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To celebrate 50 issues of Toronto Film Scene, we thought it was best to go back over the last 50 years of Canadian film, decade by decade, to look at some of the great films, creations and contributions to cinema that have come out of the Great White North. Our articles begin with 1966 to 1976, a decade that saw some of the greatest Canadian films released and directors who began their lengthy careers.

In the second half of the ’60s, Canadians continued to set the stage for many great things to come.  At the University of Toronto, a young student by the name of David Cronenberg made his first experimental short film. Meanwhile the Government was about to step up with some serious financial support for the country’s film industry, we were ready to make our mark.

David Cronenberg was studying science and English when his interest in film was first sparked by fellow University of Toronto classmate David Secter. Secter is remembered for having made the first English language Canadian film to receive international acclaim, the gay themed drama Winter Kept Us Warm. In 1966 Secter made his sophomore film, The Offering, meanwhile Cronenberg was more focused on experimental film, completing his first short Transfer.  A year later came From the Drain, a tale of two men in a mental institution and Cronenberg’s first foray into horror.

After directing a few short films, David Cronenberg’s first feature, Shivers started his career with the body horror genre

Beginning to work in longer formats, Cronenberg gave us Stereo in 1969, and Crimes of the Future in 1970, introducing themes of parasitic invasion, alternate states of consciousness, and other themes that the filmmaker would become known for throughout his career.  By 1975, with the help of the Canadian Film Development Corporation, Cronenberg had made his first feature film Shivers.  The film got mixed reviews internationally, but it was released in the U.S., helping to pave the way for Canadian-made films to seek audiences south of the border.

The aforementioned Canadian Film Development Corporation (or CFDC) that assisted Cronenberg and many of his peers, was founded by the Canadian Government in 1966, established as a means to assist Canadian filmmakers in production funding and promotion. Initially the government pledged $10 million in support of Canadian feature films, with the amount increasing to $25 million within a decade.

Initially the Canadian Film Development Corporation (or CFDC) pledged $10 million in support of Canadian feature films, with the amount increasing to $25 million within a decade

Prominent films of the late ’60s and early ’70s benefiting from the support of the young CFDC include Isabel (1968) directed by Paul Almond, staring his then wife Genevieve Bujold. Isabel earned four Canadian Film Awards and was amongst one of the earliest films to be picked up for distribution by a Hollywoood studio. It is still regarded as one of the most important contributions to Canadian cinema.

Don Shebib’s 1970 docudrama Goin’ Down the Road helped establish a new style of filmmaking that would influence French-Canadian Cinema. The low budget film utilized lower cost materials and adopted a realistic style that other filmmakers capturing real life experiences were quick to copy. As well, the film’s plot was of great social significance, an element not lost on the critics who helped to raise the regard of this film in future years.

The Government of Canada’s other major agency in support of film, the National Film Board could proudly acknowledge its financial support and production assistance on 1971’s Mon Oncle Antoine.  Director Claude Jutra trained at the NFB and worked in France before returning to his native Quebec to make Mon Oncle Antoine, which is now considered to be the greatest Canadian film ever made, topping critics all-time best lists including Roger Ebert’s Great Movies List.

Mon Oncle Antoine is now considered to be the greatest Canadian film ever made, topping critics all-time best lists including Roger Ebert’s Great Movies List

Other notable NFB productions included The Ernie Game (1966), made in partnership with the CBC that won Best Feature at the Canadian Film Awards. Helicopter Canada (1967) was produced in honour of Canada’s Centennial and was nominated for an Oscar, in addition, the NFB created a theme pavillion at Expo ’67 called the Labyrinth, the most ambitious project of its time catching the entire world’s attention, which received a special technical award at the Canadian Film Awards.

The arrival of video technology in the 1970’s was also embraced by the NFB, who also saw technological advances in animation, editing, subtitling, and underwater sound recording during this time. Female filmmakers found true recognition for the first time in a series of films from Anne Claire Poirier and Jeanne Morazain they titled “En tant que femmes” which produced 3 documentaries and 3 fiction films between 1972 and 1976.

Around the same time, the NFB’s Cry of the Wild (1973) was a runaway success in Canadian and American cinemas.  This feature length documentary by Bill Mason shot in the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, and Canadian Arctic captured the attention of audiences and grossed over $1 million dollars on its opening weekend.

Continuing to garner attention outside of Canada, the NFB saw a record number of Oscar nominations in 1976 with three nominations for animated short The Street, Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry about the famed author, and documentary short Blackwood about east coast etcher David Blackwood.

The government would be responsible for one more major initiative during this time period, and that was the change in the Capital Cost Allowance in 1974 from 60% to 100%.  This meant that investors could now deduct from their taxable income the full amount of their investment in certified Canadian feature films.  The marked increase in production investment was so significant that this period in Canadian film became known as “The Tax Shelter Era”.

Despite efforts to retain its national talent with increased funding and production support by the government and private investors, the lure to work in more lucrative markets such as Hollywood still drew much Canadian talent away from home. Many found fame south of the border in films that permeated north of the border, whereas their work within Canada rarely gave them U.S. or International exposure.

Toronto’s Ted Kotcheff worked mainly in the U.K. before returning to Canada to direct The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

Ivan Reitman was one of Cronenberg’s early collaborators, serving as a producer for Cronenberg’s first two films Shivers and Rabid before moving south of the border and establishing himself as a renown director and producer. Geneviève Bujold took roles in film and television primarily in Canada and the U.S., but it was her performance in British-made film Anne of a Thousand Days (1969) that won her an Oscar.

Edmonton’s Arthur Hiller is known for his work in television and film. Hiller was working in Canada in the early ’50s when U.S. Broadcaster NBC noticed his work. In 1966 he directed Natalie Wood in Penelope, and the following year he worked with Rock Hudson in Tobruk (1967).  Hiller would go on to direct talents such as Dustin Hoffman and Alan Arkin later in the decade, before making his most famous Hollywood film, Love Story, in 1970.

In his Hollywood career, editor-turned-director Mark Robson made thirty-four films. He moved from his hometown of Montreal and found opportunities south of border which included assistant editor to Robert Wise for Citizen Kane. His most famous film of the ’60s was Valley of the Dolls (1967).

It wasn’t just the lure of Hollywood though. Silvio Narizzano was a Canadian expatriate working in the U.K., his 1966 film was Georgy Girl starred Lynn Redgrave. Toronto’s own Ted Kotcheff worked in the U.K. where he directed his first four films, before moving back to Canada.  At home in 1974, he made The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz based on the novel by Mortecai Richler, which became the most commercially successful Canadian film ever made up to that point. It also won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.

It wasn’t all about exporting talent. Bob Clark, for instance, was an American actor and filmmaker who worked in the Canadian market at the dawn of the Tax Shelter Era. His legacy in Canada includes a collection of horror movies such as the unforgettable 1974 slasher/holiday classic Black Christmas.

Of course one of the most acclaimed directors of the time, regardless of nationality and countries he’s worked in was Norman Jewison. He grew up and studied in Toronto before spending some time working in London. He went from theatre to television before transitioning to film. His career as a film director began in the ’60s and he began garnering attention with his fifth film, The Cincinnati Kid (1965).  It was his seventh film, In the Heat of the Night (1967), which proved to be the standout of his illustrious career, winning five Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Norman Jewison

Norman Jewison is one of the most notable filmmakers to come from this era. Career highlights include The Cincinnati Kid, In the Heat of the Night, Fiddler on the Roof, Jesus Christ Superstar, Moonstruck, and The Hurricane.

In 1988, he founded the Canadian Film Centre to “accelerate the careers of the brightest talent in film, television, screen acting, music, and digital media.”

He is a recipient of the Governor General’s Award and holds the Order of Canada.

In a decade which saw the Canadian film forging ahead, there was much growth in the industry and production funding. A larger number of films were produced as a result, some of them finding not only financial and commercial success, but also a place of art and cultural significance in Canadian film history. The establishment of the Canadian Film Development Corporation assisted financially but the Corporation also looked at obstacles of distribution and exhibition of Canadian films at home and abroad. In all, filmmakers, financiers, and government alike never lost sight of the nation’s goal to nurture its talent.