British Life on Film: History and the Film Archives

I love the BFI’s BRITAIN ON FILM website and all the fab material held in the regional archives which it showcases. So much so that I’ve organised a little symposium about it, which invites folk who have discovered films there and gone on to do research on the films themselves or the events/people/organisations they depict, to come and present their findings. It’s happening on Saturday and you can sign up via Eventbright (it’s free). Replacing the call for papers previously posted here, I’m publishing the programme for the day, and the abstracts…. (you’ll find the original call for papers at the very bottom.)

British Life on Film: History and the Film Archives

A One Day Symposium on Sat 11th May 2019

Lucas Lecture Theatre, King’s College London, Strand WC2R 2LS

In this one-day symposium we seek to make contact with researchers from any discipline, whose work has been informed by an encounter with archive films made available online.

Session One – Creative practice

10.00 – 10.30:  Angela English – Creative Practice with Archive Film: Microhistories, Locality and identity. 30mins

10.30 – 10.50: Marc Bosward – Wales on Film: Memory, Identity, Politics. 20mins

10.50 – 11.20: Tania Chan – on the Deep Memory Pier project and the image of Hong Kong. 30mins

11.20 – 11.30: Discussion

11.30 – 12.00  COFFEE BREAK (Room S-1.27)

Session Two – Amateur/Commercial

12.00 – 12.20: Lucie Dutton – When the Archive meets the Feature Film: David Lloyd George’s Motor Parade 20mins

12.20 – 12.40: Zoe Viney – Profiling the man with the movie Camera: exploring gender and class in the amateur collection of Wessex Film & Sound Archive 1920-1950. 20mins

12.40 – 1.10: Martin Cook & Martina Attille – Reflections on the work of Betty Cook. 30mins

1.10 – 1.30: Discussion

1.30 -2.30 LUNCH (not provided)

Session Three – Pedagogy/Programming

2.30 – 2.50: Kulraj Phullar – British Asians and Anti-Racism: In and With the Archive. 20mins

2.50 – 3.10: Ranjit S. Ruprai – Turbans Seen on Screen: Using online film archives to supplement cultural cinema exhibition. 20mins

3.10 – 3.30: Shane O’Sullivan – Archives for Education. 20mins

3.30 – 3.40 – Discussion

3.40 – 4.00 COFFEE BREAK (Room S-1.27)

Session Four – Political/Activist/Instructional

4.00 – 4.30: Stephanie Cattigan – ‘The right Film for the Job’: How the SFC’s Industrial Panel (1946-1976) promoted the use of film in the post WW2 Scottish workplace. 30mins

4.30 – 4.50: George Legg – Monotony and Control: Re-Viewing Incarceration during the Northern Irish Troubles. 20mins

4.50 – 5.20: Hannah Hamad – Give Us A Smile (1983): Feminist Activist Filmmaking at the Leeds Animation Workshop in the post-‘Ripper’ Years. 30mins

5.20 – 5.30: Discussion

[Short Comfort Break]

Session Five – Plenary

5.35-6.00 Plenary: Using the film Archives in Teaching and Research

Chris O’Rourke, Patrick Russell, Clare Watson and the audience in a general discussion.

ABSTRACTS

Session One – Creative practice

10.00 – 10.30:  Angela English – Creative Practice with Archive Film: Microhistories, Locality and identity. 30mins

10.30 – 10.50: Marc Bosward – Wales on Film: Memory, Identity, Politics. 20mins

10.50 – 11.20: Tania Chan – on the Deep Memory Pier project and the image of Hong Kong. 30mins

11.20 – 11.30: Discussion

Angela English: Creative Practice with Archive Film: Microhistories, Locality and Identity.

My research local archive film has taken place in peripheral spaces around cities asking the question what is meant when we say this material has cultural value for public history and memory and also what would ‘value’ mean in this context.

This paper is an exploration of the findings of my audience study in four New Towns on the periphery of London, working with volunteers on a project to find creative ways of using film from regional film archives with community audiences.  I will explore issues of accessibility, identity and audience perceptions/expectations and how to discover local ‘microhistories’ through archive film.This research was informed by Samuel (1994) and his view that history ‘wells up from the lower depths’ (p.4) and his description of ‘history from below’ (p.20) which includes local history collections as important repositories of history (p.17).

Films

Stevenage Comes of Age (1967) 7 mins BFI Player

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-stevenage-comes-of-age-1967-online

Stevenage the 1st New Town (1971) 20 mins EAFA (6 min extract)

http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/2431

Marc Bosward Wales on Film: Memory, Identity, Politics 

The paper will present a practice-based project that addresses the history of South Wales through the materials held at the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales. Informed by critical realism, the work investigates the capacity of collage methods in negotiating archive film to uncover marginalised aspects of the past that are obscured by dominant narratives. Consistent with the fluid, plural conditions of memory and identity, the research regards archive footage as a site of malleable social meanings that are contingent on varying contexts of appropriation, recontextualisation and reception.

In contrast to conventional documentary representation, the practice is underpinned by the argument that alternate, experimental strategies that foreground layering, fragmentation and ambiguity are better suited to represent the complexities of history. The project asks if a deeper understanding of the past can be apprehended through the construction and mediation offered by the vocabularies of archive film and collage.

Films include

Pontypridd wedding 1963

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-a-spring-wedding-the-11th-of-march-1963-1963-online

Pontypridd Armistice Day Parade and Service 1952 and Coronation Festivities 1953

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-pontypridd-armistice-day-parade-and-service-1952-and-coronation-festivities-1953

Alaw Nursery School in Trealaw Rhondda 1949

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-way-of-life-1949-online

Flat Rolled Products of Richard Thomas & Baldwins Limited 1960

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-flat-rolled-products-of-richard-thomas-baldwins-limited-1960-online

Mountains are their Home, A record of the birdlife of the Ystradfellte area 1964

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-mountains-are-their-home-1964-online

August shows in south Wales 1946

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-peterston-super-ely-july-26th-1946-online

Valleys boy escapes as architect to London 1970

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-phoenix-magazine-1970-online

Whitsun Fetes & Galas at Cyfarthfa Castle 1951

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-whitsun-fetes-galas-at-cyfarthfa-castle-merthyr-1951-online

Tania Chan – on the Deep Memory Pier project and the image of Hong Kong

Deep Memory Pier is an experimental documentary science-fiction, archive, and local epic rolled into one.  The aim of this project is to help forge and consolidate a local sense of identity and community through shared memories as well as experiences. After living and working with local people in the Sham Shui Po neighbourhood for the past 5 years, we observed how Hong Kong’s “Asia’s World City” branding and identity neglects many of the specificities of less fancy narratives, leaving them behind in the name of a globalised modernity.
We have been collecting private audiovisual materials, mostly unpublished, by local home-movie makers. Little by little, we began to be able to articulate the message we wanted to express, choosing carefully, frame by frame, from numerous images of family films. We started selecting and working from many archives for the film, looking for stories in which the private dimension of a character’s life emergedwithin the collective history represented by archival material. We want to use images as a fictional object, aimed at enlarging the scope of an individual history, giving it an epic tone. In our presentation, we would love to chronicle our attempt to find a local home-movie archive where we could get materials for our movie. Unsuccessful, we finally had to build one ourselves, and in the process, we’re surprised by the amount of memorabilia local Hongkongers were able to gather. We will also touch upon the concept of ‘micro-histories’ and myth through the re-discovery of those materials.

Deep Memory Pier Teaser (2018)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnomU–Scuk&feature=youtu.be  

Session Two – Amateur/Commercial

12.00 – 12.20: Lucie Dutton – When the Archive meets the Feature Film: David Lloyd George’s Motor Parade 20mins

12.20 – 12.40: Zoe Viney – Profiling the man with the movie Camera: exploring gender and class in the amateur collection of Wessex Film & Sound Archive 1920-1950. 20mins

12.40 – 1.10: Martin Cook & Martina Attille – Reflections on the work of Betty Cook. 30mins

1.10 – 1.30: Discussion

Lucie Dutton – When the Archive meets the Feature Film: David Lloyd George’s Motor Parade

Maurice Elvey’s The Life Story of David Lloyd George (1918) – a hagiographical biography of the serving Prime Minister – features five actors who played Lloyd George from babyhood to adulthood. Norman Page, who played him as an adult, reportedly studied Lloyd George’s mannerisms to create his convincing portrait; important given that the man himself was familiar through his frequent newsreel appearances.

Elvey’s film was withdrawn before release, amid questions about the Prime Minister’s support for the project. But within the film there is proof of this support: a motor parade in which Lloyd George himself appears. Was the sequence filmed especially for the film? Or was the parade commandeered by Elvey? Footage in the BFI’s Britain on Film – backed up by British Pathé newsreel – provided answers. This paper will explore this meeting of newsreel and feature film footage, and what it tells us about the production history and political context of Elvey’s film.

Films

Through the Tunnel into Perfect Daylight (5 mins – 3.5 min extract)

https://streaming.britishpathe.com/hls-vod/flash/00000000/00072000/00072796.mp4.m3u8

The Premier at Neath (3.5 mins – 1 min extract)

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-the-premier-at-neath-1918-online

The Life Story of David Lloyd George (1 min extract)

https://www.library.wales/digital-exhibitions-space/digital-exhibitions/david-lloyd-george-film-clips/the-life-story-of-david-lloyd-george/

Zoe Viney: Profiling the man with the movie camera: exploring gender and class in the amateur film collection of Wessex Film & Sound Archive (WFSA) 1920-1950

Of the 38,000 strong collection of Wessex Film & Sound Archive there are 12,000 reels of cinefilm; the majority of which have been produced by amateurs.  Minimal research has been undertaken that examines the personal status and social context of these filmmakers and how this impacted on their output. The biographical data that has been recorded is patchy and inconsistent.

Working with archives presents a complex challenge, and no one archive collection is the same – but there are aspects of commonality. The content of collections may be different but our knowledge of the filmmakers themselves is often similarly fragmented and disjointed. Through analysing the social position of amateurs we hope to begin to establish how the work of individuals contributes to the construction of a regional collective identity. Can profiling this group of individuals help shape the future of collecting practice?

Martin Cook & Martina Attille – Reflections on the work of Betty Cook

Presenters: Martin Cook, son of Betty Cook. Martina Attille, independent filmmaker.

An exploratory discussion about the Cook family’s experience of donating their private collection to a national archive, and the general accessibility of this acquisition in a digitally fluid media environment. Betty Cook was president of Cleveland Cine Club and North East Cine Society. She is variously described online as a ‘prolific filmmaker’, a ‘Cleveland camera woman’, and ‘immersed in local amateur film production’. Her work spans three decades from the 1960’s.

Using extracts from Betty Cook’s diary, this unique conversation addresses themes including a mother’s legacy, amateur cine society culture and the relevance of thinking about Betty Cook as a cultural ambassador for her region. BFI Player’s Britain on Film collection combined with regular visits to Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art’s Community Thursdays have contributed to Attille’s ongoing enquiry into the complexities of being and belonging in the UK.

Films

Christmas Greeting, 1983, 7 min 34

http://www.yorkshirefilmarchive.com/film/christmas-greetings

Teeside Inauguration Procession, 1968, 3 min 51

http://www.yorkshirefilmarchive.com/film/teesside-inauguration-procession 

Session Three – Pedagogy/Programming

2.30 – 2.50: Kulraj Phullar – British Asians and Anti-Racism: In and With the Archive. 20mins

2.50 – 3.10: Ranjit S. Ruprai. 20mins

3.10 – 3.30: Shane O’Sullivan – Archives for Education. 20mins

3.30 – 3.40 – Discussion

Kulraj Phullar – British-Asians and Anti-Racism – In and With the Archive

Feature films are privileged within Film Studies research and teaching. This can result in narrow and partial histories, particularly in the case of British people of colour. This paper considers how online digital archives – here the BFI Player – can facilitate more inclusive and nuanced understandings of British history and British-Asian representation.

Against the backdrop of this year’s 40th anniversary of the Southall uprising I will outline the presence of anti-racist activism in BFI Player films. I will then focus on Gay Black Group (1983), about a London support group for gays and lesbians of colour. How do these examples enable us to contextualise and think more critically about the British-Asian identities, experiences and stories that make it into feature-length films. Can histories of anti-racism allow us to move beyond “diversity” to centre social justice – within our research and classrooms. Can these histories inform activism in our contemporary contexts?

Films

Gay Black Group (1983) 25 mins – short extract

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-gay-black-group-1983-online

The Day that Changed the Face (1980) 24 mins – short extract

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-the-day-that-changed-the-face-1980-online

Ranjit S. Ruprai – Turbans Seen on Screen: Using online film archives to supplement cultural cinema exhibition

Turbans Seen On Screen (TSOS) is a regular film screening featuring notable characters wearing turbans. Online film archives play an important role in the research behind and programming of these film events, particularly in addressing themes of Sikh representation and authenticity on screen. Are the general public using online film archives directly to uncover their own stories, particularly those from the margins? What role can cultural film exhibition play in making these stories of British life truly accessible and engaging to new audiences?

In this presentation, I will outline how TSOS came about and the process I undertake for each event. I will discuss my use of specific British film archives and how online access facilitates my research. Finally, I will use examples of specific films relating to the British Sikh experience to demonstrate how a direct connection can be forged between forgotten archive footage and contemporary oral history.

Films

Look East: James Bond (1982) East Anglian Film Archive

http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/9492

This Week: Sikhs (1966) BFI Player

https://player.bfi.org.uk/rentals/film/watch-sikhs-1966-online

Sikh Matron (1985) BFI Player (Media Archive for Central England)

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-sikh-matron-1985-online

Shane O’Sullivan – Archives for Education

The Archives for Education project makes available 39 documentaries on British life and history from the BFI National Archive and BBC Archive for creative reuse by student filmmakers on course-related projects in universities across the UK. After a successful pilot at Kingston University in 2017 led by filmmaker and academic, Dr. Shane O’Sullivan, access to 12 films from the BFI National Archive was rolled out nationally and 27 films from BBC Archive have recently been added to the scheme.

This rich and diverse collection of films is now available to students and educators at universities across the UK through educational licensing agreements with the BFI and BBC. Fifteen universities are currently signed up to the scheme. My paper explores how students can creatively respond to this archive material by creating films inspired by and including extracts from British film history. How do students connect key films from the British documentary tradition with their lives today? And what rights issues need to be negotiated for such a scheme?

www.archivesforeducation.com 

Session Four – Political/Activist/Instructional

4.00 – 4.30: Stephanie Cattigan – ‘The right Film for the Job’: How the SFC’s Industrial Panel (1946-1976) promoted the use of film in the post WW2 Scottish workplace. 30mins

4.30 – 4.50: George Legg – Monotony and Control: Re-Viewing Incarceration during the Northern Irish Troubles. 20mins

4.50 – 5.20: Hannah Hamad – Give Us A Smile (1983): Feminist Activist Filmmaking at the Leeds Animation Workshop in the post-‘Ripper’ Years. 30mins

5.20 – 5.30: Discussion

Stephanie Cattigan – “The Right Film for the Job”: How the SFC’s Industrial Panel (1946-1976) promoted the use of film in the post-WII Scottish workplace. 

The Glasgow-based Industrial Panel was a Scottish Film Council initiative that brought together representatives from industry, film and education in the interest of promoting film as a useful tool in the post-WWII Scottish workplace. Bookended by two periods of industrial disruption or decline, the Panel’s activities in the period demonstrate a commitment to the ideals of modernity that suggested film would play a leading role in enabling social change and contributing to national identity and productivity.

Using the paper and film collections at the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive, my research explores an overlooked side of Scottish industrial life on film that has been overshadowed by the Grierson documentaries of the 1930s. My talk will focus on my experience working with film collections in the archive and online, as well reflecting on the self-referential nature of my PhD project which seeks to construct a cultural history of the Panel using the very same film library that its members used in their mission to utilise film for the purposes of industrial training, welfare and promotion.

Films:

The Cine Camera in Industry (circa 1953/4). NB Not online https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/0476?search_term=cine%20camera%20industry&search_join_type=AND&search_fuzzy=yes

Steel and Engineering (circa 1960)

https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/0154

Hannah Hamad – Give Us a Smile (1983): Feminist Activist Filmmaking at the Leeds Animation Workshop in the post-‘Ripper’ Years

Give Us a Smile is a short drawn animation completed in 1983 at the Leeds Animation Workshop [LAW] as a critical response to the cultures of misogyny that characterised 1970s and 1980s Britain. It is an important part of the cultural history of second wave feminism in the UK, and a vivid example of filmmaking as activism.

LAW is a West Yorkshire based cooperative of women filmmakers and animators founded in 1978, which continues to operate today, producing and distributing animated films for social education purposes. It characterises itself as “a dynamic independent non-profit feminist collective organization making films about violence against women, imperialism, sexism, racism, equality at work, child care [and] sexuality,” among other things that differently concern social justice and social inequalities.

Speaking about how and when Give us a Smile was conceived, LAW founder member and filmmaker Terry Wragg has directly situated the genesis of the film in relation to the contextual backdrop of the so-called ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ murders and assaults of women, perpetrated by serial killer Peter Sutcliffe from the mid-1970s until his apprehension in 1981. She thus situates it as responsive to the gendered cultures of fear, misogyny, and policing of the behaviour and actions of women, which characterised responses to the killings in the local area, especially in Leeds. Sequences from the film have been made available online via Vimeo and YouTube by members of the cooperative, but not the film in its entirety. One of the reasons for this, is that sales of the DVD continue to play an important part in funding the ongoing activities of the workshop, where the film’s negative resides as part of the LAW archive.

Film

Give Us a Smile (1983)

George Legg – Monotony and Control: Re-Viewing Incarceration during the Northern Irish Troubles

A lot happened in Northern Ireland during 1971. The Northern Irish census was disrupted through a series of protests; the IRA embarked on a bombing campaign that targeted commercial property; and, in August of that year, internment without trail was introduced. Sensitivities around data collection and changes within the structure of the Northern Irish economy ensured that internment became a necessary means by which the North could transition into what Gilles Deleuze has termed a ‘society of control’. Focusing on Chris Reeves’ documentary H Block Hunger Strike, this paper charts how the carceral spaces of the internment camp, and later the notorious H-Block prison, were integral to first establishing and then subverting these vectors of social control. While the H-Block crisis has been the subject of feature length films – Steve McQueen’s 2008 Hunger, Terry George’s 1996 Some Mother’s Son, Les Blair’s 2001 H3 – my paper demonstrates how the oral histories that structure Reeves’ documentary can offer fresh insights on what is, arguably, an overanalysed moment in British history. Of particular importance are the interviews Reeves conducts with the Relatives Action Committee. Hitherto these voices have been confined to archival documents, but with their stories made visible it possible to understand how internment was – contrary to its colonial origins – a porous mode of incarceration: ‘a conveyor belt system’ to use one of the interviewee’s terminology. Internment operations entered residential streets, family homes, and individual bedrooms. Consequently – far from being the unmitigated disaster historical accounts have suggested – internment can be understood as a crude attempt to construct a broad “data bank” through which potentially dissident populations could be “managed”. As the majority of internees were male, the documentary’s attention to their dependents also privileges the female experience of this operation. With the army raiding domestic arenas, the front line of the Troubles shifted into new gendered spaces – triggering, in turn, new forms of resistance. Drawing on Reeves’s documentary, this paper illustrates how such resistance established circuits of counter-control that mimicked, but also subverted, the Army’s new tactics. These resistances had a direct bearing on the H-Block design, and the paper concludes by asserting that the architecture of this new prison was deliberately conceived to circumvent the modes of communal resistance internment had produced. Ultimately, this transition is confirmed by the very form of the documentary itself; its choice of visuals, its framing techniques, and its dialogue, all give a tangible shape to specific carceral transformations that have hitherto passed unnoticed in histories of the Troubles.

Films

H Block Hunger Strike 1980

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-h-block-hunger-strike-1980-online

Session Five – Final Plenary

5.35-6.00 Plenary: Using the film Archives in Teaching and Research

Chris O’Rourke, Clare Watson, Patrick Russell, the presenters and audience in a general discussion

END

 

See here for Stephen Morgan’s report on the event for the IAMHIST blog:

http://iamhist.net/2019/06/report-british-life-film-history-film-archive-symposium/?fbclid=IwAR3eAV2VRB641FZm8X8KCCLiBXeXkvySv9gEyjPpAOmQs745n6wzuZ9YbYQ

 

[below is the original call for papers]

Over the past ten years developments in digital online platforms have made moving-image evidence of life in Britain from 1895 onwards more accessible than ever before. Thanks to websites such as the BFI’s flagship ‘Britain on Film’ and the online catalogues of the network of national and regional film archives operating throughout the UK, a wealth of moving-image material is now available to professional historians, students, amateur and local historians, independent researchers, and interested members of the general public. This moving-image evidence of the past includes home movie and amateur footage, short documentaries or dramas, training and information films, political activist film-making, advertising and propaganda material, local television news segments and features, experimental, artistic and avant-garde productions.

  • Who is watching this newly accessible material and how are they using it in their everyday lives?
  • What impact has access to such material had on researchers of C20th British life?
  • What are the ethical and practical issues of online access for film and television archives – and for researchers?
  • How are these films being used by historians and other researchers, either as research evidence or as teaching tools?
  • What new directions of enquiry or methodology does such moving image material open up to researchers?
  • In what ways can local histories, and histories of specific communities and identity formations, be informed by this material?

We invite proposals for talks of 20 minutes which reflect on questions such as those above, or which report on research which has made use of film material from ‘Britain on Film’ and/or from the holdings of the regional media archives. We seek to encourage presenters from all backgrounds, including independent researchers. A small travel grant is available for those presenters who are unwaged and unaffiliated. Registration discounts will also be available for delegates without institutional affiliation.

Abstracts of no more than 150 words should be submitted to Lawrence.1.Napper@kcl.ac.uk. Closing date: 1st April 2019

This symposium is a collaboration between Lawrence Napper (King’s College London), Christine Grandy (University of Lincoln) and Chris O’Rourke (University of Lincoln). It has been funded through the KCL QR fund.

(NB the featured image comes from ‘Amateur Talkies’ a film from 1956 made by Sid Douglas)

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