Filming Politics: Communism and the Portrayal of the Working Class at the National Film Board of Canada, 1939-46

Filming Politics: Communism and the Portrayal of the Working Class at the National Film Board of Canada, 1939-46

Filming Politics: Communism and the Portrayal of the Working Class at the National Film Board of Canada, 1939-46

Filming Politics: Communism and the Portrayal of the Working Class at the National Film Board of Canada, 1939-46

Synopsis

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) was created in 1939 to produce, distribute, and promote Canadian cinema both domestically and abroad. During the early years of the NFB, its creative output was largely informed by the turbulent political and social climate the world was facing. World War II, Communism, unemployment, the role of labour unions, and working conditions were all subjects featured by the NFB during the period from 1939 to 1946. In Filming Politics, author Malek Khouri explores the work of the NFB during this period and argues that the political discourse of the films produced by this institution offered a counter-hegemonic portrayal of working class people and presented them as agents of social change. These films also saw an organic link between Canadian struggles for social progress, in the war against fascism and for peace, and those promoted at the time by the Soviet Union. Khouri also analyzes the various social, institutional, and political elements that contributed to the formation of the NFBs discourse. Filming Politics brings to light a number of films from the early years of the NFB, most of which have long been forgotten. Khouri presents a thorough reading of these films and the historical context within which they were produced and viewed. As such he proposes a radically new outlook on the films from how they have been appropriated in previous studies on Canadian cinema.

Excerpt

Responding to the climates of social and political upheavals that prevailed in Canada and around the world in and around the World War II period, many filmmakers from the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) sought new and committed ways to use film as an instrument for social awareness and change. By 1946 these filmmakers produced a major corpus of film which offered a unique outlook on the role of working-class people within Canadian society. This corpus informed and was informed by national and international contexts, and became part of a broader ideological and cultural agenda capable of encompassing wide cross-sections of Canadian society. This book brings to light a wealth of archival material: a range of these films from the initial years of the NFB, films that have either been long forgotten or in fact were never really known. My main objective here is to provide a new reading of these films, by demonstrating the extent to which the Canadian working class was depicted visually for a Canadian film audience during a specific period in Canadian history.

This book avoids detailed assessment of individual films, and favours historicizing and giving an organized view of a broad film corpus. This body of film is assessed in the context of appraising the parameters, and the contextual emergence and descent of the political discourse of the Popular Front and the Communist Party of Canada during the period in which the films were produced. The films are set within a moment that brings them into life: a vast range of interrelated political, cultural and cinematic processes. In this regard, I offer institutional analysis of the NFB during this period; not simply of the politics and personalities who were responsible for the Board’s strengths and for its mistakes, but more specifically of the kinds of filmic practices permitted to creative artists and administrators who were at the same time independent producers and civil workers functioning under the constraints of wartime society.

I have written this book in the passionate belief that an awareness of intellectual workings of ideological hegemony is indispensable for comprehending not only older . . .

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