Prod.: Hepworth Manufacturing Company; 35mm. L.: 56 M. D.: 3’ A 18 F/S.
When cinema was born the British Empire covered a quarter of the globe and was still growing. For the first half century of the film’s history the Empire was not a nebulous concept but a fact of peoples’ lives. In most cases the image of the Empire was presented to the British audience as a contented multicultural but unified whole with many races performing their individual and specialized roles according to their particular environment. A polite fiction perhaps, but a pervasive one, still surviving in Britain to this day. This programme is an almost random selection from the many in the NFTVA of different types of film relating to the colonial period from the 1890s to the brink of the 2nd World War. We start with simple early views and panoramas and the staged pomp of the Delhi Durbar and move on to the instructional films of the 20s. With coming of sound a more didactic style emerged although John Grierson’s Empire Marketing Board aimed to “bring the Empire alive” with a light touch allowing for experimentation and lyricism in its films. We also see a technicolor travelogue photographed by Jack Cardiff, amateur footage taken by a Viceroy of India and a rarely seen documentary on the social position of black South Africans introduced by Paul Robeson.
Bryony Dixon – British Film Institute