Canada’s Cinematic History

April 15, 2019

The history of Canadian film is as complex and diverse as the country itself. Our rich cinematic history reflects our cultures and our stories back to us and unites us as a nation.

Of course, celebrating Canadian film is what NCFD is all about. This year, to commemorate 100 years of Canadian cinema, (and the centennial Canada’s oldest surviving feature film, Back to God’s Country, 1919), we asked some film writers & industry professionals from across the country to write about some of the notable and fascinating highlights from our cinematic past.

The essays we commissioned represent a diverse spectrum of subjects and points of view – read the summaries below and be sure to click through to read the full posts!


Back to God's Country (1919)

Back to God’s Country: A Retrospective

By: Kay Armatage

Film Director and Professor Emerita at the University of Toronto’s Cinema Studies Institute, Kay Armatage examines the history of Back To God’s Country and the woman behind the film: powerhouse producer / screenwriter and star Nell Shipman. A must-read for cinephiles!


Snow and Sass: 11 film moments that helped define us

By: Katarina Gligorijevic

National Canadian Film Day Manager and film producer Katarina Gligorijevic takes a look at Canada’s film history through the lens of two characteristics that epitomize our nation and our movies above all others — snow, and sass. From a documentary that was transformed into a fiction film by a rogue director, to a cinematic movement that defined a generation, this essay is chock full of the attitude of pure sass that lies beneath this country’s quiet, snowy exterior.


50 Years of Indigenous-Made Cinema in Canada: A Celebration

By: Ariel Smith

Award-winning filmmaker, video artist, and writer Ariel Smith (nēhiyaw) provides a important look into 50 years of Indigenous filmmaking in Canada. In film and on television, Indigenous people’s stories have too often been told by non-Indigenous people. The result has been a historical stifling of authentic voice. It’s time to celebrate the trailblazing Indigenous creators who have been working to change that over the past five decades, and the milestones they’ve achieved.


Canada’s Tax Shelter Era

By: Paul Corupe

Film, music, and pop culture writer/editor Paul Corupe takes a look into an incredibly rich and fascinating period in Canada’s film history during the 1970s and ‘80s that came to be referred to (lovingly, by some) as the “tax shelter era” — a heyday of film production, especially of commercial genre films, thanks to newly available tax incentives. Read about the film boom that gave many Canadian filmmakers their start and helped lay the groundwork for the robust industry we have today.


Canada’s Relationship with the Academy Awards

By: Thom Ernst

Film critic Thom Ernst examines Canada’s long and fruitful relationship with the Academy starting way back in 1929, and leading up to some of Canada’s most recent Oscar wins, as he deep-dives on ten Canadian-related Oscar triumphs.



The Canadian Wilderness of the Settler Imagination: Unpacking the Racism of Back to God’s Country

By: Ariel Smith

Award-winning filmmaker, video artist, and writer Ariel Smith (nēhiyaw) takes a in-depth look into Canada’s oldest surviving feature length film, Back To God’s Country, and argues that while it is important to commemorate this film and honour its place in Canada’s film history, it is also essential to acknowledge its problematic elements, namely it’s racism against Indigenous and Asian people.


Le Cinéma Québécois / The Cinema of Quebec

By: Georges Privet

Since its beginnings, the cinema of Quebec has embodied and reflected the tensions of the society that brought it to life. Both consciously and unconsciously, it has focused on the fears and aspirations of Quebecers, which go hand in hand with their quest for identity and their struggle. Read celebrated director Georges Privet’s take on the history of Cinema in Quebec. Available in both English and French.


The Documentary Tradition in Canada

By: Alex Rogalski

From the early days of National Film Board documentaries making their way into classrooms across the country, to modern audiences filling their Netflix lists with Canadian documentaries, Canada has a strong documentary tradition that should be celebrated! Read Hot Docs Festival programmer, Alex Rogalski’s retrospective on Canada’s documentary history.


The New Canadian Cinema

By Adam Cook

Over the past few years the landscape of independent cinema in Canada has rapidly evolved, along with the industry around it. A new generation of bold, original filmmakers from across the country have, in recent years, made some of the most exciting films we’ve seen out of Canada since the “Toronto New Wave” of the late ‘80s and ‘90s. Follow film programmer Adam Cook, as he takes a look at some of Canada’s most up-and-coming new filmmakers.


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