BRITISH DOCUMENTARY FILMS: 1930-1940 A review of ten years of the British documentary film by the author of Documentary FilmMovie Paradeand other books, and director of many documentaries. Paul Rotha deals here with the technical and social background which have made the documentary film Britain's main contribution to the Cinema. documentary is the label for what John Grierson calls the art of giving film sequence to natural material." Breaking into the cinemas in 1929 with the unpretentious Drifters, which dramatised without sentimentality the job of the fisherman, the British documentary film has developed throughout this decade like a plant in the sun. Sometimes it has aimed at catching the votes of the cinema-goer, sometimes it has been intent on developing the more profound and perhaps more far-reaching educational field, but always it has preserved inviolate that simple first principle the job of presenting on the screen the drama of what actually happens day in and day out to ordinary people, and of relating this drama to the audience which is witnessing it. It is inevitable, therefore, that inherent in the physical development of the documentary him movement should be a development of technique, striving towards better ways of enabling ordinary people to express themselves in terms of cinema. The documentary him has, in fact, faced up to one of the fundamental problems of the cinema how to present human beings in relation to the social and economic environment in which they live. This physical development falls easily into four periods. First the Empire Marketing Board Film Unit, for which Drifters was made, and to which Grierson attracted a nucleus of young men who were to become directors working with him as producer. Then in 1934 the Government began to economise. One of the hrst things to go was the Empire Marketing Board. Fortunately the Post Office saw the value of taking over the Film Unit, complete with its library of films, as a running concern. The new G.P.O. Film Unit started to explore sound in the same way as the E.M.B. Unit had explored the world of visuals, and in this new development they were greatly assisted by Cavalcanti, who some years before had made his name in France. Before and during this second period, when the documentary film was still normally a collection of visuals compèred by a commentator, with the addition of music and some natural noises, other fields of sponsorship for documentary were being developed. Shell-Mex and Imperial Airways had in 1932 sponsored Contact. Other public bodies, Gas, Oil and Shipping Lines, soon followed. The 134

Commercial Art / Art and Industry en | 1940 | | page 12