War and Peace
During the Second World War, NFB documentaries informed and inspired Canadians and audiences around the world. These documentaries offer a unique vantage point on the wartime experience at home and on the front.
All of the films under this theme come from the NFB's work during the Second World War. They are Break-through (1944), The Gates of Italy (1943), Heroes of the Atlantic (1941), Inside Fighting Canada (1942), Proudly She Marches (1943) and The War for Men's Minds (1943). Other films in Documentary Lens were also made during the war, and are useful in a survey of wartime Canada. Look in the What to Watch For section of About the Film for questions pertaining to individual excerpts and their places within the NFB's wartime programs.
NFB films reached a wide audience during the Second World War. There were two main series: Canada Carries On and The World in Action. Canada Carries On was about Canadian achievements: "what Canadians need to know and think about if they are going to do their best by Canada and themselves," according to John Grierson, who founded the NFB. The World in Action looked at broader issues: "primarily with the relation of local strategies to larger world ones." Films from The World in Action often made use of footage from newsreel companies, the Canadian, U.S. and British militaries, and film captured from enemy sources. In Canada, NFB films circulated in theatres, public libraries, and 85 rural circuits, reaching 250,000 Anglophones and Francophones a month. Overseas, the NFB documentaries appeared in 25 countries—in over 6000 theatres in the U.S. alone. In 1945, the NFB made over 250 films.
1. As part of a unit on Canadian history during World War II, use the excerpts as documents of Canada and Canadians during the war years.
- Sort the films in this section, as well as Home Front (in Social Issues and the Economy), Front of Steel, Land For Pioneers, Trans-Canada Express, Voice of Action and When Asia Speaks (in Politics and History) by year.
- With examples for each year, list important points that the films make about the war effort at home and abroad, as well as critical events in the war. There may be a number of points in each excerpt. Note that even the films that treat domestic subjects often have a wartime "agenda" about the use of human and natural resources, industry and trade for the war effort.
- As a summary, students might describe what it might be like to be a high school student during the war years. What would one learn in a civics class, based on the information they've received in the films? What values would they be encouraged to share? Would they feel pride in Canadian accomplishments or a sense of national purpose? Would they feel pressured to believe certain things and to act in certain ways? Would they feel that their freedoms were constricted?
2. The Gates of Italy and The War for Men's Minds treat broad historical issues. The Gates of Italy shows the rise of Mussolini and fascism in Italy after the First World War, while The War for Men's Minds shows how governments use propaganda to control information to win popular support to their causes.
- Discuss the purposes of the films. Why was it important to present these subjects in the middle of the war years?
- How does the treatment of the subjects indicate what the filmmakers want us to believe and how to feel about the subjects? Look at such film techniques as the use of narration, the pace of the cutting, and the use of music to create emotional reaction. (See also Activity 2 under Politics and History for a discussion of propaganda.)