Film Board building a fan base via iPhone

The National Film Board of Canada’s new iPhone application has proven to be a hit beyond this country’s borders, with 40 per cent more people downloading NFB content from abroad than in Canada.

The Cat Came Back is a signature classic animated short from Canada’s National Film Board that has translated over the iPhone as a free download around the world.

MONTREAL — The National Film Board of Canada’s new iPhone application has proven to be a hit beyond this country’s borders, with 40 per cent more people downloading NFB content from abroad than in Canada.

Since its launch on Oct. 21, there have been nearly 80,000 downloads internationally and just over 56,000 in Canada from people seeking out the NFB’s documentaries and animation.

Among the top five on the iPhone are The Cat Came Back, Canada Vignettes: Log Driver’s Waltz and HA-Aki.

The iPhone app is just one of the international successes recorded in the 70th anniversary year of the NFB, the national producer and distributor of films, documentaries, animation and shorts.

Besides looking back at its fabled past, chair Tom Perlmutter said the NFB continued its efforts to position itself solidly in the future by exploring new markets.

“The international response was extraordinary,” Perlmutter said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “We’ve been tremendously well received.”

Besides making the rounds of international festivals and special events to salute the NFB, Perlmutter sat down with decision-makers in a number of countries to craft deals.

Among those was the president of China’s educational broadcaster.

“We’re just starting discussions,” Perlmutter said. “They’re interested in looking at a wide range of things.” Some of those include science-based productions.

The NFB is also working with Cirque du soleil on the film for the Canadian pavillion at Expo 2010 in Shanghai — an experience that has proven to be a revelation for Perlmutter in terms of dealing with the Chinese.

“They said, ‘Can we do it quicker?’ ” Perlmutter said of the Chinese. “In the past (when) we’ve tried to work with the Chinese it was very slow so maybe times are shifting there.”

China was just one of a slew of high-profile showcases for the NFB this year. Others included the screening of “The Strangest Dream,” a documentary on the threat of nuclear weapons, at the United Nations and the European parliament.

Perlmutter, who has been NFB commissioner since 2007, says forging new partnerships domestically and internationally is key to doing business in this increasingly wired world.

“The world is changing,” he said. “We’ve got to think about new ways of doing things.”

And he adds that when the film board goes knocking on foreign doors, it’s giving taxpayers a good bang for the $65 million the government kicks into its coffers.

The board’s political bosses apparently agree that the NFB is an effective salesman for Canada abroad.

“The National Film Board, especially with their online offerings, is a really easy and accessible way to tell our stories not only to Canadians but internationally as well,” said Stephanie Rea, a spokeswoman for Heritage Minister James Moore.

NFB.ca, the board’s retooled website, has had almost 3 million views since it launched a year ago. About 1,700 of the NFB’s 13,000 productions are online and more are constantly being added.

Rea said Moore often praised the board and considered it “a great way to show off Canadian talent and Canadian content around the world.”

Norm Bolen, the president of the Canadian Film and Television Production Association, said Canadians don’t really appreciate how highly regarded the NFB is abroad and how much it is regarded as “a real player in the international marketplace and (as) a model for other countries.”

Bolen, who says he travels extensively as part of his job and is often in Europe, said there is a great deal of awareness of what the NFB is doing, especially with their recent digital innovations.

“The iPhone application is seen as a really progressive move by the NFB, very forward-looking,” he said.

The film board is already mining partnerships with Brazil and Australia.

In Brazil, the NFB signed a three-year co-operation agreement with the Brazilian Culture Ministry’s Audiovisual Secretariat to explore new ways to make and distribute documentaries for multiple platforms.

The film board has already worked with exporting its know-how to Brazil and working with independent producers there.

The NFB has already worked with FilmAustralia to create an experimental series of short documentary and animation films aimed at cellphone and podcast distribution.

The board has also expanded its distribution of educational titles in Haiti, France and the United Kingdom.

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