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Candid Eye

Year: 1958 Production Company: National Film Board of Canada

This series of thirteen direct-cinema documentaries, ranging in length from twenty-four to thirty minutes, was produced for television (and telecast on CBC in the fall of 1958 and fall of 1959) by the National Film Board’s Unit B under executive producer Tom Daly. The films were observational, shot on location using lightweight equipment, and (with the exception of the two films focusing on Glenn Gould) emphasized ordinary daily events.

The key filmmakers – Terence Macartney-Filgate, Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor – shared production, direction, editing and cinematography. Others involved included Stanley Jackson (narration, direction), Jim Beveridge and Bruce Parsons (editing), Eldon Rathburn (music) and cinematographers George Dufaux, Gilles Gascon, Reginald Morris, Michel Brault and John Spotton. Frank Orban, George Croll and Ron Alexander handled the sound on most of the films.

Describing the breadth, scope and accomplishments of the Candid Eye films, Martin Knelman, writing in This Is Where We Came In: The Career and Character of Canadian Film, has commented:

With the introduction of mobile, lightweight equipment, documentary filmmaking became exciting in a new way. Canadian artists were starting to be noticed internationally, and the Film Board – led by the famous Candid Eye Unit – earned an important cult following for social documentaries such as Blood and Fire, about the Salvation Army. Claude Jutra began to realize what the Film Board represented outside the country when, on a trip to California, he kept meeting students who would gasp with awe when he mentioned where he worked.

The origins of the Candid Eye approach have been lost in the myths of time. Certainly it developed separately from, and predates, similar approaches in France and the United States. The filmmakers have credited the British Free Cinema films as an influence, but one can find traces of the Candid Eye approach in the Faces of Canada series (1952-54). The influence of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photojournalism – with its emphasis on the ordinary event – is also evident and clearly distinguishes Candid Eye from American direct cinema. Beyond this, Candid Eye can be related to what was later known as observational cinema (with its roots in the approach of Robert Flaherty); at the same time, it can be distinguished from the more analytical use of direct cinema techniques by Quebec filmmakers.