Social Issues and the Economy
National Film Board documentaries reflect upon incidents from Canada’s past and show political history as it happens.
The films for this theme are Back-breaking Leaf (1962), Billy Crane Moves Away and Citizen Discussion (1967), Camera on Labour no. 4 (1956), Home Front (1940), Newfoundland, Sentinel of the Atlantic (1945), and Strike in Town (1955). The films deal with a range of social issues. Together they present an interesting mix of documents exemplifying the hot topics, relevant issues, and contrasting viewpoints from periods of Canadian history from World War II to the late 1960s. Many of the issues they raise are still concerns today, so they provide interesting comparisons with the present.
Once again, examine What to Watch For in About the Film for questions about each excerpt.
1. Identifying the issues will encourage students to look closely at the excerpts.
- Watch each excerpt and list the general social and economic issues each covers (such as unemployment, workers' rights, unionization, women's rights, etc.). Note that a film may have more than one potential issue. (You may treat Billy Crane Moves Away and Citizen Discussion together, as they were made as parts of a series on the Fogo Islands, Newfoundland.)
- As a prelude to discussion, have students describe in a sentence or two what each excerpt seems to say about the topic, such as “The Home Front excerpt says that women’s role in the military was to free men to do more important work.” There will be some disagreement among students about how they interpret the excerpts. You may discuss how students infer messages from the films when the messages are not explicitly stated.
- Arrange the excerpts by issues they have in common, and by date. What do they reveal about changes in Canadian society over the periods they cover?
- You may also use the excerpts as jumping-off places to discuss how perceptions have changed (and have remained similar) since the films were made.
2. You may use the films as a springboard to discussions of current social issues.
- After watching and discussing the films in this theme, brainstorm issues that are important today.
- Narrow the list to 4 or 5 most important ones to students in the class.
- For each of those, have students in small groups suggest ideas for some documentaries on the issue. For instance, if an issue is "homelessness," they might suggest the effect it has on youth. If it is "drug addiction," they might suggest a documentary on treatment programs.
- Have each group select one of these ideas to develop further. Have them answer such questions as;
- Who would they film?
- Where would they shoot?
- Who might they interview?
- What would they film (important scenes)?
- What would they try to discover and/or tell the audience?