After scrolling through the National Film Board of Canada's online archives and reading descriptions of various films, I came up with a list of the ones I thought looked interesting. I urge everyone -- especially those interested in documentaries and animation (they have many of each) -- to browse the archive yourself. (My list is hardly representative.) If you find any gems, be sure to let me know.
But first! Some of the one's I've already seen and recommend.
Ladies and Gentlemen... Mr. Leonard Cohen. (Donald Brittain & Don Owen, 1965, 44 min). A Portrait of Cohen when he was known only as a poet.
Lonely Boy (Wolf Koenig & Roman Kroitor, 1962, 26 min). I saw this short documentary because it was added as an extra feature on the US release of Peter Watkins PRIVILEGE. The two films certainly make for an inspired pairing, but the short is also quite good all by itself. "This film portrays the story of singer Paul Anka, who rose from obscurity to become the idol of millions of adolescent fans around the world. Taking a candid look at both sides of the footlights, this film examines the marketing machine behind a generation of pop singers. Interviews with Anka and his manager reveal their perspective on the industry."
Four by experimental filmmaker Arthur Lipsett who, it seems to me, looks to have influenced Adam Curtis. (I'm thinking of Curtis' IT FELT LIKE A KISS in particular.) Lipsett is also the acknowledged influence of dozens of other filmmakers.
21-87 (1964, 9 min). I linked to this film long ago on The Tarpeian Rock. It's probably the best Lipsett to start with if you haven't seen any of his films. One of my favorite shorts. "An abstract succession of unrelated views of the passing crowd, and a commentary on a machine-dominated society."
Here are the other three:
Very Nice, Very Nice (Arthur Lipsett, 1961, 6 min). "Arthur Lipsett's first film is an avant-garde blend of photography and sound. It looks behind the business-as-usual face we put on life and shows anxieties we want to forget. It is made of dozens of pictures that seem familiar, with fragments of speech heard in passing and, between times, a voice saying, "Very nice, very nice." It was was critically acclaimed and plays frequently in festivals and film schools around the world."
A Trip Down Memory Lane (Arthur Lipsett, 1965, 12 min). "Another incisive short film that looks at human might, majesty and mayhem. Compiled from some peculiar newsreel items of the last 50 years, the filmmaker calls this a time capsule yet his arrangement of pictures makes it almost explosive. There are hundreds of items, once front-page stuff, but all wryly grotesque when seen in this reshuffle of the past."
Free Fall (Arthur Lipsett, 1964, 9 min). "An experimental film from Arthur Lipsett, Free Fall is an assortment of film trimmings assembled to make a wry comment on humankind in today’s world. It evokes a surrealist dream of our fall from grace into banality."
This Is a Recorded Message (Jean-Thomas Bédard, 1973, 10 min). "Made up of hundreds of cut-out color ads presented in fragmented, rapid succession, this animated short takes a critical look at consumerism in a material world. Seductive advertising is seen as the main motivating force in shaping the desires, the needs and, to a large degree, the lives of modern men and women."
And now: the unseen & unknown.
You Are on Indian Land (Mort Ransen, 1969, 36 min). "The film shows the confrontation between police and a 1969 demonstration by Mohawks of the St. Regis Reserve on the bridge between Canada and the United States near Cornwall, Ontario. By blocking traffic on the bridge, which is on the Reserve, the Indians drew public attention to their grievance that they were prohibited by Canadian authorities from duty-free passage of personal purchases across the border, a right they claim was established by the Jay Treaty of 1794."
The Things I Cannot Change (Tanya Ballantyne, 1967, 55 min). Looks like a Canadian CATHY COME HOME of sorts, only a documentary. "This film is considered to be the forerunner of the NFB's Challenge for Change Program. It is a look at the Bailey family, as seen from the inside. Trouble with the police, begging for stale bread, the birth of another child, and through it all, the father who tries to explains his family's predicament. Although filmed in Montreal, it's the anatomy of poverty as it occurs throughout North America."
Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry (Donald Brittain & John Kramer, 1976, 99 min). "This feature-length Oscar®-nominated documentary focuses on Malcolm Lowry, author of one of the major novels of the 20th century, Under the Volcano. But while Lowry fought a winning battle with words, he lost his battle with alcohol. Shot on location in four countries, the film combines photographs, readings by Richard Burton from the novel and interviews with the people who loved and hated Lowry, to create a vivid portrait of the man."
The Persistent Peddler (Claude Cloutier, 1988, 8 min). "Featuring a salesman and a consumer, this animated short is a humorous study of the patterns that define buyer-seller relationships. The Persistent Peddler is based on Claude Cloutier's hit comic strip La Légende des Jean-Guy, first introduced in Quebec humour magazine Croc."
Remember Africville (Shelagh Mackenzie, 1991, 35 min). "This short film depicts Africville, a small black settlement that lay within the city limits of Halifax, Nova Scotia. In the 1960s, the families who lived there were uprooted and their homes demolished in the name of urban renewal and integration. Now, more than twenty years later, the site of the community of Africville is a stark, under-utilized park. Former residents, their descendants and some of the decision-makers, speak out and, with the help of archival photographs and films, tell the story of that painful relocation."
North China Factory (Tony Ianzelo & Boyce Richardson, 1980, 56 min). "This documentary from 1980 depicts a factory community in China where over six thousand workers process, spin and weave raw cotton into 90 million yards of high-quality cloth per year. Also seen are the workers' residential, social, recreational and educational facilities, all of which are located on factory property. The film presents an engrossing study of a lifestyle that is very different from that of the Western world."
High Grass Circus (Torben Schioler & Tony Ianzelo, 1976, 56 min). Wiseman meets Herzog? One can only hope. "This feature-length documentary offers an inside look into the workings of a travelling circus. Filmed in 1976, directors Tony Ianzelo and Torben Schioler followed the Royal Brothers' Circus as they set up their tents and put on their show. Fascinating to watch, the film captures the 24-hour-a-day brand of magic that the circus evokes while revealing the nature of the people who run it."
Nobody Waved Good-bye (Don Owen, 1964, 80 min). I hope the acting is good! "This award-winning feature-length drama from the 1960s tells the story of a teenage boy who rebels against his parents' middle-class goals and conventions."
Aftermath: The Remnants of War (Daniel Sekulich, 2001, 56 min). Looks to be done in the History Channel style, but perhaps still worth watching. "This feature-length documentary reveals the unspoken truth about war - it never really ends. Archival images and personal stories portray the lingering devastation of war. Filmed on location in Russia, France, Bosnia and Vietnam, the film features individuals involved in the cleanup of war: de-miners who risk their lives on a daily basis, psychologists working with distraught soldiers, and scientists and doctors who struggle with the contamination of dioxin used during Vietnam. Based on the Gelber Award-winning book by Donovan Webster, this film conveys the fact that war doesn't end when the fighting stops."
Crossroads (Don Haldane, 1957, 28 min). I don't have any expectations for this one, I'm just curious how it compares to Hollywood's silly GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER, a film with basically the same subject matter but made ten years later. Reminds me of PHILADELPHIA -- "one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to acknowledge HIV/AIDS" -- made 7 or 8 years after PARTING GLANCES (which, by the way, contains a very great performance (and debut) by Steve Buscemi). Oh, Crossroads, yes, I almost forgot: "This sensitive drama tells the story of a couple, Roy and Judy, and the reactions they encounter when they announce their intention to marry, reactions complicated by the fact that Roy is black and Judy is white."
The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar (Peter Pearson, 1968, 49 min). "The setting for this drama is a logging community, focusing on a man who chooses the unfettered life and uncertain income of an itinerant bush worker, even though it means that his family lives poorly as a result. The film is a study of the effects on family life of isolation and deprivation. Features a wonderful performance from a young Margot Kidder."
Salt (Karen Shamy-Smith, Louise Leroux, Amber Goodwyn, Morgan Gage & Beverly Brown, 2000, 79 min). In all probability this is junk, but I'm a sucker for films concerning young people. "These provocative 20-minute movies made by high school students provide an insider's look at youth culture. Made by four 17-year-old directors with help from a professional crew, Salt is a four-part filmzine: four films, four flavours, four windows into youth culture that explore alternative education, Montreal's flourishing independent music scene, the troubling practice of self-mutilation and a quest for the punk subculture."
Richard Cardinal: Cry from a Diary of a Métis Child (Alanis Obomsawin, 1986, 29 min). Low expectations for this one too, but who knows. "This short documentary is a moving tribute to Richard Cardinal, a Métis adolescent who committed suicide in 1984. Taken from his home at the age of 4 due to family problems, he spent the rest of his 17 short years moving in and out of 28 foster homes, group homes and shelters in Alberta. A sensitive, articulate young man, Richard Cardinal left behind a diary upon which this film is based."
Acts of Defiance (Alec MacLeod, 1992). "This feature-length documentary recounts the events that surrounded and led to the so-called "Mohawk Crisis" of the summer of 1990. The film focuses on the Mohawk territory of Kahnawake, in Quebec, but also reflects on the relationship between Canada and its First Nations at a particular time in history."
The Bronswik Affair (Robert Awad & André Leduc, 1978, 23 min). With some neat collage animation. "This funny yet serious short film demonstrates the effectiveness of advertising and the marketing machine. Its comic appeal lies in the characters and the absurd situations they find themselves in, but it also shines a harsh light on our tendency towards needless consumerism prompted by a steady flow of commercials."