Jeremy Kay speaks to the Film Board’s chairman about the organisation and their work.
National Film Board Of Canada chairman Tom Perlmutter has turned the organisation into a digital pioneer, espousing transmedia and lining up a documentary subscription service.
He talks to Jeremy Kay about the organisation’s mission to support, experiment and inspire.
What is the NFB?
We were established in 1939 by a Scot, John Grierson, who coined the term ‘documentary.’ Essentially we’re a publicy owned production and distribution studio. We’re a crown corporation, so that makes us a government agency ruled by our own statute that gives us a semi-autonomous function.
We have a $60m CAD annual budget for production, conservation and digitisation, marketing and outreach programmes and we work with the private sector and producers. We’re headquartered in Montreal with offices in Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Edmonton, Halifax and Moncton and employ around 400 employees across Canada.
Do you finance films?
We’re not a financier; we’re a producer with money. At any given time we might have around 200 projects in production. We co-produce films all the time and bring money and expertise. We have staff producing. We are open to projects coming from elsewhere, but we also generate our own content. We are always asking who is the audience and we are trying to connect with the audience.
International partnerships are a big part of the picture.
We work with Canadian and international films. We have worked a lot with France, UK Film Fund and NHK in Japan and we’re talking to Latin American partners about a digital partnership. We set up the first Canadian branded online channel in China through a deal with Phoenix New Media of China.
There is a healthy emphasis on experimentation.
Yes, we set ourselves almost from the start as this place for experimentation and innovation. What the Film Board does is create prototypes and experiments. We are not there to industrialise; we want to create interesting works and engaging works that other cannot do because the risks are too great or it’s too controversial.
You are turning NFB into a digital and transmedia leader.
For the last five years since I have been head we have taken leadership in the digital area. Some of the stuff has been to pioneer a new art form of interactive / transmedia documentary.
I feel we are at this point in time where cinema was at the turn of last century. Digital has opened up possibilities to create new art forms and we have been very consciously pushing experimentation. We attended Cannes and Tribeca this year to promote the transmedia space.
The body has earned recognition for its digital work.
The necessity of modest budgets means we are constantly looking at ways of doing things more efficiently and economically. We have taken a global lead in terms of expanding the creative potentiality of that digital space. We get approached for projects from the likes of The Guardian and The New York Times.
We launched our online screening platform in 2009 [the online catalogue contains around 2,000 titles.] When we launched our iPhone app for that in 2009 it was the most downloaded entertainment app in Canada for the first few weeks. The next four most popular apps were sex apps. We took part in a pilot project with Arte in France called Code Barre and we’re developing something with France Television.
Tell us about the Netflix-style documentary platform to launch in 2014.
I started a whole rethink about the documentary space and we have asked what’s the role of the public producer? I am interested in pursuing ways of thinking about documentaries in a different way. The initiative will become an international multiplatform destination to include new forms of interactive documentary starting in North America and Europe.
And there have been educational initiatives, too.
We’re involved at all levels of schools in Canada. We developed Campus, a subscription service for schools that gives them access to content and tools. Everything on that is tied into the curriculum.