Cinema in Canada makes its appearance at the end of the nineteenth century, with some documentaries on the natural beauties of the country shot by an amateur. The film industry does not have an easy development, especially from the point of view of the identity of a national culture debated between the French and English matrices.
During the Thirties, the situation also worsened economically due to the massive penetration of US products into the Canadian market. In addition, the great Hollywood majors appropriated the few studios and large natural spaces offered by the Canada to shoot adventure films at a lower cost. Properly Canadian in this period only documentaries are produced.
A turning point in the crisis comes from the establishment in 1939 of the Office National du Film (ONF), headed by J. Grierson. Actually operating since 1941, the Grierson school gave new impetus to cinematography, also creating within it a section for animated films, later made famous by N. McLaren. In parallel with the activity of ONF, two private organizations took on importance in the 1940s, Renaissance Films and Quebec Productions, both linked to the idea of a Catholic-inspired cinema, whose moralizing intentions are reflected in works such as La fortresse (1947) by F. Ozip and Gros Bill (1949) by R. Delacrois. For Canada 2001, please check naturegnosis.com.
In the fifties and during the first half of the sixties, the seeds of what will be the rebirth develop, made possible above all thanks to the activities of the French-speaking component of the country.
In fact, it is in Quebec that the foundations are created for the recognition of an autonomous Canadian identity both from a political and a cultural point of view. The creation in 1964 – but the organism will become operative in 1968 – of the Societé de Développément de l’Industrie Cinématographique Canadienne (SDICC) proves to be fundamental for the birth of the new course. Thanks to the loans granted to small private industries, the SDICC allows the production of over 170 films, about eighty of which are French-speaking films made in Quebec in the decade 1968-77. Many films achieve considerable success, sometimes more than the US productions themselves. The excellent commercial results achieved by works of poor quality, such as the ‘pornosoft’ Valérie (1969) by D. Héroux and Deux femmes en or (1970) by Canada Fournier convince producers to take risks on more demanding films. This is how G. Carle, J.-P. Lefebvre, Canada Jutra can direct feature films that address the social and psychological reality of the Canadian man.
Parallel to the activities of the SDICC, ONF continues its promoting work by financing documentaries focused on researching the cultural roots of the country. The highest voice of the documentary school is undoubtedly P. Perrault, who with the material shot over many years in the Antibi region elaborates in 1976 Le goût de la farine and in 1980 Pays de la terre sans arbres. The ONF is also responsible for the making of political films in the manner of cinéma-verité, among which the series En tant que femmes, shot by several hands, and Les ordres, filmed by M. Brault during the October 1970 revolt in Montreal.
Despite the flattering results, the Canadian film industry went into crisis again starting from 1976. However, it is not the funding that is lacking, but the public, which is gradually deserting the theaters. To cope with the exodus, the managers begin to screen almost exclusively US films – the only ones capable of attracting viewers -, giving rise to a mechanism that over time inevitably ends up negatively affecting the industry.
The only new author to emerge in the second 1970s is D. Cronemberg, who produces and shoots visionary horror films at low cost; his films, we cite Shivres (1975), Rabid (1976), The brood (La covata malefica, 1979), while following a very personal and not easy linguistic research, still manage to attract the public, therefore they achieve strong revenues and make known the their author around the world, later allowing the Canadian director to shoot The Dead Zone (1984) and The Fly (1986) in the United States.
Since 1982, a series of appropriate government initiatives have allowed the industry to recover. In a short time, thanks to direct funding to the various producer corporations, the economic situation improved and new ideas began to circulate. Many films are also appreciated abroad: just mention Stations (1983) by B. McGillivray, My American cousin (1985) by S. Wilson, and more than any other Le déclin de l’empire americain (1986) by D. Arcands, a bitter and corrosive work, awarded at Cannes.