Board going back to school

The National Film Board wants to be the go-to audiovisual reference for Canadian teachers in the 21st century by entering schools online. Patricia Bailey talks to the board's director general of distribution about the competition to get into the classroom.
December 3, 2008

‘We want the NFB brand back into the classroom,’ says Johanne St-Arnauld, director-general of NFB Distribution.

‘We have to create a site. We don’t have a choice,’ she says, adding that the project is currently in the intense planning stage.

Decades ago the NFB was the most important producer of educational films in the Canada; school children learned about science, nature, art and health from the Board’s now classic flicks.

But the playing field is crowded now, says St-Arnauld. ‘In the past there were fewer players. And now people don’t necessarily associate the films they watch with the NFB, they often think it’s been made somewhere else.’

And when public money flowed more freely, NFB employees would accompany the films and work with the teachers onsite.

But times have changed. The NFB now wants to have a constant presence in Canadian classrooms by creating a website specifically for teachers. The site will likely include a selection of NFB educational films and accompanying pedagogical guides, explains St-Arnauld. ‘We have lots of ideas. It is a major preoccupation for me. We want to be number one and regain ground but in a completely different way.’

‘Teachers are overwhelmed. We want to make things as easy as possible for them. And in five years there probably won’t be DVDs anymore, everything will be delivered by streaming. We want to be ready to do that.’

But getting the NFB brand out there costs money and educational sales are not lucrative – roughly CA$60 per film, explains St-Arnauld. A TV sale, on the other hand could generate CA$5,000.’ It is the same effort for a small amount of revenue,’ she says.

The NFB also has less resources than in the past. There is no longer an educational studio, but the institution is dedicating two to four projects per year for the educational market.

About The Author
Andrew Tracy joined Realscreen as associate editor in 2021, following 17 years as managing editor of the award-winning international film magazine Cinema Scope. From 2010 to 2020 he also held the position of senior editor at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he oversaw the flagship publication for the organization’s year-round Cinematheque programming and edited its first original monograph in a decade, Steve Gravestock’s A History of Icelandic Film. He was a scriptwriter and consultant on the first season of the Vice TV series The Vice Guide to Film, and his writing and reporting have been featured in such outlets as Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, MUBI Notebook, POV, and Montage.