Volume #15 - 1069.|
OFFICE NATIONAL DU FILM
Note de la direction de l'information|
le 7 juin 1949|
RELATIONS BETWEEN THE DEPARTMENT OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS AND THE
NATIONAL FILM BOARD
1. In 1922, the Canadian Government Motion Pictures Bureau was organized as a division of the Department of Trade and Commerce to handle the production and distribution of motion picture films (and later, still pictures), on behalf of the Cana¬dian Government.
2. In 1938, Mr. John Grierson came to Canada, at the invitation of the Govern¬ment, to make a survey of government film activities. As a result of his survey, the National Film Act was passed on May 2, 1939. On September 2, 1939, the National Film Board was created. The Board consisted of two Cabinet Ministers, three senior civil servants, and three members of the public noted for their interest in and knowledge of films. The Government Film Commissioner, as senior executive officer, is responsible to the Board. The National Film Board itself reports through the Chairman of the Board to Parliament, but is not directly attached to any one department of Government.
3. The relevant sections of the Act concerning the advising of Government departments on the production and distribution of films, both at home and abroad, read as follows:
Section 9. The Commissioner ...shall (a) advise upon the making and distribution of national films designed to help Canadians in other parts of Canada to under¬stand the ways of living and problems of Canadians in other parts; (b) co ordi¬nate national and departmental film activities...; (c) advise as to methods of securing ...co operation in the production, distribution and exhibition of Govern¬ment films; (d) advise upon and approve production, distribution and exhibition contracts...; (e) advise as to the distribution of Government films in other countries.
It may be doubted whether those who drafted the Act can have foreseen the problem which might arise ten years later; and whether it was their intention that paragraph (e) should be interpreted as conferring on the Film Board the privileged position which it has since assumed.
4. In August 1941, the National Film Board absorbed the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau.
5. In the original absence of any effective co ordination of all Government infor mation activities abroad, and because of the energetic personality of the first Film Commissioner, Mr. John Grierson, the National Film Board early assumed an inde¬pendent line in the matter of film distribution abroad. There was, in fact, at this time, a very real need to state Canada's case firmly and dramatically abroad, and the production and distribution activities of the Board, though set up on an ad hoc basis, were undoubtedly created in response to a genuine demand.
6. One of the Board's outstanding productions was the "World in Action" series. These were, in effect, dramatic visual editorials on international affairs. They achieved a marked degree of success, but it may be stated that, in general, the Film Board hewed its own political line and consulted the Department infrequently.
7. Late in 1941, an event occurred which had a distinct bearing on the atmosphere in which relations between the Department and the Board have since been con¬ducted. In November of that year, the Board completed a timely and prophetic film entitled "War Clouds in the Pacific". The Department was shown the completed film and expressed the view that the attitude which the film took toward the Japa¬nese, with whom we were still at peace, was extremely strong. However, the Board decided to release the film, and within three weeks, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
These events created a lasting impression among officials of the Board that their thinking on international matters was both timely and accurate, and the Department was thereafter consulted infrequently in respect of productions dealing with inter¬national affairs. The Department was in general apt to be faced with a completed film, rather than to be consulted at the script stage.
8. In April 1945, the Board produced a film entitled "Balkan Powder Keg". This completed film was shown to Mr. Pearson, in Washington. He took strong excep¬tion to certain statements contained in it, and the film was withdrawn and re edited under the title "Spotlight on the Balkans".
9. Late in 1947, the Board produced a film entitled "The People Between". Much of the footage was shot at the headquarters of the communist leader Mao Tse Tung. The Department objected to certain passages in the completed film, and the Board agreed that the film would be sold commercially to a United States distributor and would not bear the imprimatur of the National Film Board.
10. At the same time, it must be generally conceded that these vivid, dramatic motion pictures did much to gain for Canada a reputation as an outspoken producer of vital documentary films commenting upon the international scene. The extent to which the Board's foreign distribution network later became so successful, was in large measure due to the impact of these films.
11. During 1942 to 1947, the National Film Board opened offices abroad in London, New York, Washington, Chicago, Mexico City, and Sydney, Australia. In certain of these offices, such as Washington and Mexico City, N.F.B. officers were responsible to the Head of Mission for local discipline, but communicated direct with the Board at Ottawa. In others, such as London and New York, contact with the Canadian Post concerned was intermittent. In Sydney, the operation was almost entirely independent.
12. As a result of these activities, a world wide distribution network, commercial and non commercial, theatrical and non theatrical, was developed. This distribution network enjoyed a considerable measure of success and was later supplemented by the establishment of film libraries at diplomatic and trade posts abroad. It was thus that the Board came to regard the Department's posts abroad as, in some degree, outlets for its own distribution system.
13. Beginning in 1947, however, a series of drastic budget restrictions made it impossible for the Board to carry on these operations in their entirety. The Wash¬ington Office was closed; and the Department was asked if it would assume respon¬sibility for the operation of the Sydney Office. This was done, and in the summer of 1948, the Department became responsible for the distribution of all Canadian Gov¬ernment non commercial films abroad, save in the offices which remained open (i.e. London, New York, Chicago, and Mexico City), and in certain Trade Commis¬sioner posts.
14. This new relationship has in practice involved certain disadvantages. These may be summarized as follows:
(a) The Department has no effective control over the production of films dealing with international matters. Though the Department is consulted from time to time, such consultation is apt to occur late in the day. The Department has frequently been faced with faits accomplish. A recent case in point was the shooting script of the proposed "Human Rights Film".
This state of affairs is, to a certain extent, the result of the Board's peculiar financial structure. Approximately two thirds of its expenditure is budgeted for in the estimates. The remaining one third is secured by arranging for departments of governments to sponsor (i.e. pay for) films, in the production and distribution of which they may have a special interest. The Department has never entered this sponsorship field. When, in the fall of 1948, the Department suggested the possibil¬ity of a film of the North Atlantic Treaty, the Film Board took the position that it had no funds, but that if the Department would put up the money, it would be prepared to produce such a film. (Correspondence attached HL) †
This situation has, of course, no real bearing on the Department's over riding responsibility to advise on the content of all films dealing with external matters, and indeed, of all films planned for distribution abroad. The practice of sponsorship may, however, serve to explain in part the reason for the stand taken by the Film Board.
(b) Though the Department distributes films through all its posts abroad, it has, up to the present, exercised no control over the type of film offered for distribution. When the distribution takes place through the National Film Board's own offices abroad, the Department is not normally consulted.
There is again a financial aspect to this lack of control. Under the present arrangements, funds for the supply of prints to missions come from the National Film Board's budget. The amount involved this year was $28,000.
(c) Despite continued efforts on the part of the Department, channels of commu¬nication between the National Film Board and posts abroad still remain irregular. Film Board officers have frequently been requested to channel all communications through the Department. They have however continued to write direct, not only to Canadian posts abroad, but to officials of foreign governments both in Ottawa and abroad.
A recent case in point concerns an invitation received through our ambassador in Brussels for the Canadian Government to participate in the second World Festi¬val of Films and Fine Arts, in Brussels. This invitation was communicated to Mr. McLean2 who replied direct to the Belgian Government, stating in part: "I can assure you, on behalf of the Canadian Government, that Canada appreciates the contribution to international goodwill which Belgium is making in holding this World Festival of Films and Fine Arts." In this case, the Department received a copy of the letter, but this courtesy has not always been extended. (Correspondence attached IV)†
(d) In Paris and in southern Europe generally, a considerable distribution net¬work had been built up prior to 1948 through the joint efforts of the Department and the Board. Following a visit to France by the Film Board's Director of Distri¬bution, Mr. McLean suggested to the Department in the fall of 1948, that the Film Board should appoint a full time officer to Paris, to be attached to the embassy. This request was refused by the Under Secretary on the grounds that it was not desirable to have attached to missions officers who are not responsible to the Department. (Correspondence attached V.) †
The Department seconded a female clerk to do this work. She soon resigned, and her place was taken by an equally junior female clerk. It is impossible for an employee of this grade to maintain, much less to expand the distribution of Cana¬dian films to France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, and the French ter¬ritory in North Africa.
15. Proposals for the solution of these problems are contained in the attached memorandum.
1Cette note fut rattachée 3 one note au sous secrétaire, en date du 17 join 1949.
2 Ross McLean, commissaire à la cinématographie