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National Film Board of Canada's strategic plan targets creation, audience engagement

TORONTO — The National Film Board of Canada has released a long-awaited new strategic plan that has creation and audience engagement as its main objectives.

TORONTO — The National Film Board of Canada has released a long-awaited new strategic plan that has creation and audience engagement as its main objectives.

The goals of the 2020-2023 plan include increased funding to devote more money to production and ensuring as many voices as possible have the opportunity to express themselves.

The NFB says it also wants to focus on diversity and inclusion, gender parity, and Indigenous reconciliation. 

The three-year plan was to be released in July 2019, but the film board postponed it in order to further consult with stakeholders who were concerned about the institution's spending priorities.

A group of more than 250 freelance directors known as ONF/NFB Creation said at the time there was too much administrative bloat at the institution and not enough money being put into filmmaking.

NFB commissioner Claude Joli-Coeur says the new plan is a response to feedback the film board received from industry creators, including from a countrywide tour between January and March of this year.

"I think we've been gifted in a way, because receiving all of that input has been amazing," Joli-Coeur said in an interview. 

"And also releasing the plan in a moment when the country is facing so many challenges with the health crisis, with the social crisis that we've been through -- especially at the peak last summer --- with the consequences that the pandemic will have on our life in the future.

"It's a perfect moment for NFB to launch its next strategic planning for the next three years. We'll be able to take into consideration all of those aspects." 

Joli-Coeur said he was very open and transparent about the NFB's financial situation during the consultations.

"But there is one thing that we acknowledge and totally agreed with them -- production money has been eroding over the years," he said.

"The funding of the NFB, we've never been able to catch up from the big cuts of 1997, and we got the 10 per cent cuts during the Conservative government. And with the current government, we got a slight increase, but not to compensate for the 10 per cent cut. We had to pay for all our digital shifts."

The new strategic plan, titled "New ways of storytelling for new ways of seeing," vows to put more money into production regardless of whether the NFB receives additional funding from the government. 

If the NFB doesn't get that funding, it will prioritize and either slow down or abandon some activities in order to generate savings that will go into production, Joli-Coeur said. Partnerships and co-productions could also be a source of revenue for content creation.

"But we have pleaded our case with the government and our hope is that we'll get extra funding in the coming years," Joli-Coeur said, noting the NFB isn't allowed to discuss how much funding it's asking for.

"We are also affected by COVID and our budgets are not yet balanced, so we need to fix that. But the minute it's fixed, and that's something we're working very hard making it happen, we'll start increasing those production dollars."

Julie Roy, the NFB's director-general of creation and innovation, said part of her department's goal is to be agile and produce content that is responsive and documenting what's happening in society. 

Roy said she also wants her department "to be bold in addressing systemic racism, racial equity and inclusion," both onscreen and off.

To that end, the NFB says it plans to unveil a series of firm diversity and inclusion commitments in the new year, and relaunch its Indigenous Action Plan for a new three-year period.

The NFB says it also wants to make its digital platforms more accessible.  

"This is where the audience is, this is where we need to grow and continue to bring more audiences and connections between the work, the audience and also the filmmakers," said Jerome Dufour, the NFB's director-general of distribution, communications and marketing.

Other goals include continuing to develop audiences through regular traditional networks, like festivals, and offering new educational content that will "make the NFB an essential destination for students and teachers," he added.

The strategic plan also promises to separate the roles of film commissioner and chair of the board of trustees -- something ONF/NFB Creation had been calling for.

Joli-Coeur was reappointed government film commissioner and chair of the NFB for another three years in June 2019.

He said he's in favour of separating the two roles and hopes the change will be made when his current term is up in two years.

Overall, he feels the strategic plan can get the NFB "to something better and bigger."

"I'm really expecting that it will be a pivotal moment in the life of our organization," he said. "What is essential is to have a committed team that will make it happen."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 10, 2020.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press