The beginnings of Film Studies in Canada

The history of film in Canada is long and storied. It has been an integral part of Canadian culture, both as a source of entertainment and as a vehicle for self-expression. 

Early film studies in Canada

The beginnings of film studies in Canada are often dated to the founding of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). Along with the British Film Institute and the National Film Board of India, it was one of three national institutions dedicated to filmmaking founded during World War II. 

With its mandate to create films as part of a nation’s cultural and artistic heritage, the NFB soon became an important catalyst for Canadian filmmakers and film scholars. The organization started out producing various documentaries: informational, instructional, promotional, and a series on life in Canada called Canada Carries On. 

It has since expanded into dramatic features. Its best-known work is probably “The Devil’s Toy,” which details the making of toy pianos by Italian immigrants living in Toronto. Funding filmmakers through production grants, research fellowships, and equipment loans helped them develop their skills and explore the Canadian identity. Canadian Film Board’s pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal marked a turning point when the NFB became more of an important cultural institution, funding both films by documentary filmmakers as well as feature-length productions. 

The beginning of Film Studies in Canada

Film studies have not only influenced film production but also been an essential part of academic learning. Since the founding of one of the country’s first departments for teaching cinema, offered by the University of Toronto and York University in 1948, but it was not until the 1970s that other universities started following suit. Various programs sprang up across the country during this decade; the common examples you may be interested in include the Cinema Studies Program (York Cinema), Cinema Studies Program (UBC), Department of Cinema Studies (McGill University), Film Studies Department (Simon Fraser University), and the recently founded Centre for Film Studies (University of Toronto).

A couple of factors influenced the rapid increase in the number of film studies programs. The first was the Canadian Film Development Corporation’s funding policies during this decade, which encouraged universities to offer film studies courses as part of their curricula. 

Another factor was students’ passion for independent filmmaking. Many graduates from these programs went on to become filmmakers, directors, screenwriters, and producers, who would later establish their own production companies or work with Canadian public broadcasters such as TVOntario and CBC/Radio-Canada. 

Another decisive turning point came when Cinema Canada, a publication and distribution company for Canadian films that came onto the market about the same time as the founding of the Film Studies Department in Simon Fraser University, offered continuing education courses to interested students. This led to new demand for film scholars during this period, which was also fostered by several factors with two of the most notable ones being;

  1. The first generation of filmmakers who studied film while growing up were now in their 40s or 50s; they started looking back at their filmmaking days with nostalgia and were open to sharing their experiences with young filmmakers
  2. Canadian cinema was gaining international accolades from both critics and audiences; an increasing number of viewers wanted to learn more about these films. There were also many former students of these filmmakers who were now looking to be film scholars. These people did not only bring in new perspectives but also contributed valuable archival material from the era.

The third generation of film scholars has been active since the 1990s. Some have acquired important academic posts at universities like York University or Concordia University. Others do independent research into Canadian cinema as part of their work with professional organizations such as Cinema Canada and The Society for Image Arts and Technology (SIAT).

The rise of Canadian Cinema’s Popularity and its Effect on the Country’s Identity

The growth of film studies programs at Canadian universities has encouraged students to study popular as well as art cinema. These two trends exist side by side in the professional lives of Canada’s filmmakers. This is partly because funding opportunities for popular cinema have increased since the foundation of Canadian Heritage’s Telefilm Canada agency and Ontario Film Development Corporation (now known as FilmOntario).

This phenomenon can be observed from a number of angles, most notably: 

  • Role models: There are now many successful screenwriters, directors, and producers who began as film scholars; among these people are Atom Egoyan, John Greyson, Don McKellar, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Paul Gross, Clement Virgo, Kim Nguyen; this list goes on and on.
  • Training and education: the emergence of film studies programs has created opportunities for students to attend seminars, workshops and make informal connections with established filmmakers; this led to the rise of a new breed of directors who may have been more open-minded than their predecessors (although not necessarily); in particular, there are now many alumni from these academic programs working in popular cinema. The same phenomenon can be observed inside Canada’s public broadcasting companies like CBC/Radio-Canada, where many filmmakers began as TV producers; some notable names include Paul Almond, Ken Finkleman, Sue Taylor.

Canadian Cinema after 9/11 

It is hard to imagine that Canada was once a Hollywood of the North during the silent era; it was a haven for many stars who refused to join the American film industry’s blacklist after WWII; Canada also produced some popular cinematic styles like Quebec Trouper Cinema. But all these gradually vanished by the 1960s, mainly due to legal restrictions imposed on foreign imports. 

Since then, Canadian cinema has been seen as being too “niche” and not generating enough revenue.

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But there are exceptions:

  • The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) has been producing award-winning films since 1939. This is one of the best-known examples of public policy that promotes cultural activities in Canada.  NFB films have garnered major international awards, particularly at the Cannes International Film Festival, including an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for “The Man Who Planted Trees“(1987).
  • In the past decade, new kinds of popular cinema have emerged as well: films such as “Bon Cop Bad Cop” (2006), directed by former NFB animator Jean-Francois Pouliot, gained international critical acclaim while also attracting large audiences in Canada. There are many more examples like this; just think about films that got colossal box office returns in Canada’s major cities, and you will get the picture.

The bottom Line

Canadian cinema has not one but multiple identities. It is one that continues to evolve, and so does Canada itself – in its own unique way.

Author Bio

Eliza Sadler is a professional journalist who has been writing for 4 years. She also freelances while managing the best essay service and writes many articles that are of high quality in order to meet her goals and objectives. Eliza loves the feeling she gets when creating original pieces, meeting with standards set by herself or others alike. You can easily find Eliza by searching write my essay U.K to get her pro essay writing service.

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