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The National Film Board and Canadian Education

By Gordon Martin
Volume 11 Number 2

SCHOOLS AND LIBRARIES THROUGHOUT CANADA form an impressive alternative cinema network. With many more screens than commercial theatres, and an audience that far exceeds that formed by ticket-buying movie-goers, they are a major force in Canadian short film distribution. Moreover, the viewing situations created in institutions of learning can generally be thought of as foreground or quality. Viewers are usually committed to the experience, and there is often a very high degree of personal interaction, activity, and discussion arising out of the screening. It is through this vast distribution network that much of the National Film Board's work reaches the Canadian public.

As a federal agency, the board's prerogatives lie in the realm of culture and the awakening of Canadians to the realities, issues, and potential of the nation. A significant number of NFB productions are either planned with the help of educators or are suitable for classroom and library because the content and approach taken coincide with the priorities set by institutions of learning.

From the 1982 production list, a number of films are worthy of special mention in this respect. New additions to the Children of Canada series include It's Just Better and Julie O'Brien, two delightful portrayals of life in Atlantic Canada. Director Beverly Shaffer, drawing on her skills and sensitivity in working with children has also completed The Way It is, a docu-drama that deals with the family situation as a husband and wife are breaking up. The film is a lively case study in which a twelve-year old girl plays the lead part. It will be used extensively from the upper grades of elementary school through adult groups as a catalyst for discussion about separation, divorce, family tensions, and alternate family lifestyles.

A half-dozen films from the Board's French and English animation studios' 1982 harvest will have great appeal in the educational milieu. Top Priority is a parable of conflict between needs and politics, set in a developing country. In social studies classes, it can be used from grade 7 through high school to provoke consideration of human need and the responsibility of government in its fulfillment. Director Ishu Patel's fluid animation of plasticine on glass will also fascinate art students. For young children, The Sound Collector, is a real winner. The hero is a six-year old with an unusual hobby. He collects sounds. Lynn Smith's animation is delightful and will motivate collage-making, but the language arts potential of the film will likely be seized upon first by teachers. Mary of Mile 18 needs no introduction to those familiar with Canadian children's literature. The film uses the illustrations from Anne Blades's popular book to create drama and movement in this touching tale of frontier life. Ten-year olds and others who are fascinated by Tyrannosaurus Rex and its pre-historic colleagues will be delighted by Bill Maylone's 64,000,000 Years Ago . It is a realistic slice of life from the period when the dinosaur dominated the area that is now southern Alberta. Its place in studies of the planet's story will definitely be complemented by Joyce Borenstein's artistic impression, Five Billion Years . The Man Who Loved Machines is a droll film with a surprisingly wide range of appeal and application. For young children, it can be seen as an amusing lesson in some fundamentals of energy conservation. Yet director Sid Goldsmith has also constructed it as an accurate illustration of the basic nature of entropy, the second law of thermodynamics. The film will also be useful for students who are exploring satire and other forms of humour.

In the Challenge for Change tradition, the Board continues to make films that deal directly with social and environmental issues included in the classroom agenda. Offshore Oil: Are We Ready? explores the social and economic impact of petroleum boom times on Stavanger (Norway), Aberdeen, and the Shetland Islands. Although its message is cautionary and aimed specifically at Atlantic Canadians, director Paul MacLeod has made it into a document on the side effects of technological innovation and development that will have broad appeal. The Top Few Inches looks at our relationship to the soil and its fragile ecology; Who Wants Unions examines declining union membership and the new approaches being adopted by management in North America; Acid Rain: Requiem or Recovery? documents both the scientific and social dimensions of this problem. These films range in running time from eighteen minutes to half an hour.

Colin Low's most recent film, Standing Alone , can be thought of as a sequel to his classic Circle of the Sun made over twenty years ago and still in widespread use. Once again the Blood Indian Reservation in southwestern Alberta is the setting. Pete Standing Alone, now a father, passes on the cultural traditions to his sons. Yet he too is caught in the ambiguity of this point in time as he strives to support his people's transition into the post-industrial era.

CanLit courses have been well-served this year by NFB directors. Don Winlcler's F.R. Scott: Rhyme and Reason is both an intimate portrayal of the man and a chronicle of nationhood. Scott's own development is seen to parallel the Canadian search for constitutional maturity. W.D. Valgardson's story, The Pedlar , has been brought dramatically to the screen by Allan Kroeker, and NFB-CBC collaboration will result in a film by Bob Duncan about Hugh MacLennan , for release in the spring of 1983.

A pair of recent releases can be used together to plot the continuing development of our corporate society. Who Wants Unions examines a recent movement by a number of employers to avoid unionization of their employees through the use of psychological techniques that effectively neutralize the traditional labour-management dialectic. Small business people, on the other hand, are seen in The Politics of Persuasion to be relinquishing some of their established autonomy and banding together in high-powered corporate fashion to lobby for their interests in the corridors of power. This is an excellent film for examining lobbying as part of the political process. Either of these films stands alone and can be used effectively in labour, management, and political studies.

Gulfstream is a beautiful study of marine ecology, atmospheric conditions, and the significance of this ocean current. The mysteries of the ocean, probed by microscope, underwater shooting and satellite imagery, are further explained in carefully animated diagrams.

Multi-media productions from the NFB include the sound filmstrips Mordecai Richler, Alex Colville , and Farley Mowat in the Creative Canadian series. New too are a number of additional titles in Canada's Visual History , a series of slide sets and resource books that makes a wealth of archival materials accessible to teachers and students, a new urban studies slide series entitled Canadian Cities From the Air , a production of Farley Mowat's Owls in the Family done in consultation with the Children's Book Centre, and a variety of other titles that are pure Canadiana. In addition, Studio G produces French originals, many of which are useful in teaching French as a second language. Multi-media products are distributed separately, Secas-Adimec handling French-language materials and McIntyre Educational Media selling them in the English language.

But making and disseminating audiovisual materials is only one of the board's services to libraries and schools. A network of trained representatives across the country is available to assist with film programming, courses in the use of media, professional development workshops and conferences. FORMAT, a computerized access service to Canadian film and media information will soon be in use across the country. Finally, the NFB offers Canadian media users a large number of CBC titles and a selection of films produced by independents. The latter are available on loan only and serve to make the work of private film makers better known throughout the country. Purchases must be made directly from the producer.

As readers of CM and members of the alternative cinema network, you are invited to avail yourself of the services and materials provided by the National Film Board. For further information, contact your local NFB office.

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