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London Screen Study Collection screenings: Documentary London

Long before and since the 1930s, when ‘documentary film’ became fashionable in Britain, filmmakers have been picturing London in different styles and for different reasons. This series begins with a group of shorts, made in the 1920s as modest programme fillers and now handsomely restored by the BFI National Archive, and ends with two recent films that show aspects of London’s astonishing variety and the impact of gentrification (Under the Cranes and 72-82). In between, there are a range of classics from the Documentary movement, and a selection from three of the Free Cinema programmes organised by Lindsay Anderson in the 1950s. Two special programmes explore the films commissioned by a great London-based company, Tate and Lyle, and some of the range of films about the outer boroughs held by the London Screen Study Collection.

  • 13 Jan: Free Cinema I: Momma Don’t Allow (Richardson, 1956); Together (Mazetti, 1956); Nice Time (Tanner, Goretta, 1957)
    Two classic films from the historic first Free Cinema programme organised by Lindsay Anderson in 1956, plus one from the third. ‘No film can be too personal’, declared Anderson, and ‘an attitude means a style’
  • 20 Jan: The Documentary movement: 30s-50s: Housing Problems (1935); London Can Take It! (1940); Listen to Britain (Jennings, 1942); Festival in London (Leacock, 1951)
    Housing Problems was the first time ordinary people living in slum conditions were asked to speak directly to camera. By 1940, documentaries had the job of showing Britain, and especially Londoners, coping with the onslaught of total war; while in 1951, it was time to turn a new leaf with the Southbank Festival of Britain.
  • 27 Jan: Free Cinema 2: Lindsay Anderson: Henry (1955); Thursday’s Children (1954); Every Day Except Christmas (1957)
    Anderson had devised the Free Cinema ‘movement’ to promote his own and other short films that had difficulty being seen. Two of his films about children’s welfare, and the documentary about Covent Garden that was in the first Free Cinema show.
  • 3 FebFree Cinema 3: Refuge England (Robert Vas, 1959); We Are the Lambeth Boys (Karel Reisz, 1958)
    Two films by refugees. Having himself escaped from Hungary, Vas recreates a refugee’s first day in London. Czech-born Reisz escaped the fate of his parents in Auschwitz, co-founding Free Cinema with Anderson and contributing this group portrait of a South London youth club.
  • 10 Feb: Portraits: Portrait of Queenie (Michael Orrom, 1964); I Think They Call Him John (John Krish, 1964)
    A lonely retired Northumbrian miner living in St John’s Wood, and an ebullient Isle of Dogs pub landlord are the subjects of these remarkable portrait films, made from personal conviction by two accomplished documentarists.
  • 17 Feb: From a company archive: Tate and Lyle films
    Birkbeck joined forces with New Media Networks for a research probe into the film collection of the famous sugar company, and the initial results, funded by Creativeworks London, revealed a rich and often surprising vein of company history, on which this is a ‘work in progress’ report.
  • 24 Feb: Updating the Underground: A Hundred Years Underground (1963); London’s Victoria Line (1969)
    The construction of what was London’s first wholly new tube line of the 20th century was documented in a series of films, of which these are the first and last.
  • 2 Mar: Visions of Community: Return to Life (Krish, 1959); The Vanishing Street (Vas, 1962); Under the Cranes (Williams, 2011)
    Three films recording different attitudes towards a sense of community in the metropolis: the experiences of a refugee family; the precarious survival of the Jewish East End; and a vivid account of today’s multicultural Hackney that recalls its history.
  • 9 Mar: On the periphery: London’s outer boroughs through archive film
    Angela English, who has been research officer of the London Screen Study Collection since its launch, reflects on what films from the outer boroughs can show us.
  • 16 Mar: Artists in London: Out of Chaos (Jill Craigie, 1944); 72-82 (William Raban, 2014)
    From Jill Craigie’s first film, about the work of the war artists Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland and Stanley Spencer, to William Raban’s lively survey of Acme Studios’ first exciting decade – these films show artists at work in difficult yet stimulating places.

All screenings free at 2.30pm, the Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square WC1

Part of the Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image 2016 programme