Vérité and the Future of the NFB
by Peter Wintonick
(2000 – Montréal, QC) In many ways, the National Film Board was the living laboratory for the cinéma–vérité revolution. Ideally placed at the internexus of Europe and America, of continents and cultures, of English and French, the NFB was the incubus which catalyzed what was to be one of the most important audiovisual revolutions of our times. In the next century the NFB—if it maintains its internationalist stance giving filmmakers creative freedom to interpret life as they see it; if it manages to make as many films against television as for television—could regain an avant–garde position and world–class reputation for digital documentary…. In the late 1950s and 1960s not only were the new technologies codeveloped there, like the use of portable cameras and synch sound, 10mm lenses and lavalier lapel mikes, but also the approach—using the film like a notebook and the camera like a pen—as Michel Brault calls it….The people who populate my film, and the innovative and supportive NFB technical background crew, have taught me a lot. The NFB has finally made the great leap forward and weaned itself off the chemical and celluloid cinema and wholeheartedly embraced digitalia. What I call the digital doc is now possible…. It’s been a rare pleasure to work at the NFB in a free and unadulterated atmosphere.
Because I usually work independently, this Cinéma Vérité experience is the first time that we have not had to spend 90 per cent of our time begging budget from 100 different sources, broadcasters and agencies. The film is not contaminated by televisual constraints or conceits. The NFB people gave me de facto editorial control. They respect filmmakers…. The new digital revolution, which has vérité as its shock troop precursor, is allowing many young people to rush the doors at the NFB, but now they don’t find them blocked. I have noticed, as a reviewer—also as someone who is temporarily occupying a cell at the NFB’s mothership—that there is a “neogenerational schmeer,” as D.A. Pennebaker would call it, which is oozing through the corridors. Things have opened up in the last year, even in the last six months. Oh sure, the industrial green paint still institutionalizes the walls of the joint, but it is what is happening inside the walls that is important…. Actually, it’s the strong women who are now running the NFB, like Sandra MacDonald, Barbara Janes and Sally Bochner, who are starting to turn the place around. I don’t think they represent the Trojan horses of neoliberalism, yearning to privatize. They actually are trying to reconstitute the institution, defend and embrace its mandate. Given the recent allegations about the dubious practices dominating corporate cinema’s industrial imperatives, I think the public will continue to turn to more honest filmmaking, and that’s what the NFB is all about.
Also see: Peter Wintonick’s filmography.
This brief article originally appeared as a sidebar to Camera Eye: Peter Wintonick’s Cinéma Vérité: Defining the Moment by Maurie Alioff in issue 26 of Take One magazine published in the Winter of 2000. Northernstars.ca acquired the archives of Take One in 2007.