Veterans Out in NFB Shake-Up

Loc Dao with Stan Douglas during production of Crica 1948

By POV staff

Some major shake-ups happened in Canadian film over the past week. (Pardon the delay in reporting this story. I was away on a family matter last week and only learned of the events yesterday.)

Last Thursday, December 5, the National Film Board of Canada announced a restructuring for “creation and innovation.” The statement released by the NFB noted that under this restructuring, “All 11 NFB studios will be brought together under the umbrella of English Program and French Program, in order to better share expertise and best practices in documentary, auteur animation, and interactive and immersive production.”

Michelle Van Beusekom, formerly Executive Director, Programming and Production of the NFB’s English program

What the report didn’t say, and what POV has learned, is that the restructuring brought the effective and immediate termination of three longtime NFB executives who have significantly contributed to the documentary field: Michelle van Beusekom, Executive Director, English Program (overseeing creative vision and strategy for the 5 english program studios); Michèle Bélanger, Executive Director, French Program (overseeing creative vision and strategy for the 3 french program studios), and Loc Dao, Chief Digital Officer (responsible for platform development). Also let go were Janine Steele, Director of Production & Operations, Digital, and a member of Dao’s Digital Platforms team.

Van Beusekom elucidated the situation via a post on Facebook, which POV has included in full with her permission:

“On Thursday, I was informed that my job as the Director of English Language Program at the NFB – along with those of the French Program Director and three other colleagues – was being eliminated. Effective immediately. It’s been a pretty surreal 48 hours. For 13 years I poured a lot of myself into serving the NFB’s beautiful public mandate of producing meaningful work at the intersection of art and public interest. I have loved that work, although I have grown pretty weary of the politics. And I love the NFB community – the passionate, unruly and deeply committed group of professionals, rebels, artists and dreamers who enact the NFB’s addictively beautiful social and cultural mandate on a daily basis. It’s been an honour and a privilege to do this work. I’m thankful for all that I have learned, for all the incredible people I’ve met and for who I’ve become as a result of those experiences and relationships. A lot of people are reaching out and asking me how I am and I thank you for your kindness, love and support. I’m angry. But I am just fine.”

Michèle Bélanger, formerly Executive Director, Programming and Production of the Board’s French program

The NFB indicated that these responsibilities would now fall under the purview of the Director General, Creation and Innovation. René Bourdages vacated this position this fall in anticipation of his new position as Senior Director, Cultural Portfolio Management with Telefilm Canada effective this December. Bourdages’s position with the NFB has yet to be filled. The responsibilities of the Director General, Creation and Innovation will reportedly be assumed by Mr. Joli-Coeur. This development means that Joli-Coeur now holds both the top positions at the NFB in addition to being the final green light for both French and English production. The implications for a potential backlog in production are significant, as is the opportunity for a diversity of perspectives at management level determining what projects do and do not move forward in Canada’s vital production line.

POV would like to thank the departing NFBers for their contributions to Canada’s film and media scene, and will keep readers apprised of the situation.