2012 Villain: NFB Funding Cuts
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2012 Villain: NFB Funding Cuts

Nominated for: forcing the venerable institution to sacrifice local distribution in order to save future productions.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

When the NFB Mediatheque closed its doors on September 1, it took both its popular digital viewing stations, which offered free access to more than 6,000 films from the National Film Board of Canada’s impressive archives, and a number of full- and part-time positions. The closure was just part of a larger budget reduction plan that saw the elimination of 61 jobs across Canada, 33 of them in Toronto.

Though the tightening measures were announced by NFB chairman Tom Perlmutter, they were triggered by a substantial federal budget cut: $6.68 million over three years. Backed into a corner by the mandatory 10 per cent cut, which was likewise applied to the CBC and Telefilm, the venerable Canadian institution was suddenly forced to take stock of its long-term viability as both a content creator and a key pedagogical force in distributing Canadian documentaries and animated films to homegrown audiences.

To be sure, gripes about the dearth of Canadian programming amidst the flood of easily available American content are about as old as Canada itself. But the NFB’s budgetary hit feels particularly painful in a year that saw its good work celebrated both internationally and at home. One need only look to the Animated Shorts category at February’s Academy Awards, which boasted both Dimanche and Wild Life (NFB titles from Quebec and Alberta, respectively), to see how the government agency’s investment in innovative productions continues to secure Canada’s reception as a serious player in animation.

One needn’t even go so far afield, given the rapturous local reception of Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, produced by the NFB, which converted its bright Venice premiere into a strong showing at the Toronto International Film Festival, as well as a respectable commercial release in both first-run cinemas and rep houses. That the NFB’s future as a producer of important films should come about as a result of compromises to its local centres of distribution feels like an awkward step backward, ensuring that if future successes like Polley’s can be made, it’ll only be at the expense of dedicated venues in which to screen them.

It’s still not clear exactly how the NFB will cope with all the cuts: the largest of them has been saved for the end of the three-year period. Fans of the NFB’s strong web presence, via both its clean website and its beautifully designed mobile apps, can also take solace in the rich programming those digital venues offer. But as everyone from stalwarts of James McNally’s Shorts That Are Not Pants screening series (now housed by the Carlton) to casual users of the Mediatheque’s viewing stations will attest, there’s nothing like having a physical space to call home.

See the other nominees in the Culture and Sports category:

Margaret Wente

Plagiarism, and laziness of epic proportions.
  NHL Lockout

Taking hockey away from us.
  Factory Theatre Board of Directors

Losing their community’s trust.

John Farrell

Checking out even before he left the team.
  CBC Funding Cuts

Weakening one of our national institutions.
  Sedwick Hill

For the untimely death of the Toronto Underground Cinema.

Cast Your Ballot