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If These Walls Could Talk: 7 Portraits Of The NFB

If These Walls Could Talk: 7 Portraits Of The NFB

If These Walls Could Talk: 7 Portraits Of The NFB

If the halls of the NFB building on Cote de Liesse Road could talk, just imagine the stories they’d tell.

Over the 60 years the building housed the institution, every nook and cranny of its structure has been used in one way or another. From production offices to the vaults, from the sound stages to the sound studios – this building bore witness to six decades of some of the finest Canadian filmmaking in existence.

Before our headquarters moves, we wanted to immortalize some of the people and places that shaped the NFB. Explore this series of portraits by Stephan Ballard (@stephan.ballard).

Jean Paul Vialard, Mixer

“Studios like the Colin-Low are not built anymore; everything is done smaller scale. Its history, the people that have come through here, I feel it every single day. Especially now, as every time I’m working with a filmmaker, I know we’re working together here for the last time. So every single mix becomes a little more symbolic in nature.”

Jean Paul Vialard (Photo: Stephan Ballard)

Alanis Obomsawin, Filmmaker

“ My office holds 50 years of archives, images, and text. I’m now finishing my 53rd film, so you can just imagine the number of documents. I’ve grown attached to this place. So much has happened here, and I’ve seen so many changes. There’s a lot of history. ”

Alanis Obomsawin (Photo: Stephan Ballard)

Don McWilliams, Filmmaker

“The first time I came down to the shooting stage here in 1971, the whole thing was a lake, and they had real evergreen trees and a log cabin. On this lake was a canoe. And on the canoe was actress Jackie Burroughs.

This studio was so flexible, and you could just rig the lights up any way you wanted. It was such a great place to shoot.”

Don McWilliams (Photo: Stephan Ballard)

Lynn Smith, Animation Filmmaker  

“Architecturally speaking, 3155 Côte-de-Liesse is not my favourite building—though I have to confess I was assigned a very cozy studio within this edifice where I animated my film Soup of the Day (and where I’m currently in the process of completing What Rhymes with Toxic). Some visitors have said that this studio seems an inspiring space, maybe because seeing a person animating ‘directly under the camera’ is out of the ordinary. Also, artwork in progress that can also move is magic. Maybe I convey some feeling of wonder because I am amazed too. Always.”

Lynn Smith (Photo: Stephan Ballard)

Biagio Pagano, Projectionist

“Way before the blue screens and green screens of today, we would use these giant backscreen film projectors to project images on the back of a transparent screen, and you would have the actors in front of the screen. A synchronized camera in front would film the whole thing. The light source from these projectors was created by two carbon rods. The electrical current would jump from one piece of carbon to another, creating an arc of electricity in mid-air, therefore, creating a light. And when they were rolling, the smoke coming out of the top exhaust was like the smoke from a train chimney…”

Biagio Pagano (Photo: Stephan Ballard)

Albert Ohayon, English Collection Curator

“I haven’t watched every film that’s in here, I think that would be close to impossible, but I’ve seen more than 8,000 NFB films over the years. What is really fascinating about the vaults is that we have original 35mm and 16mm negatives! It is absolutely wonderful to spend time in here. Of course, if you do, you have to wear a light coat because it’s very chilly. The temperature is controlled so that the film stock doesn’t decompose.”

Albert Ohayon (Photo: Stephan Ballard)

Geoff Mitchell, Mixer

“I’ve been working here for 23 years now, as a mixer and recordist. In the Chester-Beachell studio, where I now work principally, we record audio—Foley (sound effects), voice, narration recording and music—all types. The tasks vary a lot from day to day. But it is always interesting. This is a distinct place within the NFB, because we create audio from scratch.”

Geoff Mitchell (Photo: Stephan Ballard)
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  1. If these walls could talk?! Is a phrase we the people who made the stories that these walls hold haven’t yet, been told.
    Only few references to the work invented here are seen and heard from. The inspiration for the work belongs to the memory of those that lived it.
    Among other documentary editors sharing the famous basement where creativity took shape, wwas Alanis Obomsawin . Her work was an inspiration and her grace and presence were as infectious. We never talked even though she was 2 doors down but I admit she inspired me not only as an artist but as Native woman working in a mainly white mâle environment, She stood her ground. Her strength of being was everything I thrived for. She was the best dressed woman at the Board and the most devoted to her people’s lives.
    Yes dressing up wasn’t really what editors concerned themselves with since we worked in a dirty old basement full of asbestos and remnants of shoots breathing in silver particles , drinking water with lead and inhaling chemicals from the film lab. Alanis was always a proud, impeccably dressed woman with a presence to me admired. It’s a miracle that the toxic elements didn’t kill us all.

    The period I’m referring to is 1980-1996.
    1996 PM Mulroney’s decision to shut down production, leaving 1300 employees and freelance professional production staff out of work, many without severance pay, That was the end of the ONF/NFB as we knew it , since the creation of the studios. It was time for a big change especially in Quebec.
    For those who couldn’t move to Toronto where the budget ended up for production, those who had depended on the NFB for work in Montreal, we’re left out for years.

    I’m enjoying the new work coming out of the film board giving much opportunity to young filmmakers.
    History is very interesting but the present is more relevant. Am honoured to have been a part of this history! What a privilege!
    Hedy Dab

    — Hedydab,
  2. Wow, such fantastic photos — super-cinematic! — of such talented people in legendary spaces.

    — gerryflahive,

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