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NFB's animator Norman McLaren's works join UNESCO's

30 July 2009

The remarkable audiovisual legacy of National Film Board of Canada animation pioneer Norman McLaren has been added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Memory of the World Registry.

Created by UNESCO in 1992, the Memory of the World Register identifies and lists the most significant documentary heritage collections in the world, including such eminent works as the Gutenberg Bible and the original manuscript of the Ninth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven.

82 films and 52 film tests completed by McLaren between 1933 and 1985 have been entered into the registry – including McLaren’s Academy Award-winning, 1952, anti-war classic, Neighbours.

The nomination was made by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada, which had itself selected Neighbours as one of its first three film “Masterworks” in 2000, along with McLaren’s Begone Dull Care in 2005.

“Norman McLaren showed the world the power of animation as a means of serious social commentary, making a contribution to world art that cannot be overestimated. The National Film Board of Canada is proud that his great legacy has been added to the Memory of the World Register, just as we’re dedicated to ensuring that Norman’s genius and social conscience reach the widest possible audience,” said Tom Perlmutter, Government Film Commissioner and NFB Chairperson.

“The Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada must be congratulated for having put forward Norman McLaren’s body of work to be inserted in the Memory of the World list of documentary masterpieces,” commented Jean-Pierre Wallot, the President of the ad hoc committee for the Memory of the World Program set up by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. “McLaren’s works have impacted on animation cinema and even art across the world. But the significance of Neighbours, a National Film Board of Canada production, is as prevalent today as in 1952: Countries, factions and terrorists wage wars all over the world with terrible collateral damage upon millions of innocent victims. This simple and short parable of a mortal fight over a flower illustrates the violence brought about by passions for power, for possession, for ideologies, etc. that shred our world. It calls eloquently for peace, for dialogue, for sharing, for working out differences in all kinds of situations. In that sense – and of course also because of its technical brilliance – it is an icon of exceptional universal value. We can only hope that Canadians will identify more of these treasures that grace our country and submit proposals to the Memory of the World Program, adding to the treasure trove of humanity.”

“The Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada is elated that Norman McLaren’s works will join the UNESCO Memory of the World Register alongside The Story of the Kelly Gang (Australia), The Battle of the Somme (United Kingdom), Metropolis (Germany) and The Wizard of Oz (United States),” said David Novek, President of the AV Trust. “McLaren’s films have long been honoured universally, and UNESCO’s recognition now places his masterpiece on a par with the world’s most enduring works, underlining the AV Trust’s mandate to assure that Canada’s audiovisual heritage is preserved and accessible for generations to come.”

Support for the AV Trust’s nomination of the collection came from such distinguished bodies as the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the British Film Institute, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Film Studies Association of Canada, the Canadian Chapter of the International Animated Film Association, the Concordia University Film Studies Department and the Association of Moving Image Archivists.

The McLaren collection is just the third Canadian entry into the Memory of the World registry, which also includes the Hudson’s Bay Company Archival records and the Quebec Seminary Collection, from 1623–1800.

Norman McLaren (April 11, 1914 to January 27, 1987) was one the most influential figures in film animation, creating an extraordinary body of work and continuing to inspire generations of filmmakers. He was also deeply involved with UNESCO, through his pioneering UNESCO-sponsored missions to teach animation in China (1949) and India (1952) for use in promoting public health and education.

In 2006, the NFB marked the 65th anniversary of NFB animation with an ambitious restoration of the complete works of Norman McLaren, from his early years in Glasgow in 1933 to his final film with the NFB in 1983, including experiments, tests and outtakes. These restored classics were released as part of a 7-DVD box entitled Norman McLaren – The Master's Edition, which received the Focal Award for Best Archive Restoration or Preservation Project. A theatrical retrospective of McLaren’s films also toured Canadian and international cities.

Neighbours and other McLaren classics can be viewed, free of charge, at the National Film Board of Canada’s online Screening Room,

About the National Film Board of Canada

The world changes, our stories live on – that’s the National Film Board of Canada’s pledge to Canadians as it marks its 70th anniversary in 2009 with a new national online Screening Room and a slate of bold, innovative productions. Canada’s public film producer and distributor, the NFB produces and distributes social-issue documentaries, auteur animation, alternative drama and digital content that provide the world with a unique Canadian perspective. In collaboration with its international partners and co-producers, the NFB is expanding the vocabulary of 21st-century cinema and breaking new ground in form and content, through community filmmaking projects, cross-platform media, interactive cinema, stereoscopic animation – and more. Since the NFB’s founding in 1939, it has created over 13,000 productions and won over 5,000 awards, including 12 Oscars and more than 90 Genies. To watch over 1000 productions online or for more information, visit