father and daughter who live on Fogo Island in Newfoundland in the ‘60s,” says McLaughlin. “It’s a classic story about how the collapse of a cod fishery headed the reinvention of the economy and it highlights the importance of community.” Click here to tap and swipe your way through the long-form story.
“Martha is a compelling story made by a filmmaker whose grandmother is a Holocaust survivor,” says Vercruysse. “There’s this captivating energy between the two of them but then as a viewer, you also learn about the Holocaust. It was an important film for us to do, especially right now with the rise of antisemitism and all that is going on in the world.”
In addition to documentaries, the team at the NFB’s B.C. and Yukon Studio also produce animation projects like Zeb’s Spider.
“It’s a beautiful 10-minute story about a woman’s fear becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. It has been great having that energy of safely building art in the studio,” says Vercruysse.
The highly technical stop motion animation is by two Vancouver filmmakers, Alicia Eisen and Sophie Jarvis, and will be ready later this year.
Because of the pandemic, the NFB has had to modify how its films are released to the public. Previously, new works were shown at film festivals or community screenings but the majority of these have been cancelled or postponed.
“The NFB website is a treasure trove of films. I’ve heard that many people who are teaching and homeschooling have been accessing all of the entertaining educational material,” says Vercruysse. “There are hundreds of projects already on the NFB’s education platform for people to discover and enjoy.”