The National Film Board is an institution in Canada, but even outside of its home country the NFB needs very little introduction. Having been nominated for 70 Academy Awards in as many years of existence, and winning 12 – four of which were documentaries (or five, if you consider 2004′s Ryan a doc) – the Film Board is consistently praised for its quality work in the fields of animation and documentary.
With all of its treaties and memorandums of understanding (MOU) with over 50 countries, Canada has historically been a country that many producers from around the world partner with to create documentary work. Over the decades the NFB has been a part of so many international partnerships that it added an international coproduction unit (ICU) in 2002, created to combat cutbacks to public sector institutions and more partnerships with international broadcasters and organizations. At press time the Film Board was at work on 50 new coproductions.
When the ICU was created the NFB was in production on two documentary copros with French producer Paul Saadoun and his Paris-based production company 13 Production: Autopsy of a Utopia and Les Casques Bleus. Saadoun has been working with the NFB since 2000 and in that time has worked on six projects including They Chose China, The Peacekeepers and, most recently, Paris, 1919.
Working mostly with the French arm of the NFB, Saadoun has developed a relationship with the Film Board, continually taking ideas to them that he feels could work with a Canadian partner and seeing ideas brought to him in turn. Saadoun says the security of working with the NFB is a big plus. ‘Every time [you get involved in] a coproduction between two or three or five countries it’s a bit dangerous,’ he says. ‘You invest time, you invest money and you’re not sure you will be able to do the film. But with the NFB you are quite sure you will finish.’
The Film Board’s ability to create quality films in the genres of natural history and social issues led to an extended agreement between it and Japan’s national broadcaster NHK. ‘We seem to share similar values since we are both public organizations,’ says Sayumi Horie, senior producer, international co-production for NHK. ‘Canada is a country that we work with a lot, together with France. Perhaps the reason comes from a shared tolerance in accepting foreign cultures.’
NHK’s first international copro project with the NFB was Tibetan Book of the Dead, a two-part documentary about death and the possibility of an afterlife, created in 1993. By 2003 the two organizations signed an MOU to create coproductions sharing their expertise in high definition technology, marking the first copro pact for the NFB with an Asian company. Under this agreement the NFB and NHK, known for its use of state of the art, high-def gear and CGI, created Miracle Planet II in 2005, a six-part science series using special effects and graphics.
Building on this successful partnership, in October 2008 the two organizations signed a new MOU promising to take more risks and test out new ways of creating together.
Speaking to the importance of creativity, Saadoun feels the NFB is as dedicated to quality as it is to following through on its investments. ‘They like to do films and they like to do the best ones,’ he says. ‘This is important because there are some economic problems [in filmmaking] but artistic problems are above all other problems. It’s important to do good films.’