A New History of British Documentary by J. Chapman

By J. Chapman

A brand new heritage of British Documentary is the 1st accomplished evaluation of documentary creation in Britain from early movie to the current day. It covers either the movie and tv industries and demonstrates how documentary perform has tailored to altering institutional and ideological contexts.

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But it also reflects a wider recognition that the growing popular appeal of cinema made it the perfect vehicle for the dissemination of propaganda – which all combatants recognized as a necessity for mobilizing public opinion during the first ‘total war’. Charles Urban’s visionary idea that cinema would serve ‘matters of state’ would be realized during the war. Yet there was initially much official resistance to the adoption of film by the state. Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, was distrustful of the mass media and in September 1914 placed a blanket ban on all cameramen and newspaper correspondents at the front.

1 Documentary Before Grierson My interest has always been to find anything new which has practical value, especially of an instructive character, develop and exploit [the] same for general use. I saw great instructive value in the motion picture as an educational factor . . Throughout my entire connection with the motion picture industry I have specialized in educational subjects of science, travel and topical episodes, now referred to as ‘documentary’ films. 2 The films cited above all demonstrated, in different ways, Grierson’s notion of documentary as ‘the creative treatment of actuality’.

The post-war film industry was becoming increasingly institutionalized as larger producers such as Gainsborough Pictures and the Stoll Film Company adopted more streamlined production methods and led a trend towards higher production values in an attempt to compete against Hollywood in the home and international markets. BIF was a rather different sort of undertaking in that from the outset its production strategy was geared towards factual subjects rather than fictional drama and star vehicles. It produced relatively few films but focused on quality.

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