Articles

YOU’RE IN THE MOVIE BUSINESS

The National Film Board, now in a secret struggle with the CBC about who's going to make our TV movies, adds another chapter to its stormy history. And you're involved, because — like it or not —

FRED BODSWORTH April 1 1954
Articles

YOU’RE IN THE MOVIE BUSINESS

The National Film Board, now in a secret struggle with the CBC about who's going to make our TV movies, adds another chapter to its stormy history. And you're involved, because — like it or not —

FRED BODSWORTH April 1 1954

YOU’RE IN THE MOVIE BUSINESS

The National Film Board, now in a secret struggle with the CBC about who's going to make our TV movies, adds another chapter to its stormy history. And you're involved, because — like it or not —

FRED BODSWORTH

IN THE Canadian Government’s prolific family of employees, where a talent for avoiding the headlines is a respected virt ue, the National Film Board is almost unique. It is always in the limelight and usually up to its ears in trouble.

Revered by some, reviled by others, but never comfortably ignored, the NFB is constantly attracting such a potpourri of praise and abuse that the Government never quite knows whether it should be bragging or apologizing.

Like many creative artists, the film board has a devoted following among the public at large Gut. is often viewed with doubt and embarrassment

within the humdrum, hard-working family circle at home. Recently, for example, Trade Minister C. D. Howe, the Government’s No. 2 man, said he was personally “not a great advocate of this excursion into films by the Government of Canada.”

Since it came into being in 1939 the board has been battered by one storm after another in headline-making succession. R has been accused of being Communist, high-brow, corny, spendthrift and power mad. Its opponents say it is an expensive government plaything whose costs are out of proportion to its value; that government film production is an unjustified socialistic invasion of the rights of private enterprise; that it is a dangerous monopoly of an important information service which a government, could easily twist, to propaganda purposes. Its friends and the board itself say that it is a vital force for Canadian unification and education at home and for interpreting and advertising Canada abroad; that private enterprise couldn’t do the job as well, if at. all; that there are adequate safeguards to guarantee that no government will turn it to propaganda purposes. People on both sides of the controversy are usually able to agree on one point at least: that NFB is one of the world’s most competent producers of documentary films.

Recently the whole debate has been complicated by a bizarre and yet unpublicized new development

t he possibility that the film hoard’s survival may be indirectly and unintentionally challenged by the other large government communications agency, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation with its broadening television network.

Some film-board employees are saying guardedly

that television may be the death knell for NFB. Today NFB’s main reason for being is the huge audience of about a million and a half rural Canadians who regularly see NFB films. What will happen to this audience when television reaches every part of Canada and most rural homes have TV sets? There is at least a strong possibility that television may drastically reduce NFB’s audience, and the film board will then have to reach them via television or abandon its joG of educational film-making and distribution to the agency that will then have t he audience the CBC.

Up to now CBC has shown reluctance to share its TV field with another government agency, and a behind-the-scenes showdown between CBC and NFB is looming over the issue of who is to become the main film-maker for Canadian TV.

Whatever its fut ure role may he, the film board’s current activities and purpose are easily identified. It produces and distributes mostly free documentary films of a general educational nat ure, but does not make Hollywood-type fiction films. It is the Government’s advisory body on all film affairs, producing and distributing films for individual government departments as well as strictly on its own account. No government, department can make a film; NFB has to approve the idea and then make the film for it. The board produces about a hundred and fifty films a year, mostly of ten-minute length, about thirty per year being suggested and paid for by a sponsoring government department. The production of about twenty films a year is farmed out to private firms.

NFB spends about three and a half million dollars a year. Half a million of this is earnings from film sales and royalties. The other three million comes from an annual parliamentary grant plus fees from government departments that have had films made for them by NFB. Well before television appeared in Canada, NFB was interested in the new medium for two reasons: 1. It felt that as a film-maker it was at least as well qualified as CBC to produce TV films; 2. It recognized TV as a competing medium which might someday be needed by NFB for its very survival.

Although its main audience consists of rural Canadians, most of whom live far from commercial theatres. NFB films are now being increasingly used by urban clubs, churches and labor-union locals. Its films are shown in about forty foreign countries where they are distributed to non-theatrical audiences by Canadian government overseas offices and to theatres by foreign commercial film distributors. Most NFB films are slanted for non-theatrical audiences, but the board also produces films for theatrical release in Canadian movie houses. Its two monthly theatrical series— Canada Carries On and Eye Witness — cover new developments in Canadian life and industry from oil wells to ballet. It takes newsreel shots (the board claims it sticks to subjects in which private film producers are not interested) which are submitted to commercial newsreel compilers in New York and London. NFB also produces a fifteen-minute news-feature film per week for Canadian television.

NFB’s non-theatrical documentaries cover an almost endless variety of subjects. There are simple how-to-do-it films showing farmers how to treat livestock diseases or manage wood lots, showing fishermen how to market better boneless cod and showing industrial workers how a union local is organized. Many films are aimed at promoting community action—the story of co-operatives in the Maritimes, slum clearance in Toronto. Healt h and child care are frequent subjects. But a large percentage are simply the story of Canada. Typical titles are Canada’s Atom Goes to Work, Opening of Parliament., Canada—World Trader.

TO PRODUCE TYPICAL CANADA. MOVIES LIKE THESE...

FOR ISOLATED AUDIENCES BOTH AT HOME AND ABROAD...

FILM BOARD CAMERAMEN TAKE RISKS AS PART OF THE JOB

More Bricks Than Bouquets

NFB was lauded before the Massey Commission by more than one hundred societies. Its films have won scores of awards all over the world, including two Hollywood Oscars, and even its enemies admit that it consistently produces good films.

All the same, it gets kicked around by more critics than any other federal government institution. It is deplored by private film producers. It has been viewed with suspicion by the big t heatre chains and film distributors who see it as a competitive Canadian film producer. It. is a favorite target, of the parliamentary Opposition and is occasionally criticized by members of the Government. too. It is said to be the government agency that no minister wants under his control, and during its fifteen-year history it has been passed around among five different, cabinet ministers.

This matter of government control of t he film board is the biggest, factor underlying NFB’s current troubles with CBC over television participation. Film-board affairs currently come under t he control of W. E. Harris, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. The minister rarely concerns himself with NFB’s day-to-day routine, but he has the authority to step in anytime he wishes and halt or revise a film-board project. Once a general film-production program is approved by the minister he seldom interferes, but the authority to do so is nevertheless always there. In this respect, NFB differs from crown corporations like CBC and CNR. The crown corporations, though owned by the Government and subject to government control as far as general policy and finances are concerned, are not under continuous government supervision and are free to carry on day-to-day affairs without reference to a government official. The film board has at least twice requested the relatively independent status of a crown corporation to streamline its operations, but each time has been refused.

It was against this background that television, combining bot h radio and film techniques, entered Canada. The Government’s radio agency was relatively free of political ties; ifs film agency was closer to the Government’s apron strings.

NFB began preparing for television’s arrival well ahead of CBC. Syd Newman, NFB’s senior theatrical producer, was sent to New York for a year to study television techniques and requirements. By 1951 NFB films were being shown on U. S. television at an average rate of seven a day and when Canada was ready for television NFB had already acquired considerable experience in this medium. NFB envisioned itself as becoming responsible for all TV film-making while CBC handled the live shows.

But the CBC inherited television under the Radio Act which gave it authority over all “radio-electric communication,” and it showed signs early of having no intention of sharing its authority with another government agency. NFB asked for the job of doing all Canadian TV news films. CBC, jealous of its own relative freedom from political pressure, turned down the request because NFB’s noncorporate structure makes it—in theory at least—more sensitive to political influence. No CBC spokesman has ever acknowledged this reason publicly. The CBC’s official reason for wanting to make its own news films is that it can make them cheaper and faster than NFB.

“The film board has to be fussier about quality than we do,” a CBC executive explains. “They have a reputation for artistic and polished quality to uphold and as a film producer they have reviewers and critics to consider. Our films are strictly one-shot affairs that go on TV and that’s the end. We can get away with a cheaper and quicker job.”

The Squeeze from the CBC?

Instead of getting a prominent place in Canadian TV the film board has been forced to accept the role of a minor contributor. Then the crowning defeat came when Newman returned from New York. Newman, NFB’s television “expert,” appraised the situation, and promptly moved to CBC.

NFB is now contributing only fortyfive minutes a week of Canadian TV fare, and only fifteen minutes of this is current film shot especially for television. Some film-board cameramen and producers say there are signs that CBC may have ideas of squeézing NFB out of even this limited television participation. They complain that CBC now has its own camera crews doing news-feature work of much the same type as NFB’s On The Spot show. And last fall, when an NFB crew went to Korea for TV coverage, CBC sent a TV cameraman too.

CBC authorities reply that their cameramen are doing only spot news, that feature material which doesn’t require speed is being left for NFB, and that the CBC has no desire to take over this field. The CBC man went to Korea, his bosses claim, simply to get Christmas messages from the troops and nothing more.

CBC spokesmen—who, like NFB spokesmen, are reluctant to be quoted by name—add that a recent occurrence illustrates the delays which can dog NFB on spot-news stories on which speed is vital. When Lester Pearson, Minister of External Affairs, made his statement regarding the U. S. request to interview Igor Gouzenko, it was covered by both NFB and CBC cameramen. The NFB film was to go to New York for consideration for U. S. television and theatrical newsreels; the CBC coverage was for Canadian TV.

The External Affairs Department asked to see the NFB film before it was released and because of the film board’s close attachment to the Government -even in matters of operational routine—the request couldn’t be refused. CBC meanwhile shot its film through quickly and it reached New York in the normal exchange of TV news film twenty-four hours ahead of the NFB version. By the time the NFB film reached New York it was a dead story.

The largely secret tussle with CBC over television is merely the newest in a long series of NFB tribulations. Probably the oldest and most explosive source of controversy over the board is the question of whether a government should be producing films at all. Opponents of NFB argue that in a freteconomy a government has no more right to produce films than to produce headache tablets; the job belongs to private industry. Representatives of the private film industry, who look upon NFB as unfair government competition, are strongly supported by chambers of commerce, boards of trade ar.d frequently by newspapers in this view.

“The National Film Board is the most unjustified encroachment on the I rights of private enterprise in Canada | today,” declares J. J. Chisholm, of Associated Screen News. “It is strangling what could be a valuable Canadian ! industry. In addition to competing ¡ with Hcllywood we have to compete j with a juggernaut of subsidized comj petition in our own Government. There are fifty or sixty film-producing companies in Canada and I guarantee that in a short time we could be putting out films just as good and a lot cheaper than National Film Board films.”

Dean Peterson, president of the Association of Motion Picture Producers and Laboratories of Canada, adds: “When the Government plans

a new office building it doesn’t make the building itself, it farms the actual construction out to contractors. Why shouldn’t it do the same with films? Plan them, tell us what it wants, then let us make them.”

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce almost annually urges the board’s abolition. “Put the axe to it!” the Winnipeg Free Press urged recently, and the St. Thomas Times-Journal echoed: “Continued government monopoly on what would seem the preserve of private enterprise is difficult to justify.”

Even the Massey commissioners disagreed over the film board, four of them defending the present system of government film production, while n fifth, Arthur Surveyer, Montreal consulting engineer, recommended that NFB “be required to give to outside film producers . . . half of its annual production.”

But NFB officials and their supporters claim no one else in Canada can do its job competently. NFB producers say that, because of inexperience and lack of talent among the private producers, many films that are contracted out to private producers now require so much revising by the filmboard staff afterward that NFB might as well have produced them itself. Men in the private industry quickly counter, however, that some of the most successful award-winning films distributed by NFB have been produced by private firms.

Representatives of the private industry argue that government film production itself is largely responsible for conditions which are alleged to make

government film production necessary. There is little market for Canadianmade theatrical films because Canada’s theatres are largely Hollywood controlled and the main market for non-theatrical documentaries—the Government—is shut off because the Government makes its own. Canada’s private film industry has had to exist largely on the production of advertising shorts for industrial firms.

“If we were given the chance,” says Chisholm, the Associated Screen News executive, “Canada could quickly develop an industry that could produce

the quality of films the Government wants. If the film hoard stopped production, its cameramen and producéis would be turned out to form private firms of their own or join existing firms. Then you’d have many of the same people still doing the same job, but doing it the free-enterprise way.”

But one of the most stubborn parts of the running fight over the film board still revolves around politics, not economics and film-making competence. Many people who have no personal or special interest in films argue that NFB

provides the government in power with virtually monopolistic control over an information service with great propaganda possibilities. When Mitchell Hepburn was Premier of Ontario in 1943 he temporarily suspended distribution of NFB films in Ontario, saying the board was only “a federal government glorification bureau.” A similar charge has been made by Premier Duplessis of Quebec.

Dr. A. W. Trueman, a former president of the University of New Brunswick who is now National Film Board chairman, points out that although I film-board production is still a government undertaking, the distribution of the films is now in private hands, j During the war NFB operated its own J rural distribution network and NFB representatives showed the films. Audi! enees had no choice of what they saw. j Now the distribution is entirely con! trolled by voluntary district film couni cils which take a monthly film package j put together by NFB and sponsor its ! circulation to their five-thousand-memj her communities. Each community 1 pays twenty dollars a year to its ¡ district council to cover distribution costs, but NFB provides the films free, j They do not have to accept the NFB J program and it is not uncommon for a film council to substitute other films which might tie in more closely with a district’s local interests.

Trueman says that if NFB attempted to distribute a film of propaganda nature it would be berated by film crit ics and rejected by film councils everywhere, for there are now about three hundred and fifty film libraries in Canada which provide local film committees with a wide choice of films

both government and non-government. The libraries are maintained by public libraries, by organizations who want a film supply available for meetings, sometimes by provincial departments of education or university extension departments.

Extravagant and Wasteful

The film board proper the ninemember board which plans each year’s production program—is not permitted under a 1950 revision of the National Film Act to include any government members. Trueman argues that the board is entirely non-political and a safeguard against political influence creeping into NFB films. But opponents counter that this cannot be so as long as its decisions are dependent on the approval of a cabinet minister. And they add there is nothing to prevent the Government from loading the board with political stooges anytime it wishes to.

Critics claim NFB is extravagant and wasteful and its job of making and distributing educational films is of dubious value. NFB claims that for its three million dollars a year the people of Canada reap a great array of benefits, most of them intangibles th>t cannot be given a price tag.

Trueman says NFB’s main purpose has always been the promotion of national unity and understanding among the widely differing groups of Canada’s scattered population. “We hope,” he says, “that films widen the horizons of hundreds of thousands of rural Canadians, so that instead of knowing just their own localities, these people see the nation as a whole and their place in it.” He says that the prairie wheat farmer will learn, for example, from a recent NFB film that the Cape Breton coal miner has marketing problems much like his own, and Canadian unity will grow a bit stronger as a result.

As evidence of the films’ value, NFB officials display a thick file of letters describing developments that have followed film showings.

Lome Munday, a farmer in Lambton County, Ont., wrote recently to say that a film on home fire prevention and survival, made for NFB by Crawley Films of Ottawa, had saved the lives of his two children. Trapped by fire in their bedroom while the parents j were at the barn, the older child re! membered the film’s instruction, closed the door, plugged the cracks with a sheet to keep out smoke, then pulled blankets over themselves in bed. Both ! w' \scued unconscious.

A provincial agricultural representative in Dufferin County, Ont., wrote that a film on mastitis, a dairy-cattle disease, had done more to change farming practices in his area than several years of personal campaigning.

Dr. H. L. Pottle, Newfoundland’s Minister of Public Welfare, said formation of the Newfoundland branch of the John Howard Society, for the rehabilitation of ex-convicts, followed immediately after Newfoundland screenings of the film, After Prison What?

The film, Date Of Birth, produced by NFB for the federal Department of Labor and pointing out in dramatized story form that discrimination against older workers is unnecessary, did much to alter employment policies in many parts of Canada, according to reports on the film’s reception issued by the Department of Labor.

But NFB films don’t always produce that kind of reaction. The recent Eskimo film, How To Build An Igloo, was greeted by numerous newspapers with the query, “Who wants to build an igloo?” The Monitor, a Montreal weekly, commented that NFB should do a film on How To Build A House, “because houses seem to have kept getting scarcer ever since the Government went into the housing business.”

Some of producer Norman McLaren’s abstract animations done to music were shown to a convention of music teachers in Toronto. One delegate jumped to his feet in the middle of a film, waved his fist and shouted: “What

does the National Film Board mean, spending public money on such futuristic nonsense?”

NFB claims that its foreign distribution of films, superintended mostly by overseas representatives of the Department of External Affairs, provides Canada with far-reaching advertising abroad and promotes trade, tourist travel and, most of all, international understanding. “We want to show the world,” says Dr. Trueman, “that Canada has more than a bathtub and Coke civilization.”

Far-Flung Reputation

Some NFB executives declare Canadian films are more famous abroad than at home. The Most Rev. G. Panico, new Apostolic Delegate to Canada, said in an interview before he left Rome last fall: “I know Canada through books, the Voice Of Canada broadcasts, but above all through the films its government sends abroad. The last one I saw was at Lima, Peru, three months ago.” NFB’s foreign audience is about the same as its Canadian non-theatrical audience—a million and a half per month.

Numerous foreign governments have sent representatives to Canada to study film-board documentary techniques and the hoard’s organization. A Burmese student named Maung Maung Gyi is studying with NFB now. A U. S. film expert assisting the Burmese government establish a film board recommended that the government send Gyi to NFB for documentary training.

NFB’s peculiar capacity for producing either staunch friends or bitter enemies has given it a stormy history. The Government had had a motionpicture bureau producing films since World War I, mostly for the promotion of foreign trade, but Canadian films were being poorly received abroad. In 1938 John Grierson, top-ranking British producer of documentaries, was invited to come to Canada and recommend changes in the film setup. Grierson said Canada needed an overseeing board to co-ordinate the Government’s film program and promote distribution.

In May 1939 the National Film Board had a troubled and hotly debated birth, for it was opposed from the outset by the private film industry, although the Government had been sporadically engaged in its own filmmaking for twenty years. Grierson headed the board as the Government’s j first film commissioner. Ross McLean, a Saskatchewan-born Oxford graduate on the Canadian high commissioner’s : staff in London, became Grierson’s assistant.

NFB was hardly on its feet before films became a war weapon. Under the driving and dynamic direction of Grierson, the newly trained staff began producing films for recruiting, bondselling, explaining rationing and controls, and publicizing the industrial and military war effort. Because of limited quarters and equipment the staff worked in day and night shifts.

Staunch Supporters, Too

A big storm broke over NFB’s head with the Gouzenko spy revelations of 1945. Freda Linton, one of those named by Gouzenko (although charges against her were later dropped for lack of evidence), had once been Grierson’s secretary. Grierson himself, a blunttalking and unconventional intellectual, was viewed with disfavor by some within the Government, and some of ¡ the younger film-makers he had under him were suspected of Communist leanings. No proof of disloyalty was ever | established against any NFB personnel, ¡ but charges that the film board was “a hotbed of Communism” lingered j and Grierson was forced to resign late i in 1945. McLean became film commissioner.

Accusations of Communism in NFB were raised again in 1949. The Financial Post revealed that NFB was no longer being used by the Department of National Defense for the production of training films involving secret military information—that commercial firms were doing the work instead. The Government explained this was because NFB had not yet been covered in a routine security screening of all departments and it was easier to screen small private firms for the secret work. Opponents were not convinced and heaped other accusations on the Communism charges—extravagance, delays, unbusinesslike methods. Newspapers blasted the board. One parliamentary debate over NFB rambled through thirty-five pages of Hansard.

At this time, the NFB brief to the Massey Commission argued that it should be given the status of a crown corporation like CBC, instead of having a cabinet minister directing it. The Government refused to grant NFB this independence.

But NFB had staunch supporters too. When it was rumored that McLean’s resignation had been requested several delegations went to Ottawa to defend him. But McLean’s “resignation” was announced. Robert Winters, the cabinet minister then responsible for NFB, said it was part of a readjustment “to restore public confidence in the board.” McLean became head of the UNESCO film section in New : York.

Early in 1950 W. A. Irwin, then editor of Maclean’s, was named film commissioner “to clean up the board.” Soon afterward the RCMP security screening of NFB’s five hundred and eighty employees was completed and Winters announced that three employees had been fired as a result. He said there was no evidence of disloyalty concerning the three, “merely the absence of satisfactory evidence of trustworthiness.”

For a year or two now NFB had more tranquil days until last fall when the Ottawa City Council belatedly woke up to the fact that the Government was already well along with plans to move NFB out of its scattered and ramshackle quarters in Ottawa to a swank new six-million-dollar sudio and office building in Montreal.

For years the people of Ottawa had been looking down their noses at the film board’s artists, many of whom seemed vaguely long-hair and had never fitted harmoniously into the staid, public-employee mold. But now that the city was threatened with the loss of the thousand-odd citizens that NFB sup-

ported, its council, led by Charlotte Whitten, the fiery mayor, launched an aggressive campaign to keep the film board in Ottawa. The film board was once mon; embroiled in bitter cont roversy.

Two reasons have been given officially for the projected Montreal switch. It would put NFB in the middle of a large bilingual pool of talent actors, writers, musicians and commentators

which can be drawn on for film product ion on a short-term assignment basis. Special talent is now frequently imported to Ottawa where it has to

be kept on staff at considerable cost. The other official reason is that a Montreal headquarters would put NFB close to a CBC television headquarters and permit closer collaboration on TV programming.

Most of the NFB rank and file, who are comfortably settled in Ottawa and oppose the move, doubt if these are the real reasons. They claim a Montreal headquarters will make film production more difficult, because most preliminary research for films has to be done in Ottawa where there are government experts in practically every

field. They argue that Montreal’s talent pool will be of limited value because few films are studio made, most are shot on location throughout Canada using people in real-life situations, not professional actors. And they add that CBC has displayed little desire to collaborate with NFB on television programming. Other critics have ridiculed the site chosen, which is adjacent to the noisy Dorval Airport and Canadair aircraft plant, arguing that it will necessitate costly soundproofing of the studio.

Film-board personnel say Irwin manoeuvred the switch to get the film board out from beneath the dominating eye of the Government in Ottawa, as the next best tiling to full corporate independence, which the Government had refused. And they believe the Government was willing to be sold on the idea because NFB’s unorthodox film-makers have always been an embarrassment in Ottawa, and because it looked like a good thing politically that might appease the Duplessis hostility toward NFB.

Irwin, meanwhile, escaped the controversy his strategy produced. He went to Australia as high commissioner and Trueman had become film-board chairman before the strife over the Montreal move broke.

Granting its stormy history, there has been one bright development for NFB recently. During the last year or two the board has proved that on occasion it can produce enough talent to impress even its natural enemies. Most Canadian theatre-chain owners and theatrical film distributors are closely linked with some branch of the British or Hollywood film empires and, as a matter of course, they were more or less antagonistic to any film production outside Britain or Hollywood. They grudgingly accepted government films during the war as part of their patriotic effort, but at war’s end the theatrical bookings of NFB productions slumped. Two things have combined to bring the movie exhibitors and NFB closer together—television and the enormous success of the NFB film, Royal Journey.

Royal Journey, the film of the royal tour of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh across Canada in 1951, was planned as a normal short NFB subject of two reels or so in color. At the last minute, Technicolor film was not available and NFB had to use a new color stock that had been tested only experimentally before. When the film began trickling back to film-board headquarters at Ottawa the quality proved exceptional. The new film gave excellent color reproduction under very poor weather conditions.

Producer Tom Daly put together a “rough-cut” of seven or eight reels for 0,‘diting. J. J. Fitzgibbons, president of Famous Players Canadian Corp., and Harvey Harnick, sales manager for Columbia Pictures, were called to Ottavva to view the unedited rough-cut. i Famous Players is a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures of the U. S. and is the largest theatre chain in Canada.

Fitzgibbons and Harnick sat silently as the film was screened. It ended. Lights in the screening room came on. For a dramatic moment film-board executives waited, hardly daring to breathe.

“What are you going to do with it?” Fitzgibbons asked.

“Two reels are all we can use.” Irwin answered.

“Two reels be darned!” Fitzgibbons exclaimed. “You’ve got to make a feature out of it.”

“We can’t get distribution for a feature film,” Irwin said.

Fitzgibbons immediately said he would give it feature billing in every Famous Players theatre across Canada.

So Royal Journey, NFB’s first all-color feature film, was made.

It at once became a critical success and was shown in almost every country outside the Iron Curtain. A revealing portrait of Canada as well as a record of the royal tour, it had more showings in Canada than any other feature film ever released here. In its initial U. S. showing in Boston it ran eight weeks. In New York it ran nine weeks. In Auckland, New Zealand, theatres ran it several weeks with nothing else so that audiences could change six times a day.

New Promise in Shakespeare

Yet, in.spite of its artistic success and the profits it made for theatres, Royal Journey didn’t make a profit for NFB. Because it is a government agency, NFB claims it cannot charge the usual commercial royalty rates. The cost of producing Royal Journey and printing the films came to a hundred and ninety thousand dollars. NFB got a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars back in royalties.

Royal Journey hit the Canadian theatre industry just as television started putting Canadian film material on TV screens. Theatre audiences suddenly developed a new interest in Canadian films and the theatre chains saw that if they were to obtain Canadian films they would have to come from NFB, at least for the time being. Whether they approved government film production or not, the theatre bosses began using NFB films much more widely. Canada Carries On bookings have climbed from a low of three hundred and fifty a month a few years ago to around seven hundred a month today. Total Canadian theatrical showings of NFB films in 1952 was slightly over seven hundred and fifty a month; by the end of 1953 it was averaging a thousand a month.

“It’s mostly a matter of business, but not entirely,” says Jim Cowan, of J. Arthur Rank Films. “There is also file traditional theatre man’s respect for anyone who can produce a boxoffice hit. We*never know when they might do it again.”

NFB -believes it may already have done it again. Its new film on the Stratford Shakespearean Festival .Stratford Adventure —will be released to theatres this spring as another all-color feature film, just slightly shorter than Royal Journey. Commercial film distributors who have seen the unedited version say it lacks the international appeal of Royal Journey, but may be just as successful in Canada.

Cut of this history of storms and battles one fairly safe prediction can be drawn—NFB has grown up in a hurly-burly of strife and controversy, and the strife and controversy promise to remain as long as the board itself remains. ■£