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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Watch NFB: Oscar-nominated animated short, What on Earth!

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Editor: Spacing is pleased to showcase films from the NFB’s online screening room. The NFB will be occasionally posting films here that explore our public spaces, Canadian or international cities and anything urban. The NFB is one of Canada’s greatest resources; watch movies for free online at

Check out What on Earth!, an Oscar-nominated animated short from 1966 by Les Drew and Kaj Pindal.

This animated short proposes what many earthlings have long feared – that the automobile has inherited the planet. When life on Earth is portrayed as one long, unending conga-line of cars, a crew of extra-terrestrial visitors understandably assume they are the dominant race.



  1. You should check out this book its similar :
    As The World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Stay In Denial

  2. I’m pretty sure I first saw this short film on The Great Space Coaster. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone who worked on Disney/Pixar’s “Cars” saw it too!

  3. The editor suggests the NFB is “one of Canada’s greatest resources.” My impression is that the NFB has had exactly zero impact on 99.9% of the Canadian population. But that’s as unsupported as the editor’s assertion. Is there any evidence that Canadians watch, care about or even remember anything the NFB produces?

  4. pman, I for one consider NFB films some of the highlights of my childhood. Great stuff, all of it.

  5. Nfb animated shorts had an indelible impact on my childhood, growing up in the late seventies and eighties. Log-Drivers Waltz, the Cat Came Back, the Big Snit, even the more esoteric ones such as Ryan Larkins Walking. They gave me a real sense of Canadian identity. Unforgettable and priceless images i love to this day. There was a very unique feeling about them that was so different from the american shows. Even as a child I felt this. It was familiar and comforting. It felt like my culture and not just watching someone else’s. I know from my friends sharing these animations to this day on facebook and the comments that follow that these films had a tremendous impact on my generation and are deeply loved.

  6. Thank you for finding this! I saw it back in university and for the life of me I couldn’t remember any of the details other than that it was made in the 1960’s. We had an interesting discussion on the role of the automobile in society based on the point of view presented in the film.

    As for the relevance of the NFB, I remember their films fondly from my childhood too. Lately though it seems harder and harder to find them on TV. The CBC used to air them late nights, but that was a few years ago and it seems their programming has since changed. If they became more accessible other than through the odd reference in the Simpsons or South Park then maybe they’d have a bigger impact on younger generations.

  7. Pman, did you even go to school in Canada? Because NFB films were an indelible rite of passage in elementary school classrooms…

  8. OK, so the editor, Kevin, Jeff, Shawn and a Scottish band like the NFB. Does anyone have data? Stuff like viewership, dvd sales, website hits, etc. Even survey results like asking a reasonable sample of people what was the last time they actually watched something produced by the NFB.

    I’ll admit my bias – I’ve never had a single conversation in my adult life about an NFB film, except maybe occasionally mocking Hinterland Who’s Who. On the other hand I’ve been moved by a lot of foreign commercial product like The Wire, The Sopranos, An Education (more recently). But I’d be happy to see some evidence the NFB actually matters to a discernable number of people, so that I wouldn’t feel bad about the total waste of my tax dollars every time I drive past their head office on Boul Met (Montreal naturally).

  9. Not to flog a dead horse – actually I guess I am flogging a dead horse but what the hell – I went to the NFB website which does have some data. The last annual budget I could find there shows 2007 total operating cost of around $76 million and total revenues for the year of around $6 million. I suspect Avatar took in more in Canada over one weekend than the NFB made in the entire year, though I couldn’t break out Canadian box office from the US numbers. In any case, whatever value people put on the NFB’s work, they don’t seem to be willing to pay for it.

  10. I’m completely willing to pay for the NFB via my taxes, as are many Canadians. That’s why it’s been around for so long.

  11. The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. -Oscar Wilde

  12. I think pman is on to something…we should use commercial and populist values alone to determine all decisions. More reality shows and singing competitions and fewer documentaries. Here here.

    In cases like the public square at Yonge and Eglinton we should let property owners commercialize public space (traded previously) with more office rental space and while we’re at it…don’t cars deserve more room…those sidewalks seem poorly used. Heck, that could be a car lane.

    (Sidebar – this seems an odd debate to be having on Spacing’s blog where the wind blows mostly left.)

    I think what may be causing the problem is the confusion between an organization and their output. Head offices can be tough to bear but lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater with populist thinking. A working society needs a variety of inputs including those that don’t have a commercial incentive.

    Finally, I’m reminded of Star Trek’s Ferengi race who were often quoted as saying “If you do this not for money, then why?” and even better their welcome to guests at their homes: “Welcome to our home. Please place your thumbprint on the legal waivers and deposit your admission fee in the slot by the door. Remember, my house is my house.” The guest replies, “As are its contents”.

  13. In addition to all the classic films mentioned above (Logdriver’s Waltz, Cat Came Back, Snit, absolutely everything by Norman McLaren) which have been a part of Canadian culture, the NFB continues to make amazing & important works. Without a moment’s hesitation I immediately thought of a bunch of recent films – Reel Injun, Rip: A Remix Manifesto, Paris 1919, The Examined Life, & Roadsworth: Crossing the Line – wonderful, diverse group of feature length films and that is not even to get into the shorts & animation.

    If you’ve never had a conversation about NFB (past or present) I suggest you find some new friends. Or, better yet, investigate them for yourself (Cinerobotheque in Montreal or online) and start a conversation.

  14. Shawn, I’m happy for your taxes to pay for the NFB but could I at least get a refund?

  15. Pman: Surely you’ll get your NFB refund as soon as I get my refund for paying for a war in Afghanistan I don’t want.

  16. Mork, I think you’re on to something there. I’d suggest that a large part of what the federal government does is simply a waste as far as anyone living in Toronto is concerned.

  17. Now, someone help me with the math. The government of Canada’s expenditures this year will be $280 billion. The NFB comes out to around $70 million, which by my math is .025%. Is that right?

    Then, pman, you’d have to guesstimate your total federal taxes on an annual basis. I would be surprised if it was much more than one dollar.

    I’d say that’s not bad for an organization that has won 12 Oscars and put Canada on the map in animation and documentary, and also led to the founding of IMAX and the cinema verite movement…

  18. Mork, I can be against paying for both the NFB and the Afghan war. In fact I’d argue that most of what the federal government does is detrimental to the people of Toronto.

  19. I could argue a case for NFB until I’m blue in the face, but as long as you keep solely quantitatively measuring something as subjective as the arts, you’re never going to get the full picture.

    “Grown-ups like numbers[…]If you tell grown-ups, “I saw a beautiful red brick house, with geraniums at the windows and doves on the roof…,” they won’t be able to imagine such a house. You have to tell them, “I saw a house worth a hundred thousand francs.” Then they exclaim, “What a pretty house!”
    -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

  20. BTW, I wasn’t trying to take a shot at you there, pman. What I had meant to guesstimate was what share of your federal taxes might have gone to the NFB, not that you only paid a dollar in federal taxes last year! Sorry.