This list is a work in progress that will eventually include as many of the 200+ Challenge for Change films as possible that were produced by the NFB between 1967 and 1980
The activist documentary program, which ran from 1967 to 1980, produced almost 250 films and videos in both French and English. It generated a particularly influential and original part of the National Film Board of Canada’s acclaimed body of work, and its filmmakers were among the first to exploit portable video. CFC/SN challenged audiences, subjects and filmmakers to confront a wide spectrum of issues, from poverty to sexism to marginalization, with the intention of developing community and political awareness, as well as empowering Canadians.
Challenge for Change (French: Societé Nouvelle) was a participatory film and video project created by the National Film Board of Canada in 1967, the Canadian Centennial. Active until 1980, Challenge for Change used film and video production to illuminate the social concerns of various communities within Canada, with funding from eight different departments of the Canadian government. The impetus for the program was the belief that film and video were useful tools for initiating social change and eliminating poverty.
In total, the program would lead to the creation of over 140 films and videos across the country, including 27 films by Colin Low about life on Fogo Island, Newfoundland, produced in 1967. Known collectively as The Fogo Island Project, these Fogo Island films had an enormous impact on the future direction of the program, and were created thanks to the vision of Newfoundland academic Donald Snowden, who saw a need for a community media project as early as 1965.
Started by John Kemeny, Colin Low, Fernand Dansereau and Robert Forget, and later run by George C. Stoney, the Challenge for Change program was designed to give voice to the “voiceless”. A key aspect of Challenge for Change was the transfer of control over the filmmaking process from professional filmmakers to community members, so that ordinary Canadians in underrepresented communities could tell their own stories on screen. Community dialogue and government responses to the issues were crucial to the program and took precedence over the “quality” of the films produced.
As the program developed, responsibility for the film production was put increasingly into the hands of community members, who both filmed events and had a say in the editing of the films, through advance screenings open only those who were the subjects of the films.
I’ve included The Things I Cannot Change, which is not technically part of the program yet is difficult to separate from it. It is “considered to be the forerunner of the NFB’s Challenge for Change Program”.
As a Canadian, investigating my national cinema has mostly been a disappointing venture. Our history of narrative cinema, while it is not without its highlights, leaves much to be desired. However, it is Canada’s legacy of documentary and experimental filmmaking that has a rich history. In particular, during its creative peak, the National Film Board of Canada produced valuable and innovative work. Specifically, the Challenge for Change program is perhaps one of the most daring and fascinating entries into Canada’s histoire(s) du cinéma.Read less