The head of the National Film Board (NFB) is hoping to soothe tensions with filmmakers after an independent group alleged the Crown corporation is mismanaging its budget and hurting Canadian cinema.
“We work with very talented creators. It’s a bit sad to see what is dividing us,” said the NFB’s commissioner, Claude Joli-Coeur. “At the end of the day, we’re partners. We need each other.”
Joli-Coeur was reappointed to his role in June and in response, 250 independent producers calling themselves ONF/NFB Creation issued a statement criticizing his leadership and calling it a symptom of larger problems within the organization.
“I think [the NFB has] changed from having the culture of a film studio to a bureaucracy that makes films on the side,” said Montreal animator and filmmaker Munro Ferguson, who speaks for the group.
ONF/NFB Creation got the NFB’s budget numbers through an access to information request and found that money going to filmmakers has plummeted, while money going into administrative expenses has skyrocketed.
According to the group, the money now going to filmmakers is one-third of what it was in 2002, after adjusting for inflation.
Joli-Coeur said the numbers that the group is basing its criticisms on are false.
“We disagree on the figures,” Joli-Coeur told CBC’s Breakaway. “My figures are the ones based on what we filed to Parliament, so unfortunately, we have a kind of dead end.”
Number of films, awards or dollars?
Animator Chris Landreth made a short video to break down how the NFB’s budget has changed in recent years.
“The NFB put forward that there has been an uptick in support for production,” Landreth said in the video.
“What actually see in the past year is a downturn of $1.4 million.”
See Chris Landreth’s video explanation of the NFB’s budget:
Classic case of ‘administrative bloat’: filmmakers
Joli-Coeur admits that like many other Canadian cultural institutions, the NFB has seen cuts over the past 20 years and is operating with less money than it used to.
Beyond that, he insists, the filmmakers’ group is working off faulty information.
“We totally disagree [with ONF/NFB Creation] on how those funds are allocated,” he said.
Joli-Coeur argues the proof that the NFB is doing good work is that the number of films being made continues to go up each year — and the NFB productions earned 154 national awards last year.
For Ferguson, that doesn’t tell the whole story. The NFB’s lower production budget means the agency takes fewer risks and releases shorter films, he said.
“By reducing the funding to creative content, we are less able to fulfil our mission,” Ferguson said.
Landreth described the allocation of funds, with less going to filmmakers, as a classic case of “administrative bloat.”
“What the NFB has a mandate to do, its raison d’être, is to produce creative content,” Landreth said.
Joli-Coeur is hoping coast-to-coast meetings with creators in the fall will help the NFB administration regain their confidence and get information as to why they think the government agency is “in crisis.”
Both sides are cautious about whether the meetings will hit the mark.
According to Ferguson, such meetings have been held for years, with few results.
“On the main issue of how the budget is appropriated, they were not willing to make concessions or admit there is even a problem,” he said.
Joli-Coeur agrees the two sides are at an impasse, after about a dozen meetings over the past three years.
“At the end of the day, they would not believe our figures, and there was nothing much that we could do,” he said.