Projecting Canada: Government Policy and Documentary Film at the National Film Board/filming Politics: Communism and the Portrayal of the Working Class at the National Film Board of Canada, 1939-46

By Baker, Michael Brendan | Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Projecting Canada: Government Policy and Documentary Film at the National Film Board/filming Politics: Communism and the Portrayal of the Working Class at the National Film Board of Canada, 1939-46


Baker, Michael Brendan, Canadian Journal of Film Studies


PROJECTING CANADA: GOVERNMENT POLICY AND DOCUMENTARY FILM AT THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD ZoëDruick Montréal: McGill-Queens University Press, Arts Insights Series, 2007, 244 pp.

FILMING POLITICS: COMMUNISM AND THE PORTRAYAL OF THE WORKING CLASS AT THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA, 1939-46 Malek Khouri Calgary: University of Calgary Press, Cinema Off Centre Series, 2007, 278 pp.

The greatest challenge for scholars examining Canada's National Film Board is to rise above and re-shape the oft-repeated anecdotal histories of the NFB and the prominence given to the iconic John Grierson. Projecting Canada and Filming Politics represent two excellent responses to the established histories of Canada's premier filmmaking institution. Both books explore the subject in new and original ways. The first, by Zoë Druick, offers a unique perspective on the NFB supported by fresh archival discoveries. It gestures towards a rewriting of key portions of the accepted historical foundation of Canadian film studies. The second, by Malek Khouri, is focused on a particular historical moment in the life of the NFB and is necessarily more specialized, given its thematic interest in the representation of labour politics. Both of these texts are the product of doctoral research. Druick's book comes out of York University's Social and Political Thought program, while Khouri's book was developed in the Communication Studies program at McGill University. Reflecting the traditions of these two programmes, Projecting Canada and Filming Politics are both highly interdisciplinary in the scope of their research and analytical rigour, spanning film studies, communication studies, social science, political science, and cultural theory.

In Projecting Canada, Druick seeks to investigate "the political and policy rationale" for the NFB from its inception in 1939 to the present. She illustrates this study with analyses of individual films and the evolving impact of communications technologies upon liberal democracy as typified by the Canadian context. Druick revisits the founding era of the NFB and resuscitates neglected portions of its post-World War II output by explaining how the films, regardless of their public profile or popularity, continued to address the issues and deliver on the promises that were outlined in the institution's founding mandate and sustained through subsequent revisions. The model Druick establishes in order to defend this position is rooted in social scientific theory and has clear formal implications. She describes "government realism" as a model in which "typical individuals representing a range of population subcategories from different regions and cultures are depicted as members of class and occupation identities." Projecting Canada charts the development of government realism as both a policy mandate and a documentary style over the course of the NFB's history and interrogates its function and meaning within the Canadian popular imaginary.

The introduction to Projecting Canada is a comprehensive overview of the main currents in documentary theory within the context of NFB film policy and production. Druick offers readers an entry into documentary studies at large and a snapshot of early film history in Canada before she trains her sights on the NFB. She deftly balances estimations of Grierson's visionary genius with criticisms of the mark he left on Canadian cinema. She does this, in part, by clearly establishing Britain's fingerprints on Canada's founding film policy and tracing their imperialist roots through the Grierson era. Additionally, Druick crafts a narrative which connects Grierson's background in U.S. social scientific theory, particularly the influence of the Chicago School of Social Science, to the imperatives of "empire communications" (inter-empire communications programs designed for disseminating media within the dominions and colonies of which Britain's Empire Marketing Board [1926-1933] is the best-known example). …

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