The National Film Board of Canada

Reviews by Lois Siegel

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB)
Canada: 1-800-267-7710
U.S.A:
1-800-542-2164
International: (514) 283-9450


Earth to Mouth
by Yung Chang
2002
41 min 33 sec

Beta

Now you can watch full-length NFB documentaries, animations and alternative dramas online.


Up the Yangtze (Trailer)
by Yung Chang,
2007
2 min 46 sec

Animation


Cannes Festival
2006

The Cannes Festival was the site of the NFB’s official launch for the Norman McLaren Year
 a special celebration as part of the 65th anniversary of animation film at the NFB.


Glasses, directed by Brian Duchscherer, 22 minutes, 2001

  
Milo is a little boy who sees the world differently from other children. The films has charming characters and terrific special effects. "Glasses" premiered at The Montreal World Film Festival.


©Photo by Lois Siegel
Brian Duchscherer, 1997


©Photo by Lois Siegel

Kai Pindal, Derek Lamb, Janet Perlman

Northern Stars
2005
Canadian animator, producer, writer and director, Derek Lamb has died.

 
The Hungry Squid directed by John Weldon, 2002, 14 minutes

"The Hungry Squid," John Weldon's  tale about a little girl who is left alone to fend for herself, is full of great characters, strong colors and wonderful Celtic-sounding music composed by Chris Crilly. It's a very imaginative film using floppy puppets made by Lilian Kruip.

The puppets are filmed flat on their backs. "I'm a drawing animator, so they didn't need to stand up.  We used the lightest fabrics we could get," Weldon explains. The puppets were filled with aquarium grains, which make them feel like a light beanbag.  Most of the puppets have skeletons in them for support.  The right materials had to be designed to make them flexible.

 

Images were recorded directly into the computer and matted together with other materials, and the backgrounds were mostly photographs. The ocean was Lake St. Louis in Pointe Claire, Quebec. Weldon used Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, and Adobe Premiere for editing; it took him a year to do the animation.  "The Hungry Squid" premiered at The Montreal World Film Festival.

star Genie Award for Best Animated Short, The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, 2003


©Photo by Lois Siegel
John Weldon, 1997


Jeu, Directed by Georges Schwizgebel

"Jeu" is a very captivating film. 
The music is strong and becomes a main character with the animation.
I haven't seen this done so effectively before . 


S
cherzo Transfiguro
by John Kerkhoven
Texte française originale


Madame Tutli-Putli, directed by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, 2007, 17 minutes

A fantastic voyage by train at night…an hallucination with an outstanding use of light, color, and startling sound effects; precise detail and intricate design. The stop-motion animation took more than five years to complete. Portrait artist Jason Walker created the technique of adding composited human eyes to the stop-motion puppets. Not a children’s film.

 


Academy Award Nomination Short Film Animated, 2008



A Model of Self-Preservation
by John Kerkhoven


©Photo by Lois Siegel
Grant Munro, Norman McLaren, Rene Jodoin
 Canadian Film Animators
National Film Board of Canada
1985
Norman McLaren
(1914-1987)


Norman McLaren

  
My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts directed by Torill Kove, 1999, 10 minutes

“My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts” is based on a story told to Kove by her grandmother and is a co-production with Studio Magica in Norway where Kove was born.  “My grandmother was a bragger, and I later found out that not all the stories she told were true,” Kove explains. She once told me that my father was the first guy in Norway to own his own car.  I was only four or five and never questioned what she said.  Then I found out this wasn’t true. Maybe he was the first man on the block to own a car.”

Ironing is the focus of Kove’s film. “My grandmother lived with us, and everything had to be ironed, including our underwear.”  Norway was part of Sweden and before that part of Denmark. As the film opens, it’s 1905, and an independent Norway wants to have its own king, but they can’t find the rightful heir.  Unemployed royals apply.  “Grandmother” is full of humor as a new king, Prince Karl of Denmark, is elected.  He can’t ski, like most Danes, his wife can’t speak Norwegian, and neither of them can iron shirts. As well, there are no servants in Norway…so they are doomed.  We see an image of them in their un-ironed shirts greeting the public.

A solution has to be found.  The local, respectable clothing store solves the problem.   Then Kove’s grandmother, an employee of the store, discovers that she is ironing the King’s shirts, and she tells everyone.

 

When enemy soldiers invade the country, grandma becomes a hero. She leads the resistance with a nation-wide mobilization of shirt-ironers who, in many creative ways, sabotage the enemy’s shirts.

The technique used in the film is cel…and the cel painter, Anne Ashton, came to Norway for two weeks to walk around and do a color study before choosing the colors for the film. Specific details were added to the film. If you look closely, you will see that all the German soldiers look like Hitler.

Kove also had help with scriptwriting from her former Concordia University teacher, Stefan Anastasiu.


©Photo by Lois Siegel
Torill Kove, 1999


The National Film Board of Canada

Parliament Hill Reception for Oscar Nominee
 Film Animator Torill Kove

February 2007

Synthesized Lives
 by Paal Juliussen

Sea and Stars directed by Anna Tchernakova and Georgine Strathy, 2002, 11 minutes

Color against a black and white background makes this film outstanding.


Walking Catfish Blues directed by Paul Morstad, 2004, 4 minutes


Paul Morstad

It's the tune that will capture your imagination and pull you into the film.

 

That Cat is a Fish by John Kerkhoven

 
When the Day Breaks directed by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, 1999, 9 minutes

“When the Day Breaks” won the Palme d’Or for Best Short at the 1999 Cannes Film festival. It also took two prizes at the Annecy International Film Festival.
On a Roll: NFB Film Wins At Cannes: When the Day Breaks by Lois Siegel

Documentary

Baseball Girls
Directed by Lois Siegel
80 min.
1995


©Photo  by Lois Siegel

Michele Granger

From 7-year-olds playing baseball, learning the rules of the game, to 60-year-olds  playing slo-pitch softball, BASEBALL GIRLS explores the private and professional lives of women obsessed with the sport they love.  Using animation, archival stills and live-action footage, this zany and affectionate feature documentary details the history of women's participation in the largely male-dominated world of baseball and softball.


Online


The Boxing Girls of Kabul, Directed by Ariel Nasr, 52 minutes, 2011

Girls wearing boxing gloves is not a usual sight in Kabul, Afghanistan.  The Taliban are opposed to sports. The situation in Kabul is calm during the filming, but that can change.  If the current government loses control, there will be trouble.

We follow three young girls who love the challenge of competition. It helps them to forget their problems.   They want to be professional boxers. Their coach, Sabir Sharifi
, is an ex-boxer whose dream to compete in the  1984 Los Angeles Olympics was crushed when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. History is a harsh reminder.

Only a few years before, these same girls weren't allowed to leave their home or go to school.
Now they train in the National Stadium, where girls were once stoned by the Taliban. They don't have money for equipment, but they find ways around this.
Their instructor says, "Keep your body tight.... Breathe like you were blowing into a bottle." We see the girls hopping on one foot, moving up stairs.  They don't need fancy equipment.

For now, they are allowed to go out of the country to compete. Their first match was in Vietnam. One of the girls says, “It was the first time I had seen a ring, and there I was climbing into it.”

They also travel to Kazakhstan and China. It's an exciting time for them - exposure to other worlds.  Despite financial problems and threats, their father supports them - and they persevere.


Trailer


Claude Jutra: An Unfinished Story directed by Paule Baillargeon, 82 minutes, 2002

If you think you know Claude Jutra, you will discover after viewing this film that you knew very little about him, and his life remains a mystery even to those close to him.  Wonderful archival footage and photographs of Jutra's past, excellent interviews with his friends, especially with
Saul Rubinek and Michel Brault.



©Photo by Lois Siegel
Claude Jutra, 1979



Jeff Mckay
Crapshoot: The Gamble with Our Wastes directed by Jeff McKay, 52 minutes, 2003
Crapshoot is a very scary documentary. When you discover what is being flushed into our sewers, your confidence in the 'system' fades quickly. From motorcycles to tampons, to antibiotics to copper, it all eventually decomposes and goes into the fields as fertilizer where farmers plant the food that we will eat.


Harmonie, directed by Bonnie Sherr Klein, 20 minutes, 1977

Every summer since 1953, CAMMAC (Canadian Amateur Musicians/Musiciens Amateurs du Canada) has held a bilingual music camp in Québec's Laurentian Mountains. Here, people of all ages and levels of musical ability come together to learn and make music with a professional staff of Canadian and international musicians.


Hold the Ketchup, directed by Albert Kish, 20 minutes, 1977


©Photo by Lois Siegel
The documentary focuses on new Canadians and what they eat.


Funny, mouth-watering and visually delectable; it takes us into the specialty food shops
 where the ingredients are bought, and into the homes


 where the food is prepared and served in the traditional way.

     



Manufactured Landscapes,
directed by Jennifer Baichwal,  80 minutes, 2006
Photography by Edward Burtynsky

For almost three decades, internationally renowned Canadian artist Edward Burtynsky has been creating large-scale photographs of landscapes transformed by industry.

"Manufactured Landscapes" follows Burtynsky to China as he travels the country capturing the evidence and effects of China's massive industrial revolution.


Genie Awards: Best Documentary 2007
Toronto International Film Festival: Best Canadian Film
Calgary International Film Festival: Best Canadian Documentary
Atlantic Film Festival: Best Canadian Documentary
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards: Best Canadian Film & Best Documentary Feature


Moving Pictures, by Colin Low, 47 minutes, 2000

In a 50-year career, Colin Low has directed or produced 200 films, which have garnered a remarkable nine Oscar® nominations. He directed the world’s first 3D-IMAX® and high-definition IMAX® films for the NFB. In 1996, Low was named a Member of the Order of Canada. He is also a recipient of Quebec’s highest honour — the Prix du Québec.


©Photo  by Lois Siegel
       Colin Low
        

"Colin Low's autobiographical doc - "Moving Pictures" .... beautifully textured, thoughtful, incisive.  Low looks back on a life and a century dominated by war and the role of the media in communicating images of war.  Understated, and fascinating - with images that are startling at times.  Reminded me of Harold Innes' approach to history.  If you are going to write about communications through the written word - well you start at the beginning - the Egyptians or however far back he went.  Low starts with the development of the copper engravings - an art that he describes is an outgrowth of war."

Comments by Michael Ostroff, filmmaker,  September 2, 2001.



Norman Jewison, Filmmaker, directed by Douglas Jackson, 49 minutes, 1971

The film is an excellent behind-the-scenes look at the making of the feature film, "Fiddler on the Roof" (1971).


Shameless: The Art of Disability, Directed by Bonnie Sherr Klein, 71 minutes, 2006

Bonnie Sherr Klein’s latest documentary introduces us to five people with disabilities, whose level in the art of living shames most able-bodied individuals. Their passion for life, which unfolds as the documentary progresses, did not spring from their brows full-borne, but came unto them through hard-won success at daily trials and the application of an unspoken inner resolve, which “Shameless” explores with honesty and tact.

A Passion for Life (Bonnie Sherr Klein)
 by Paal Juliussen

Ski Bums, directed by John Zaritsky, 76 minutes, 2001.

From the Academy Award-winning director of "Just Another Missing Kid,"  Ski Bums is a lively and fascinating journey into the lives of people who have dropped out of mainstream society to pursue a life centering on extreme skiing.

An excellent guide on how to survive when you don't have any money. In one scene, a ski bum enters a cafeteria full of people. These overfed individuals leave their discarded plates on the table when they leave.  Our ski bum states that he has the pick of the lot as to what he will eat, and he comfortably sits himself down in front of a plate of someone's leftover spaghetti.


John Zaritsky


The Socalled Movie
Directed by Garry Beitel, 90 minutes, 2010, Canada
Co-Produced by
reFrame Films and  The National Film Board of Canada

He's the Jewish Cowboy of Klezmer Funk.  He's a rapper who's not into politics or religion.
And this film is about him, but it's also a celebration of creativity.

His name is Josh Dolgin, but they call him 'Socalled."  He grew up in Chelsea, Quebec,
where he played the piano, performed magic tricks, and drew cartoons
for The Ottawa Citizen's 'Teen Page." 
Chicken "Freud" Rice and "Jazz Legends of the Animal Kingdom" - Charlie Porker and Thelonious Mink.

But right now he's setting new standards for performance in Montreal.
Dolgin
is a musician who isn't afraid to experiment. 
He can take a small sampling of a Klezmer tune and turn it into something
that reflects a mixture of cultures what he calls "Kosher Funk." 
"People should get along," he says. He insists that people should
put aside their differences and celebrate them.
"I'm like the Mahatma Gandhi of hip hop," he says, "except I'm not as skinny."

The film is filled with talented people playing good melodies and harmonies.
Socalled's side-kick is singer Katie Moore.
Her voice is lovely -  reminiscent of Kate and Anna McGarrigle.
Dolgin is a collaborator: He tracks down artists of all ages:
Fred Wesley, trombone; Matt Haimovitz, cello; Irving Fields, piano.
His point:  Generations can work together.

His explanation of show business: "This is it, Garry Beitel," he says to the film director...
excitement, drugs, sex, violence.
No, it's more like waiting around, being very tired, hungry,
sexual frustration."

"The Socalled Movie is entertaining in a way you wouldn't expect.
It's full of surprises. Dolgin is very upfront about his life.
He's a good show.


Triage: Dr. James Orbinski's Humanitarian Dilemma, directed by Patrick Reed, 88 minutes, 2007
Produced by White Pine Pictures and The National Film Board of Canada

Dr. James Orbinski accepted the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Médecins Sans Frontières
(MSF), aka Doctors Without Borders, as their President. He was a field doctor during the Somali famine, the Rwandan genocide, among other catastrophes.  His story of helping others, beyond what most people would do,  is inspiring and clarifies the situations in underdeveloped countries.

Trailer

Unbreakable Minds

The National Film Board of Canada
Directed by
Abbey Jack Neidik
2004, 60 minutes, Canada

Randy and Brad, both in their thirties, are schizophrenic; Rob, in his early forties, suffered a major depressive disorder. "Unbreakable Minds" gives us a raw glimpse into their lives and the lives of those who live with and care for them.

Randy works as a supermarket bagger and has a girlfriend. Brad delivers pizza and has a difficult relationship with his father. Rob is very much alone in the world - most of us are not and cannot easily imagine ourselves to be. His mother has Alzheimer’s, and we learn that he had a brother who died of AIDS.

 Keeping It Real: Families, Community, and Mental Illness
by John Kerkhoven


Up the Yangtze, directed by Yung Chang, 93 minutes, 2007, Canada
Produced by EyeSteelFilm in co-production with The National Film Board of Canada

Background:

China is changing faster than most people realize.  One of the major disruptions to Chinese life is occurring along the Yangtze River where the Three Gorges Dam resides.  The dam is the largest hydroelectric power station in the world. It's not expected to become fully operational until 2011.

The potential benefits of the dam are flood control because millions of people live downstream of the structure, as well as hydroelectric power. The dam should reduce coal consumption by 31 million tons per year, cutting the emission of greenhouse gas. The downside is that 2.3 million people have to relocate, including 4 million more by the year 2020.  Residents complain of government corruption and a lack of proper assistance for relocation and there are hints that people who protested the move were beaten and had their property destroyed.

Also, the dam sits on a seismic fault.
 


Three Gorges Dam

"Up the Yangtze" introduces teenagers Cindy (Yu Shui) and Jerry (Chen Bo Yu). Cindy comes from a poor family living on the edge of the river, a family that barely survives by raising a few crops and very few farm animals. The parents can't read or write.  Their daughter must postpone her education to earn money to send home.  Jerry is an urban only child, spoiled  and over-confident. Both Cindy and Jerry find jobs on a luxury cruiser that transports rich tourists along the Yangtze River as they view a last glimpse of the ancient version of China, a life that is rapidly disappearing.



Excellent cinematography puts us right in the picture and the boat moves through the locks into the Yangtze.  We feel as if we are there.

Two lifestyles are contrasted in the film, that of Cindy's family in the country, eking out a minimalist living and that of Jerry, enjoying the city during an evening hanging out with friends. The city has also changed.

 Now we see cars instead of bicycles and well-dressed young people toting shopping bags. 

Then we see how Cindy and Jerry progress with their new jobs on the luxury cruiser.  Their lives are also in contrast to that of the tourists.  They are workers, and the work is difficult. They have a lot to learn, whether it be how to greet the tourists:  "Welcome Aboard," as opposed to a mere "Hello;"
washing never-ending piles of dishes in the deck below;  learning not to ask for tips and not to call the Americans 'Foreign Devils."  Their instructor gives them Wal-Mart type pep talks and spews clichés like "When there's a will there's a way," and "Rome wasn't built in a day."
 

We see the tourists singing "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean," enjoying silly rhymes by entertainers who try to teach them a few words in Chinese, and having their photos taken in elaborate Chinese costumes.
 

The film is replete with contrasts.
These images stay with us and make us consider the volatile future of China.

Fiction


The Decline of the American Empire, directed by Denys Arcand, 102 minutes, 1986


Denys Arcand

Men talk about women and women talk about men.  It's clever and humorous, and you haven't seen another film like this one.  What has become of the relationships among the sexes? A quiet interlude in the country reveals all.

The film won 9 Genie Awards in 1987: Best Motion Picture, Best Achievement in Direction, Best Original Screenplay, Best Achievement in Film Editing, and the Golden Reel Award.

Filmmakers

       New York Film Festival
    
A Clown Outside the Circus:  Filmmaker Arthur Lipsett
By Lois Siegel


©Photo by Lois Siegel
1978

Remembering Arthur
Filmmaker Arthur Lipsett's close friend, Martin Lavut, documents the influence
 of the eccentric Oscar-nominated filmmaker

Life After Darth
by Steve Silberman

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