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UBC Theses and Dissertations

NFB kids: portrayals of children by the National Film Board of Canada, 1939-1989 Low, Brian John


Social historians have been understandably wary of the contents of motion pictures. Their reticence to use film as a socio-historical document stems from a valid assumption that, since almost every film is to some degree a fictional construction, no film or group of films may be said to accurately reflect a society. In this study, however, a society is presented that a historian may credibly claim to be accurately represented by film since it exists wholly in film. It is the cinematic society created by the film archives of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). 'NFB society' is set in the 8,000 films produced since 1939 under the NFB mandate: "to interpret Canada to Canadians." Anchored physically, socially, and intellectually to the course of Canadian society and the state, this cinematic micro-society possesses a coherent Social history, which can be re-created by juxtaposing, synchronically and diachronically, films with like social scenarios. In so doing, patterns of social life, especially social relations in the micro-society may be observed in transience. NFB children play a significant role in this transience of NFB society, particularly in regard to dramatic changes in family, school, and community life which take place after the 1960s. Key to an explanation of the historical movement that develops within NFB families, schools, and communities are the 'progressive' socializing structures that replace traditional ones in the society in celluloid. Of particular interest are the social outcomes of the mental hygiene movement following its introduction into Film Board families in 1946 and schools in 1953. Over the decades of this study, the authority of NFB parents, teachers, and community leaders over the socialization of children is diminished by their adoption of the principles of mental hygiene, their influence over their children gradually supplanted by the influence of the cinematic state.

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