The most immediate type of film making is documentary. The recording of actual events, either via record or dramatization, it is the capturing of the real, the vérité (to co opt a well worn phase). Most leading documentarians in Britain today are women. This is fact, as is the power of their collective work. THE CAMERA IS OURS, tells the story of some of the key female pioneers of the British documentary movement. We have works from the 1930s, with trips to the seaside, moving to the 1940s, with war, Englishness and the post war state of housing and those living within them. The 1950s look at health and the newly founded NHS, to the 1960s and the adaptation to the food and cuisine of the world, as we travel to the outside world. Set in a 2-disc set, it has newly remastered films, restored in partnership with The Film Foundation and featuring directors like Marion Grierson, Ruby Grierson, Jill Craigie, Evelyn Spice, Sarah Erulkar, Margaret Thomson and Kay Mander.

I watched this with my wife. She is a rare companion to my viewings but on hearing the three points: Documentary, female centred and on topics like food, she was sold. The opening of the first disc is quite classic documentary, with Received Pronunciation of Grierson Beside the Seaside with lovely sandy beaches and a poetic flow of images of people at play. This looks toward the summer with joyous cheer. Next Behind the Scenes is a tale of London Zoo. A mixed blessing but equally joyous in its way. They Also Serve from the other Grierson, Ruby Grierson and 4 and 20 Fit Girls from Box are war readiness, filled with a sense of the cost of both war and human capital. They feel heavy with the ongoing Ukrainian conflict in the background. Disc one finishes with The English Inn, which is very much again like the summer beach but now exploring the 1930s obsession with the public house in a small village or town on the outskirts of a city. Short but to the point. I must add here that the best extra can be found here. Independent Miss Craigie From Lizzie Thynne, is a very intellegent examination via actual footage and archive documents, of the work of the Jill Craigie. Her story is both remarkable and proves the resilience of those who love what they do and do it whatever the obstacle.

Disc 2 is a more modern context affair. Homes for the People highlights the need across the country for more housing, alongside the revelation of the utterly different types of it across the nation. It could be said that this is on par with the famed Housing Problems (1935) yet less known. The Troubled Mind from Thomson is an acted feature with a lot of directional leading. Letting us see the process of the NHS and mental health treatment. It leaves a strange sense of the humanity then involved and how that was lost in later years, due in part to money, RD Laing and the effects of Game Theory. Something Nice to Eat from Erulkar was my favourite. It is educational as it taught me about a souffle. In such a simple way. A lot of discussions of the food and tastes of the country.

In summation, if you like to see a snapshot of our country, with a female eye and a sense of progress, then I would have to say start here. It might be occasionally limited but it is potent, passionate and some times playful. Exceptional.


The films:

Beside the Seaside (Marion Grierson, 1935, 23 mins)
Behind the Scenes (Evelyn Spice, 1938, 17 mins)
They Also Serve (Ruby Grierson, 1940, 9 mins)
4 and 20 Fit Girls (Mary Field, 1940, 11 mins)
The English Inn (Muriel Box, 1941, 11 mins)
Birth-day (Brigid ‘Budge’ Cooper and Mary Beales, 1945, 22 mins)
Homes for the People (Kay Mander, 1945, 23 mins)
Children of the Ruins (Jill Craigie, 1948, 11 mins)
The Troubled Mind (Margaret Thomson, 1954, 20 mins)
Something Nice to Eat (Sarah Erulkar, 1967, 21 mins)

  • Independent Miss Craigie (Lizzie Thynne, 2020, 92 mins): Drawing on her fascinating archive, this biopic uncovers the director’s energetic struggles to get her radical films made. Working outside the British Documentary Movement in the 1940s and early 50s, Jill Craigie tackled new subjects for the cinema such as equal pay for women in To Be Woman (1951), and modern art in Out of Chaos (1944), featuring Henry Moore and Paul Nash. A dual narration by the older and younger Craigie (Hayley Atwell), evokes her unique blend of polemic, drama and often humour.
  • Illustrated booklet featuring writing on the films by Penny Woolcock, Molly Dineen, Lillian Crawford, Reba Martin, Carol Morley, Patrick Russell, Jeanie Finlay, Lizzie Thynne, Katy McGahan and Girish Shambu,audiences%20via%20this%20new%20collection.

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