Reasons to check out the Canada’s National Film Board:
- Streaming movies, many of them in HD.
- Documentaries. Lots of them.
- iPhone app for watching on the go.
- Supporting a nation that doesn’t have that much going on for it.
- All for the price of $Free.99.
There are tons of sweet full-length films on their site (the best government-run media site out there?), but one series on really caught my eye: How Do They…
A collection of shorts on the production of mundane items, they’re superficially similar to (another Canadian production) “How It’s Made.” However, the small differences have such a great effect, the two programs are totally different experiences.
The most apparent difference is the lack of a narrator. Even though the processes are complex, you soon realize narration isn’t necessary. The power of the moving images is far more memorable than the name of some arcane device. Films needn’t be reference books.
Moreover, the narrator’s absence lets the film focus on the revelation of the next step in the process. Ideas unfold to the viewer via graceful editing, not voiceover.
None of these films are compelling to click on based on their titles, but if you do, you’ll be treated to an amazing display. Here’s my favorite (not included in the aforementioned playlist for some reason):
(Interestingly, this was not this director’s last encounter with fences. Try the more abstract “What is… a fence?” for something different.)
One of the most fun things about the shorts is the ambiguity of the target audience and message. For example, take “How do they make potato chips?” Is this an educational film for elementary schoolers? An exposé of what monstrous machines our fancy for convenience produced? An exaltation to human progress rising above mundane labor? Nothing at all and just for the curious?
“How It’s Made” is far from worthless. Not only can it be very interesting, it can be pretty fun to watch if you learn the “How It’s Made” drinking game, played thusly:
Drink every time the narrator says:
- a number
- the word “machine”
TV show redeemed.