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Films that Encapsulate Canada: A Celebration of Canadian Multiculturalism Through Cinema

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June 19, 2020

Over the upcoming few weeks there are several dates marking subjects significant to Canadian culture. As the Covid-19 crisis has cancelled or postponed events in honour of these occasions, the Embassy of Canada has partnered with the National Film Board of Canada to present a series of mini “film festivals” which can let you observe these important dates from the safety and comfort of home. In the lead up to each commemorative date, we will update this post with a selection of relevant NFB films.

Wednesday, July 1st: Canada Day

Canada Day is our national holiday, which commemorates the anniversary of Canada’s confederation on July 1st, 1867.

The list of animated films below illustrate and reflect Canada’s cultural diversity; they are from regions all over the country, by filmmakers of different backgrounds, and touch on a wide variety of subjects integral to our way of life:

O Canada (1 min)

This very short stereoscopic film by Evelyn Lambart uses drawings to suggest movement across Canada’s ever-changing countryside.

Canada Vignettes: Log Driver’s Waltz (3 min)

Easily one of the most often-requested films in the NFB collection, this lighthearted animated short is based on the song “The Log Driver’s Waltz” by Wade Hemsworth. Kate and Anna McGarrigle sing along to the tale of a young girl who loves to dance and chooses to marry a log driver over his more well-to-do competitors.

Jaime Lo, Small and Shy (7 min)

In this animated short, Jaime Lo’s father is sent to Hong Kong for a year-long work assignment. A shy Chinese-Canadian girl, Jaime Lo must use her creativity to cope with his absence. This story offers us a lighthearted glimpse into a common dilemma that many immigrant families face, where one parent must work overseas in order to provide for the rest of the family back home. Part of the Talespinners collection, which uses vibrant animation to bring popular children’s stories from a wide range of cultural communities to the screen.

Tzaritza (7 min)

This animated short by Theodore Ushev combines warmth, humour and magic in a story about a young girl who misses her grandmother. When Lili finds a tzaritza (magic shell) along the seashore, she hatches a plan to bring her Grandma from Bulgaria to Montreal to make her father happy. Part of the Talespinners collection, the film features music by Normand Roger.

Oma’s Quilt (12 min)

This animated short tells the story of Oma, who is moving from her house on Maple Street where she lived most of her life to a senior’s residence where she doesn’t know anyone. Her granddaughter Emily, a young girl full of wide-eyed enthusiasm, senses that her grandmother isn’t sure she will like her new home. Wishing to help, she comes up with an idea to ease the burden of this momentous change. Part of the Talespinners collection, which uses vibrant animation to bring popular children’s stories from a wide range of cultural communities to the screen.

Blackfly (5 min)

This animated film about the pesky blackfly is based on the song of the same title, written and sung by Canadian folk singer Wade Hemsworth, with back-up vocals by the McGarrigle sisters. It recounts Hemsworth’s battles with this quintessential “critter” during a summer of surveying in Northern Ontario.

The Sand Castle (13 min)

This short animated film features the sandman and the creatures he sculpts out of sand. These lively creatures build a castle and celebrate the completion of their new home, only to be interrupted by an uninvited guest. Cleverly constructed with nuance, the film leaves interpretation open to the viewer. The film took home an Oscar® for Best Animated Short Film.

As I Am (4 min)

This short experimental documentary challenges stereotypes about Indigenous people in the workplace. Featuring portraits set to a powerful poem by Mohawk writer Janet Marie Rogers, the film urges viewers to go beyond their preconceived notions. As I Am is a celebration of Indigenous people’s pride in their work and culture. This film is part of the Work For All series, produced by the National Film Board of Canada, with the participation of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

Black Soul (9 min)

Martine Chartrand’s animated short dives into the heart of Black culture with an exhilarating trip though history. Watch as a young boy traces his roots through the stories his grandmother shares with him about the events that shaped their cultural heritage.

The Basketball Game (5 min)

In 1983, nine-year-old Hart attends Jewish summer camp for the first time, while in a nearby Alberta town a social studies teacher makes headlines after it’s discovered he’s been teaching anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. In the aftermath, the teacher’s former students are invited to Hart’s camp for a picnic and a basketball game. Hart and his campmates are both curious and afraid of what awaits them on the basketball court. Told from Hart’s perspective, The Basketball Game fuses animation, documentary and personal memoir in a poignant and humorous tale of hope and tolerance in the face of fear and stereotypes.

The Sweater (10 mins)

In this animated short, Roch Carrier recounts the most mortifying moment of his childhood. At a time when all his friends worshipped Maurice “Rocket” Richard and wore his number 9 Canadiens hockey jersey, the boy was mistakenly sent a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey from Eaton’s. Unable to convince his mother to send it back, he must face his friends wearing the colours of the opposing team. This short film, based on the book The Hockey Sweater, is an NFB classic that appeals to hockey lovers of all ages.

Cactus Swing (6 min)

Based on a song by the Great Western Orchestra, this animated short traces the adventures of Pete, the North West Mounted Police officer who is awakened in the badlands by a varmint band and witnesses a cactus line dance.

Lights for Gita (7 min)

This animated short is the story of Gita, an 8-year-old girl who can’t wait to celebrate Divali – the Hindu festival of lights – in her new home in Canada. But it’s nothing like New Delhi, where she comes from. The weather is cold and grey and a terrible ice storm cuts off the power, ruining her plans for a party. Obviously, a Divali celebration now is impossible. Or is it? As Gita experiences the glittering beauty of the icy streets outside, the traditional festival of lights comes alive in a sparkling new way. Part of the Talespinners collection, which uses vibrant animation to bring popular children’s stories from a wide range of cultural communities to the screen.

From Far Away (6 min)

This short animation tells the story of Saoussan, a young girl struggling to adjust to life in Canada after being uprooted from her wartorn homeland. She has come to seek a quieter and safer life, although memories of war and death linger, memories that are awakened when the children at her new school prepare for a scary Halloween. From Far Away speaks to the power within us all to adapt like Saoussan and to welcome a newcomer. Part of the Talespinners collection, which uses vibrant animation to bring popular children’s stories from a wide range of cultural communities to the screen.

The Interview (2 min)

In The Interview, racial stereotypes and prejudices deprive a highly qualified candidate of a fair interview – and may prevent an employer from hiring the best person for the job. This film is part of the Work For All series, produced by the National Film Board of Canada, with the participation of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

Christopher Changes His Name (6 min)

This animated short for children tells the story of Christopher, a little boy who didn’t want to be called Christopher anymore. Such a common name! When Aunty Gail from Trinidad tells him a story about a Tiger, Christopher changes his name to Tiger. But then he finds a better name. When he has trouble cashing a birthday cheque, he realizes maybe he should stick with his original name… or maybe not? Part of the Talespinners collection, which uses vibrant animation to bring popular children’s stories from a wide range of cultural communities to the screen.

Big Drive (9 min)

This short animation film tells the story of a family road trip across the Canadian prairies set in the 1970s. In an era before in-car movies and video games, 4 sisters squeeze into the back of the family car for a long journey. While the parents keep a steady watch on the road ahead, restlessness gradually gives way to mayhem in the car’s close quarters. Just before the ride becomes unbearable, the sisters are inspired to combine their creative energy and the big drive becomes an even bigger adventure.

Moon Man (3 min)

Moon Man is an animated short inspired by the song “Moon Man Newfie,” composed and sung by Canadian music legend Stompin’ Tom Connors. It tells the story of folk hero Codfish Dan, who made Newfoundland history after a lucky fishing trip on the Milky Way. Moon Man is the NFB’s second animated film using the revolutionary IMAX SANDDE digital system, which enables animators to draw and animate 3D images in space with a moving wand. It is presented here in its 2D version.

Nunavut Animation Lab: The Bear Facts (4 min)

In this animated short, a self-important colonial explorer emerges from a sailing ship and plants a flag on the Arctic ice, as a bemused Inuit hunter looks on. Then the explorer plants another, and another, and another, while the hunter, clearly not impressed that his land has been “discovered,” quietly goes about his business. In this charming and humorous re-imagining of first contact between Inuit and European, Jonathan Wright brings us the story of a savvy hunter and the ill-equipped explorer he outwits.

The Girl Who Hated Books (7 min)

This animated short about literacy introduces us to Meena, a young girl who hates books even though her parents love to read. Books are everywhere in Meena’s house, in cupboards, drawers and even piled up on the stairs. Still, she refuses to even open one up. But when her cat Max accidentally knocks down a huge stack, pandemonium ensues and nothing is ever the same again. Part of the Talespinners collection, which uses vibrant animation to bring popular children’s stories from a wide range of cultural communities to the screen.

Asthma Tech (7 min)

In this animated short, young Winston, who suffers from chronic asthma, isn’t able to participate in the everyday activities of his peers and classmates. He copes with the predicament through his vivid imagination, with paper and crayons. On one particularly rainy afternoon, Winston discovers that the magic of imagination has the power to transform and empower, and his skills and talents save the day.

Part of the Talespinners collection, which uses vibrant animation to bring popular children’s stories from a wide range of cultural communities to the screen.

The Chinese Violin (8 min)

In this animated short, a young girl and her father move from China to Canada, bringing only their Chinese violin along for the journey. As they face the challenge of starting fresh in a new place, the music of the violin connects them to the life they left behind and guides the girl towards a musical future. Part of the Talespinners collection, which uses vibrant animation to bring popular children’s stories from a wide range of cultural communities to the screen.

Distant Islands (6 min)

This short animation uses appliqué and embroidered tapestries to recall a young girl’s happy summers spent sailing with her family off the coast of British Columbia. Each tapestry, meticulously stitched by hand with brightly coloured yarns, evokes the memory of leisurely days at sea, drifting among the islands.

 

Sunday, June 21: National Indigenous Peoples Day

This is a day for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First NationsInuit and Métis peoples. The Canadian Constitution recognizes these three groups as Aboriginal peoples, also known as Indigenous peoples.

Although these groups share many similarities, they each have their own distinct heritage, language, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.

In cooperation with Indigenous organizations, the Government of Canada chose June 21st, the summer solstice, for National Aboriginal Day, now known as National Indigenous Peoples Day. For generations, many Indigenous peoples and communities have celebrated their culture and heritage on or near this day due to the significance of the summer solstice as the longest day of the year.

The list of films below provide a snapshot on some of the issues faces by Indigenous peoples, and how they have contributed to Canadian culture and history.

The password to access each film is NIPD.

 

The Mountain of SGaana (10 min)

The Mountain of SGaana spins a magical tale of a young man who is stolen away to the spirit world, and the young woman who rescues him. Haida filmmaker Christopher Auchter’s dream-like gem brilliantly entwines traditional animation with formal elements of Haida art, which are brought to life by a rich, evocative palette and stylized effects. As a young fisherman cruises along a rugged shoreline, a tiny mouse in Haida regalia appears and starts to knit a blanket. A story unfolds on the blanket as it grows longer, illustrating the ancient tale of Haida master sea hunter Naa-Naa-Simgat and his beloved, Kuuga Kuns. When a sGaana (the Haida word for “killer whale”) captures the hunter and drags him down into a supernatural world, the courageous Kuuga Kuns sets off to save him. Will the lovers manage to escape the undersea Mountain of SGaana, or will they, too, become part of the Haida spirit world forever?

Breaths (4 min)

“The North is the place where I feel I’m completely myself.” In this evocative short, Inuit singer-songwriter and humanitarian Susan Aglukark weaves together stories of artistry, family, and belonging as she explores the complex cultural shifts of the last 50 years of Inuit life. Turning her lens on the turbulence of colonial transition, director Nyla Innuksuk examines the forces that shaped Aglukark’s voice and how that voice is now being translated for a new generation of Inuit artists.

Buffy (6 min)

Folk music icon Buffy Sainte-Marie became internationally renowned with her protest song “Universal Soldier.” In this short documentary, she candidly discusses her hopes, creative vision and songwriting skills, as well as her role as an Aboriginal activist. Still a vibrant artist fifty years into her career, she keeps her eyes set on the future.

Urban.Indigenous.Proud: That Old Game La Crosse (8 min)

Long before Canada became a country, every nation on Turtle Island had its own unique version of a stick-ball game. The most popular one on this continent has always been lacrosse, a game that was gifted to the First Nations by the birds and four-legged animals, and played for centuries as a medicine game. This short film explores how the medicine game that has been passed down from generation to generation by the Haudenasaunee at the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre is helping to revive their cultures and restore their communities. Young people have always been at the centre of community for many First Nations societies, and this documentary shares the wisdom of cultivating the spirit of belonging in youth, revealing how this is helping to shape a new future.

Stories from Our Land – If You Want to Get Married… You Have to Learn How to Build an Igloo! (5 min)

In the spirit of the 1949 NFB classic How to Build an Igloo, this film records Dean Ittuksarjuat as he constructs the traditional Inuit home. From the first cut of the snow knife, to the carving of the entrance after the last block of snow has been placed on the roof, this is an inside-and-out look at the entire fascinating process.

Vistas – Little Thunder (3 min)

This animated short, inspired by the Mi’kmaq legend, “The Stone Canoe” explores aboriginal humour. We follow Little Thunder as he reluctantly leaves his family and sets out on a cross-country canoe trip to become a man. Vistas – 13 short films on the theme of “nationhood”. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada and APTN.

Now Is the Time (16 min)

When internationally renowned Haida carver Robert Davidson was only 22 years old, he carved the first new totem pole on British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii in almost a century. On the 50th anniversary of the pole’s raising, Haida filmmaker Christopher Auchter steps easily through history to revisit that day in August 1969, when the entire village of Old Massett gathered to celebrate the event that would signal the rebirth of the Haida spirit.

To Wake Up the Nakota Language (8 min)

“When you don’t know your language or your culture, you don’t know who you are,” says 69-year-old Armand McArthur, one of the last fluent Nakota speakers in Pheasant Rump First Nation, Treaty 4 territory, in southern Saskatchewan. Through the wisdom of his words, Armand is committed to revitalizing his language and culture for his community and future generations.

Our People Will Be Healed (97 min)

Our People Will Be Healed, Alanis Obomsawin’s 50th film, reveals how a Cree community in Manitoba has been enriched through the power of education. The Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre in Norway House, north of Winnipeg, receives a level of funding that few other Indigenous institutions enjoy. Its teachers help their students to develop their abilities and their sense of pride.

Stories from Our Land Vol. 2 – Finding Home (10 min)

This short film chronicles filmmaker Nyla Innuksuk’s emotional journey to Nunavut to connect with the land of her ancestors and with her Inuk father, whom she has not seen in over 20 years. Nyla’s return to her Igloolik birthplace culminates with a lesson on lighting a qulliq, the traditional Inuit oil lamp. Stories from Our Land 2.0 is the latest edition of the NFB’s Indigenous short film inititiative. This edition helped four Inuit youth hone the creative skills and tell their stories, offering viewers insightful perspectives on life in Nunavut.