By the early 1960s, television was becoming an increasingly important medium for reaching audiences. More than half of all NFB productions were now being made solely for the small screen. One of these films was Poisons, Pests and People (view an excerpt), broadcast on CBC in February 1960, as part of the network’s Documentary 60 series. The film, about the use of agricultural pesticides, was shown in two parts. Part one focused on the effects of pesticides on plants and animals, while part two looked at the implications for human health.
A Controversial Film
Poisons, Pests and People (view an excerpt) was marked by controversy from the start. In June 1959, director Larry Gosnell completed a script for a film that would vigorously denounce the spraying of insecticides. As originally written, the film’s commentary was very direct and blunt – making the case that insecticides are highly toxic poisons that present a danger to plants, animals and humans. In July 1959, senior NFB management informed Gosnell that his script focused too much on the negative side of the issue, and ordered him to present a more balanced point of view. Gosnell shot a less critical version, which was broadcast on television in 1960. But that wasn’t the end of the controversy. In October 1961, the film was shown at a conference on natural resources, where it was harshly criticized by people from the forestry and agriculture ministries. A few months later, it was pulled from distribution.