NFB Mediatheque

The final days of the NFB Mediatheque in Toronto

It isn't looking like a good year for Canadian arts. Come September 1st, the NFB Mediatheque at John and Richmond streets will be closing its cinema and shutting down viewing stations as part of spending cuts related to the federal budget review announced in April of this year.

While it doesn't get nearly as much foot traffic as the Scotiabank Theatre, its cinematic neighbour across the street, the NFB Mediatheque has its fans - it has seen over half a million visitors since opening in 2002. It's also a bit of a mixed bag, with its use as a screening room, event venue, kids' activity hub, educational workshop host, festival locale and viewing station repository.

Anyone looking for Hollywood's latest blockbusters would likely walk past the unassuming faรงade at 150 John St, despite the seasonal posters that regularly adorn its windows, in favour of the Scotiabank theatre across the way (after all, it's hard to miss a giant cube protruding from halfway up a building). But the Mediatheque viewing stations are definitely a good way to while away an afternoon with some of the best in Canadian cinema.

You could find everything from hard-hitting documentaries, short films and cinema classics to ground-breaking animated works by legendary animator Norman McLaren and Oscar-nominated fellow NFB luminary Ryan Larkin, to innovative, experimental works like Andrea Dorfmann's Flawed (2010), as well as endearing and magical animated shorts like Howie Shie's Flutter (2006).

And the two-person viewing stations, though slightly too awkward for cuddling, allowed for quirky date ideas: you know what they're thinking when they type in "love" as a search term in the scrolling catalogue (true story).

When in January 2008, on their 70th anniversary, a website overhaul allowed the NFB to upload a significant chunk of their content archive to the Internet for free viewing at NFB.ca, the film board became that much more awesome (not to mention digitally accessible to much more than just Torontonians or Montrealers.)

The loss of the viewing stations also comes with cuts to festivals and events at the NFB, and reduced funding to independent filmmakers, as well as the phasing out of several positions in the NFB, including 33 at the Toronto Mediatheque.

But Deborah Drisdell, head of Distribution, Accessibility and Digital Enterprise says that the impact of the job cuts will be minimized by reassignment to other departments.

"We have really strong, committed staff working at the Mediatheque," she says. "And most of those people have been able to be reallocated within the organization so we're not losing a lot of that expertise and that commitment, which has been great."

In the press release of April 4th, NFB Chair Tom Perlmutter said, "we have had to make tough choices. We needed to ensure the long-term viability of the NFB by maintaining our ability to innovate in the creation and distribution of works that cannot be done elsewhere, continuing to serve the public in ways that add to the rich cultural fabric of our country, and sustaining our global leadership in the digital sphere. I think we have succeeded in doing that."

The focus seems to now be on educational workshops, as well as production of films and animation, leaving the viewing to the digital realm. To their credit, the NFB have developed iPad and iPhone apps that seem to have gained approval across the board, and the website boasts hundreds of titles from their catalogue.

But in terms of a physical space where you could take friends, family or potential bedfellows to check out quality Canadian-made cinematic fare, or even to pass the time while waiting for the next screening at Scotiabank theatre, the NFB did hold a unique position which, in some circles, will certainly be missed.

Writing by Gesilayefa Azorbo / Photo by Derek Flack


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