On the street, the nearly $6.7-million federal cut to the National Film Board of Canada looked dire.
Last week, dozens of supporters, local filmmakers and cinema fans stopped traffic on Rue St-Denis, outside the NFB’s Cinérobothèque in Montreal, to voice their opposition.
The cuts appear grave: Less assistance to filmmakers; three to four fewer major projects per year; 73 jobs eliminated. And the Cinérobothèque in Montreal and the Mediatheque in Toronto – popular storefront attractions that offer personal stations for watching 10,000 NFB titles and public screenings – will be closed by September. All this for an institution that last year alone garnered two Oscar nominations.
Yet within the film board itself, there’s a sense of renewal.
Even before the cuts, the NFB was developing new revenue streams, focusing its resources on web and mobile content rather than public attractions (the NFB’s educational programs, a popular destination for grade-school field trips, live on). The feeling inside the NFB is that the push online and into the app world is working and positions the film board to reap new streams of cash.
“We’ve been in the process of shifting our business plan, because traditional models for one-off documentaries [as opposed to documentary TV series]have been going down. And there never really was a business model for auteur animation,” says Cindy Witten, director-general of the NFB’s English program.
Along with its websites and apps, the NFB has a YouTube channel, partnerships with the video site Vimeo and others, and apps for products like LG Smart TVs.
And although the NFB posts an assortment of its films free online, it also sells them as downloads and DVDs. Witten describes this model as a Netflix for NFB content, though sales figures aren’t available.
There is also the NFB’s enhanced educational material, in which films are packaged with support material and sold to schools for a subscription fee. Meanwhile, the board’s Interactive projects are being licensed to other cultural organizations, such as the European TV network Arte, bringing in more revenue.
“So we’re really, really aggressively pursuing other types of revenue,” Witten says, adding any new cash will go directly back into filmmaking.
The cuts will mean the elimination of three or four significant films per year, each with a budget of between $500,000 to $600,000, or the elimination of one major project per year – like last year’s acclaimed 3-D dance film Ora.
Yet Witten is confident the NFB will be able to replace most of that money. She is also hopeful that the film board and Telefilm Canada will be able to find a way to replace the $500,000 Telefilm had to cut from its $1-million funding pool for documentaries destined for theatrical release.
In a statement on April 11, Telefilm hinted at this, noting that it is “in promising discussions with potential partners to make up the difference in funding for the Theatrical Documentary Program.”
Witten is proud of what the NFB has managed to preserve. “What I’m particularly happy about is that we maintained our strong regional presence. We have studios across the country, little studios dotting right across the country from St. John’s to Vancouver.”
All news those protesters in Montreal might be happy to hear.