The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) was established on May 2, 1939, under the National Film Act, with a mandate to produce and distribute films on subjects of varied interest to Canadians. Although its mandate has expanded, the NFB maintains a solid international reputation for capturing historically significant footage and producing visually stimulating flagship films, such as the early award-winning documentary Royal Journey (1951), documenting Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to Canada and the United States.
In 1967, after a fire devastated most of the NFB’s nitrate film collection housed in a storage facility near Montréal, Quebec, it became clear that Canada’s film heritage was endangered. This tragedy provided the impetus to authorize the Public Archives of Canada (now Library and Archives Canada) to create a national film acquisition program in 1969. And in 1976, Canada officially had a National Film Archive with its own dedicated staff to ensure the ongoing collection and preservation of Canada’s film collection.
The NFB Fonds
The National Film Board fonds is Library and Archives Canada’s largest film collection, boasting a variety of genres that represent over 11,000 audiovisual records, including film, video, sound recordings, textual records, posters, technical drawings and more. These records consist of completed productions and pre-production elements, such as negatives, outtakes, stock shots, and prints. The photographic series documents everyday Canadian life—promoting tourism, industry and natural resources—since the NFB’s photography division was established in 1942.
Although many NFB filmmakers are now working entirely in digital form, it is not uncommon for audiovisual archivists, when opening a box of archival records, to come across the iconic green NFB label on cans of celluloid or video cases. The NFB’s once wide distribution of their productions is evidenced in the large amount of analogue records still found in libraries and archives across Canada. Most of its analogue productions having been digitized, NFB can now reach an even greater public with its online collection.
Important NFBContributors in the LAC Collection
Besides the National Film Board fonds, Library and Archives Canada has private fonds of well-known and award-winning NFB filmmakers and directors, such as Norman McLaren—Neighbours; Gilles Carle—La vraie nature de Bernadette; Evelyn Spice Cherry—Weather Forecast; Donald Brittain—Canada at War series; Cynthia Scott—Flamenco at 5:15; Claude Jutra—Mon oncle Antoine; Bill Mason—Paddle to the Sea; and Colin Low—The Romance of Transportation in Canada. You can view many of these movies for free or a small fee on the NFB website.