The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) started out as a propaganda machine. I mean that in the most neutral sense of the word. Their original goal was to create newsreels and informational films that helps unite Canada across its vast region back when television was just starting to blossom into its own mass media. When the NFB was founded in 1939, the legislation stated that it was created to “make and distribute films designed to help Canadians in all parts of Canada to understand the ways of living and the problems of Canadians in other parts” as well as to coordinate federal film efforts (read: propaganda films).
Since its founding, the NFB has grown and changed. It now includes the goal of making films with the goal of being “a world center of film production excellence,” as well as training up and coming film creators. One of its major early expansions happened in 1941, when Norman McLaren joined the NFB.
Norman McLaren had established himself as a serious animator when he made Boogie Doodle, an abstract animation of lines and circles that McLaren hand drew onto a 35mm film strip (no cels or cameras) set to a boogie-woogie piano piece. Each movement seems to sync up with the music, thus either being an amazing feat of skill and patience, or an excellent example of the law of random synchronization. When McLaren joined the NFB, it expanded into the role of making animated short films.
On Sunday Night, TCM is showing a variety of these films through the decades from the abstract works of McLaren to 1988’s Academy Award-nominated cartoon The Cat Came Back. The evening tackles a wide array of subjects from nuclear war (The Big Snit) to mid-life crisis (Bob’s Birthday which would become the series Bob and Margaret) to our ubiquitous dependency on cars (What On Earth!) to the microscopic wonders of the world (Zea). Many of the films have been nominated or won Academy Awards for best Animated Short.
You don’t have to have TCM to watch these films. Most (if not all) of these films are available on the internet, through either NFB’s website or NFB’s YouTube Channel. (I highly recommend the website as it has much better organization, but they both have a fantastic amount of videos and NFB’s YouTube will take you down a rabbit hole).
TCM’s animation block starts at 8p EDT on Sunday, April 9.