Watch 3,000 Films Free Online from the National Film Board of Canada, Including Portraits of Leonard Cohen, Margaret Atwood & Jack Kerouac

What, exact­ly, is Cana­da? The ques­tion some­times occurs to Amer­i­cans, liv­ing as they do right next door. But it might sur­prise those Amer­i­cans to learn that Cana­di­ans them­selves ask the very same ques­tion, liv­ing as they do in a coun­try that could be defined by any num­ber of its ele­ments — its vast­ness, its mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, The Kids in the Hall — but nev­er seems defined by any one of them in par­tic­u­lar. Many indi­vid­u­als and groups through­out Cana­di­an his­to­ry have par­tic­i­pat­ed in the project of explain­ing Cana­da, and indeed defin­ing it. Few have done as much as the Nation­al Film Board of Cana­da and the film­mak­ers it has sup­port­ed, thanks to whom “three thou­sand films, from doc­u­men­taries to nar­ra­tive fea­tures to exper­i­men­tal shorts, are avail­able to stream free of charge, even for Amer­i­cans.”

Those words come from The Out­line’s Chris R. Mor­gan, who writes that, “for the ‘Canuckophile’ (not my coinage but a term I hap­pi­ly own), the NFB’s Screen­ing Room is one of the supreme plea­sures of the inter­net. Since 1939, the NFB has facil­i­tat­ed the telling of Canada’s sto­ry in its people’s own words and images.”

Mor­gan points up to such NFB-sup­port­ed pro­duc­tions as 1965’s Ladies and Gen­tle­men … Mr. Leonard Cohen, which “fol­lows the tit­u­lar 30-year-old poet giv­ing wit­ty read­ings, par­ty­ing, and liv­ing around Mon­tre­al,” and the 2014 Shame­less Pro­pa­gan­da, described at the Screen­ing Room as an exam­i­na­tion of “Canada’s nation­al art form.” That art form devel­oped in the years after the NFB’s found­ing in 1939, a time when its found­ing com­mis­sion­er John Gri­er­son called doc­u­men­taries a “ham­mer to shape soci­ety.”

Not that most of what you’ll find to watch in the NFB’s screen­ing room comes down like a ham­mer — nor does it feel espe­cial­ly pro­pa­gan­dis­tic, as we’ve come to under­stand that term in the 21st cen­tu­ry. Take, for instance, the doc­u­men­tary por­traits of Cana­di­an writ­ers like Mar­garet Atwood and Jack Ker­ouac.

The lat­ter lead a life described by film­mak­er Her­ménégilde Chi­as­son as “a Fran­co-Amer­i­can odyssey,” which will remind even the most Cana­da-unaware Amer­i­cans of one thing that clear­ly sets Cana­da apart: its bilin­gual­ism. That, too, pro­vides mate­r­i­al for a few NFB pro­duc­tions, includ­ing 1965’s Instant French, a short about “the adven­tures of a group of busi­ness­men who are forced into tak­ing French lessons to stay com­pet­i­tive in their field.”

“At first put out by this news,” con­tin­ues the descrip­tion at the Screen­ing Room, “one by one they begin to real­ize that gain­ing flu­en­cy in anoth­er lan­guage has its ben­e­fits.” Hokey though it may sound — “def­i­nite­ly a prod­uct of its time,” as the NFB now says — a film like Instant French offers a glimpse into not just Canada’s past but the vision for soci­ety that has shaped Canada’s present and will con­tin­ue to shape its future. You can browse the NFB’s large and grow­ing online archive by sub­ject (with cat­e­gories includ­ing lit­er­a­ture and lan­guage, music, and his­to­ry) as well as through playlists like “Expo 67: 50 Years Lat­er,” “Extra­or­di­nary Ordi­nary Peo­ple,” — and, of course, “Hock­ey Movies,” which  reminds us that, elu­sive though Cana­di­an cul­ture as a whole may some­times feel, cer­tain impor­tant parts of it aren’t that hard to grasp.

via The Out­line

Relat­ed Con­tent:

4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More

Watch 66 Oscar-Nom­i­nat­ed-and-Award-Win­ning Ani­mat­ed Shorts Online, Cour­tesy of the Nation­al Film Board of Cana­da

200+ Films by Indige­nous Direc­tors Now Free to View Online: A New Archive Launched by the Nation­al Film Board of Cana­da

Lis­ten to Glenn Gould’s Shock­ing­ly Exper­i­men­tal Radio Doc­u­men­tary, The Idea of North (1967)

Glenn Gould Gives Us a Tour of Toron­to, His Beloved Home­town (1979)

William Shat­ner Sings O Cana­da (and Hap­py Cana­da Day)

1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, etc. 

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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