Challenge for Change

Challenge for Change

Challenge for Change (French: Societé Nouvelle) was a participatory film and video project created by the National Film Board of Canada in 1967, the Canadian Centennial. Active until 1980, Challenge for Change used film and video production to illuminate the social concerns of various communities within Canada, with funding from eight different departments of the Canadian government. The impetus for the program was the belief that film and video were useful tools for initiating social change and eliminating poverty.[1]

In total, the program would lead to the creation of over 140 films and videos across the country, including 27 films by Colin Low about life on Fogo Island, Newfoundland, produced in 1967. These Fogo Island films had an enormous impact on the future direction of the program, and were created thanks to the vision of Newfoundland academic Donald Snowden, who saw a need for a community media project as early as 1965.[1][2]

Started by John Kemeny, Colin Low, Fernand Dansereau and Robert Forget, and later run by George C. Stoney, the Challenge for Change program was designed to give voice to the "voiceless."[1] A key aspect of Challenge for Change was the transfer of control over the filmmaking process from professional filmmakers to community members, so that ordinary Canadians in underrepresented communities could tell their own stories on screen. Community dialogue and government responses to the issues were crucial to the program and took precedence over the "quality" of the films produced.[1][3]

As the program developed, responsibility for the film production was put increasingly into the hands of community members, who both filmed events and had a say in the editing of the films, through advance screenings open only those who were the subjects of the films.

The program was the subject of a 1968 NFB documentary.[4] It was also explored in an episode of the NFB Pioneers series on the Documentary Channel.[5] It is the focus of a collection of essays and archival documents edited by Thomas Waugh, Michael Brendan Baker, and Ezra Winton, Challenge for Change: Activist Documentary at the National Film Board of Canada (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2010).[6]


The Fogo Process

Fogo Island was a watershed moment for Challenge for Change with the "Fogo Process," as it came to be known, becoming a model for using media as a tool for participatory community development.

The idea for the Fogo Process originated in 1965, prior to the start of Challenge for Change, when Donald Snowden, then Director of the Extension Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland was dismayed by the urban focus of the Economic Council of Canada’s "Report on Poverty in Canada." Snowden wanted to produce a series of films to present how the people of Newfoundland felt about poverty and other issues. In 1967, with Challenge for Change already underway, Snowden discussed his ideas with Low and introduced him to the university's Fogo Island field officer Fred Earle.[2]

Low credited Earle with sparking his interest in the project: "I went to Fogo Island mainly because I was impressed by Fred Earle. I had an idea if nothing more happened I could make a film about a fine community development worker who would help justify our involvement." The opening voiceover narration to Introduction to Fogo Island also testifies to his key role, stating that Earle "was born and raised in Fogo Island. He knows, and is known, by all its people.... we, as outsiders, felt that we could never go into such a community without the help of such a person."[7]

In the films, Fogo Islanders identified a number of key issues: the inability to organize, the need for communication, the resentment felt towards resettlement and the anger that the government seemed to be making decisions about their future with no consultation. Low decided to show the films to the people of Fogo and thirty-five separate screenings were held with the total number of viewers reaching 3,000. It became clear that while people were not always comfortable discussing issues with each other face-to-face, they were comfortable explaining their views on film. By watching themselves and their neighbours on screen, islanders began to realize that they were all experiencing the same problems.[2]

There were concerns at Memorial University over the political consequences of criticisms of the government expressed in the films. It was decided that the Premier of Newfoundland and his cabinet should view the films. This had the effect of allowing fishermen to talk to their cabinet ministers. The Minister of Fisheries, Aiden Maloney, also asked to respond to criticisms on film. This facilitated a two-way communication between community members and decision makers. The films contributed to an island-wide sense of community and assisted people in looking for alternatives to resettlement.[2]


Fogo Island

Films created in Fogo Island included the 1967 productions Billy Crane Moves Away, about an inshore fisherman forced to leave home to seek employment in Toronto,[8] and The Children of Fogo Island.[9]

Indian Film Crew

The Indian Film Crew was a pioneering First Nations film program in Challenge for Change. Their credits include the 1969 documentary These Are My People.[7]

Working Mothers Series

A collection of eleven films from 1974-1975 produced and directed by NFB icon Kathleen Shannon. The films focus on ordinary women and capture the contradictions and frustrations of their daily lives.


VTR St-Jacques, directed by Bonnie Sherr Klein, chronicles the efforts of Dorothy Todd Hénaut as she trains community members in video production as they organize themselves to fight the city of Montreal for affordable and accessible medical care. VTR St-Jacques was the first Canadian community-made video and numerous showings across Canada and the U.S. inspired a wealth of similar projects.[1][10]


Snowden went on to apply the Fogo process all over the world until his death in India in 1984.[11]

In 2007, the NFB launched Filmmaker-in-Residence a cross-media project based on the Challenge for Change model, with frontline health care workers, in partnership with St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e Schugurensky, Daniel (2005). "Challenge for Change launched, a participatory media approach to citizenship education". History of Education. The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT). Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  2. ^ a b c d Quarry, Wendy. The Fogo Process: An Experiment in Participatory Communication. 1994: Thesis, University of Guelph. 
  3. ^ Sturken, Marita (January 1984). "An Interview with George Stoney". Video History Project (Afterimage). Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  4. ^ Reid, Bill (1968). "Challenge for Change". Collection. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  5. ^ "NFB Pioneers II: Challenge for Change". Collection. National Film Board of Canada. 2007. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  6. ^ Hays, Matthew (03-04-2010). "Documemories". Montreal Mirror (Communications Gratte-Ciel Ltée). Retrieved 7 March 2010. 
  7. ^ a b White, Jerry (2009). "The NFB's Newfoundland Project". The Radio Eye: Cinema in the North Atlantic, 1958-1988. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. pp. 61. ISBN 978-1-55458-178-8. 
  8. ^ Low, Colin (1967). "Billy Crane Moves Away". Documentary. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  9. ^ Low, Colin (1967). "The Children of Fogo Island". Documentary. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  10. ^ "VTR St-Jacques". Documentary film. National Film Board of Canada. 1969. Retrieved 9 January 2010. 
  11. ^ Lunch, C. (2006, March). Participatory Video as a Documentation Tool. Leisa Magazine, 22, 31-33.
  12. ^ "Filmmaker-In-Residence Project Partners Media and Medicine". News and media (St. Michael's Hospital). Retrieved 2009-10-16. 


  • Challenge for Change: Activist Documentary at the National Film Board of Canada (2010). Thomas Waugh, Michael Brendan Baker, Ezra Winton (eds). Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press.
  • Clifton Moore, Rick (1987). Canada's Challenge for Change: Documentary Film and Video as an Exercise of Power through the Production of Cultural Reality. PhD Thesis, University of Oregon. 
  • Druick, Zoe (2007). Projecting Canada: Government Policy and Documentary Film at the National Film Board of Canada. McGill-Queen's University Press. pp. 126–132. ISBN 978-0-7735-3259-5. 
  • Jones, D.B. (1981)."Challenge for Change: The Artist Nearly abdicates," in Jones, D.B., Movies and Memoranda: An Interpretative History of the National Film Board of Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Film Institute, 157-175.
  • Kurchak, Marie (1977). "What Challenge? What Change"" in S. Feldman & J. Nelson (eds) Canadian Film Reader. Toronto: Peter Martin, 120-127.
  • Low, Colin (1984). "Grierson and 'Challenge for Change,'" in The John Grierson Project, John Grierson and the NFB. Toronto: ECW Press, 111-119.
  • Mackenzie, Scott (1996). "Societe Nouvelle: the Challenge for Change in the alternative public sphere" in Canadian Journal of Film Studies, 5:2, 67-83.
  • Marchessault, Janine (1995). "Reflections on the dispossessed: video and the 'Challenge for Change' experiment", Screen 36:2, 131-146.
  • Marchessault. Jan (1995). "Amateur Video and the Challenge for Change" in J. Marchessault ed. Mirror Machine: Video and Identity. Toronto: YYZ Books.
  • Watson, Patrick (1977). "Challenge for Change" in S. Feldman & J. Nelson (eds) Canadian Film Reader. Toronto: Peter Martin, 112-119.

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