Grain Elevator fervour


Grain Elevator, Charles Konowal, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Part of my job involves putting films online. There’s a calendar (prepared by our Collection analysts) that I consult every week. It tells me what films are supposed to be published to and when. Every week, I add between 2 and 5 films to the site. It’s always a mixed-bag: new, old, highly anticipated releases, forgotten gems.

My job then involves watching part of a film, writing up a web-friendly description (key words! SEO!), asking our savvy graphic designers Gil and Mivil (hey guys) to prepare images for the player image and thumbnail, and zoom! off they go catapulted into their new careers on the World Wide Web where anyone with access to a computer and the Internet can watch them for free. A whole new lease on life.

The exciting thing about this process is you never know what kind of life films will have online. Will they survive, will they thrive? Will people grab them, share them with all their friends, post them all over their Facebook walls? Will they end up making tons of new fans, nicely embedded in niche blogs? It’s always hard to say, and always fun to watch.

The reason I am telling you this is because we recently got a shining example of that. Poring over statistics last week, we realized that our viewers had elected a new darling – one none of us had seen coming.

“Um. So it looks like Grain Elevator was the number 1 most viewed film on the site last week,” Benoît, our analytics honcho, said.

Grain Elevator?!” everybody else said.

Grain Elevator,” Benoît said.

Now. Let me be clear, there is no reason, per se, why short-length documentaries about grain elevators shouldn’t go viral. Grain elevators are as good documentary-making material as anything. But seriously? With everything else we have online? No one could believe Grain Elevator had been viewed more than our usual suspects, cult classics such as The Cat Came back, or The Log Driver’s Waltz, which claim the top “most viewed” spots week after week. Yet there it was. Grain Elevator. People were watching that film like it was going out of style.

In a somewhat cliché way, I thought the bulk of viewers would be from the Canadian Prairies. Perhaps folks who’d lived in the midst of grain elevators their whole lives and were feeling a titch nostalgic, now that most of these Prairie giants were gone. Turns out I was wrong. The stats showed us there were 3 times as many people watching it in Ontario as there was in Saskatchewan. For that matter, most of the views were “international”, meaning they were made from outside Canada. Grain elevating, I learned, is a hot international topic.

Thinking about it more, after the meeting, I realized that Grain Elevator works because it does what good documentaries do. It provides a new perspective on the world – whether it is by introducing something new or by shining a fresh light on a banal object. People are curious, whether they’ve spent their entire life in a grain elevator or have never heard of one. How do those contraptions work? What function do these beasts perform? The documentary answers those questions – and then some. It’s like an “everything you’ve always wanted to know about grain elevators but were afraid to ask.” Beautifully shot in color. I highly encourage you to check it out.

I think, too, that seeing the unlikely success of the film made me feel good about the fact the NFB has made and still makes films about just about everything. From how to build igloos to driving rocket-powered cars across the Saint-Lawrence River. Build it and they will come, they say. Because somewhere, somehow, every story finds its audience.