Tom Perlmutter is stepping down as National Film Board chair and government film commissioner effective the end of this year, it was announced in a statement issued by the NFB Dec. 10.

The news comes as a surprise to many in the Canadian film community -- who lit up social media hubs as word of the resignation spread -- as Perlmutter's second five-year term as commissioner of the was not set to end until 2017.

Perlmutter, who joined the NFB in 2001 as director general of its English program, will stay on as a strategic advisor. Assistant commissioner Claude Joli-Coeur will serve as interim commissioner during the appointment process for Perlmutter's successor, which will start in 2014 .

In the statement, Perlmutter said he has been searching for a way to step back from the day-to-day responsibilities of the high-profile job to focus on thinking and writing about long-term issues affecting the art and public culture organizations.

"My deep engagement with the profound changes of the digital revolution made me acutely aware of how necessary it is to create a new framework of ideas for the ways in which we will need to think of, work in and finance cultural activities in the public sector," stated Perlmutter, who will begin work on two books next year. "This is an ambitious undertaking which I believe I am uniquely qualified to take on and which I am convinced is fundamental to the future well-being of the country and its cultural agencies. But it is not something that can be done as an adjunct to my current work."

Shortly after taking the NFB's top job in 2007, Perlmutter initiated an ambitious digital transformation that coincided with a time of government cutbacks and funding freezes to major public cultural orgs. In addition to overseeing the digitization of the entire NFB film collection, and the creation of a free digital screening room and popular mobile apps, Perlmutter pushed for the studio to become a leader in transmedia production and storytelling: to date NFB projects have won seven Webbys and the studio has ongoing interactive projects with the New York Times and The Guardian.

At the 2013 Hot Docs festival, Perlmutter announced the NFB plans to launch a documentary subscription service via private-public partnerships.

After last year's government budget cuts, Perlmutter shuttered public screenings rooms in Toronto and Montreal, and laid off more than 70 staff across the country.

Founded in 1939, the NFB receives an annual government grants of around CAN$67-million ($63 million) and earns $6.5 million each year from film and catalog sales, rentals and other transactional activities. The NFB produces docs, animation, experimental features and transmedia, often co-producing projects with independent companies and with other countries.

With his latest strategic plan well embedded, Perlmutter says, "I have the confidence that the seasoned core management team and staff can implement the ongoing changes necessary to ensure the NFB's continued growth and leadership in innovation and creativity."

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