Would you believe me if I told you that, in the heart of the downtown Toronto entertainment district, there is a movie theatre that offers 5,000 films for viewing, all for free and on-demand?
Well, it’s true. At the intersection of Richmond and John is the NFB Mediatheque, a cinema and multimedia centre that provides thousands of Canadian documentaries and animated films to watch, free of charge. In addition, the centre also organizes weekly and monthly special events that include film screenings, panel discussions, and animation workshops, all for minimal fees.
The Mediatheque is operated by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), our country’s own film producer and distributor. They’ve been making films for over 70 years, with a focus on classroom education, innovative and experimental animation pieces, as well as timely documentaries on social and environmental issues. According to their website, the NFB has won 12 Oscars and more than 90 Genies, including “Ryan” by Chris Landreth, the Oscar winner for Best Animated Short in 2004.
My own experiences with the Mediatheque will give you an idea of the range of films the NFB produces. My first exposure to the centre was through their Green Screens program, which screens documentaries that deal with environmentalism and provides panel discussions with directors and producers after screenings. More recently, I watched a 70-minute documentary on the Trans-Canada highway, an 8-minute French animated short about an asthmatic boy who turns to drawing comics for solace, and another animated short on Aboriginal spirits and storytelling.
There are two ways to enjoy the NFB film collection. The first and best way is to use the free Digital Viewing Station in the Mediatheque. All you have to do is go up to the front desk and ask a staff member about it. They will then give you an access code to input into the touch screen at a Digital Viewing Station. From there, you sit down and use the touch screen to search and play any of the 5,000 NFB films available.
The second way to view the films is online, at nfb.ca. Like the Digital Viewing Stations, the movies are free and on-demand, although the collection is smaller, at around 1,800 films.
If I had to pick a reason why I love the Mediatheque so much, it would be because it combines (free) entertainment with education. The documentaries and animated works are as full of drama and humour as the Hollywood productions playing across the street. At the same time, however, you get to learn about Canadian history, Aboriginal culture, French language, or countless other social, economic and environmental topics. To top it off, it’s all very affordable. So if you’re looking for a free, fun, and enriching weekend activity, with your family or your date, I highly suggest dropping by the NFB Mediatheque.
- 150 John St., at Richmond St. W.
By subway: exit at Osgoode. From the station, head west on Queen St. W until you hit John St., then head South until you reach Richmond St. W. The Mediatheque is across the street from the Scotiabank Theatre.
By car: Street parking on Queen St. W. is probably your best bet. There are parking lots along Richmond St. W., but be aware that it is a one-way street.
- Monday: Closed
- Tuesday and Wednesday: 12 pm – 7 pm
- Thursday to Saturday: 12 pm – 10 pm
- Sunday: 12 pm – 5 pm