Poster for Indigènes (dir Rachid Bouchareb, 2006) released in the UK as Days of Glory by Metrodome
The website Caribbean aircrew in the RAF during WW2 draws attention to the 1953 feature film Appointment in London, a story about Bomber Command starring Dirk Bogarde, and in particular to a scene showing Bogarde mixing with his peers: among the officers is one of Caribbean origin. There is no plot point hanging on this fact – it is simply a tacit recognition of the contribution made in the RAF, as in so many other ways, to the Allied effort in both world wars by people of the Empire. What is sadly remarkable about it, however, is how rare it is to see black troops represented in this way.
One area that the Whose Remembrance? Project set out to explore was the extent to which the wartime role of the peoples of Britain’s colonies has been reflected in the popular media. My contribution was to produce a database of relevant films, tv and radio.
A good start for my search was the Colonial Films Database the result of an earlier AHRC-funded project in which IWM was a partner. As well as providing essays about contemporary films like With the Indian Troops at the Front (1916) and West Africa Was There (1945), this huge database also offers several dozen titles online. Trawls of various websites made it possible to add a number of retrospective documentaries, such as the 2009 Soldiers of Empire episode from Channel 4’s Not Forgotten Series, or Scottish Television’s 2004 programme Treefellers about the work in Scotland during the Second World War of lumberjacks from British Honduras. Drama series which came immediately to mind included Granada’s 1984 adaptation of Paul Scott’s ‘Raj Quartet’ as The Jewel in the Crown, and BBC2’s 1992 Black Poppies.
The Battle of the Ancre and Advance of the Tanks (1917)is a little known masterpiece of British non-fiction cinema that documents the winter stages of the Somme campaign on the Western Front. The sequel to the famous Battle of the Somme (1916), which covers the opening phase of the campaign, ‘Ancre’ should not be dismissed as Somme II. Although similar to the ‘Somme’, Battle of the Ancre is cinematically the better film and contains haunting images of trench warfare, notably of the mud that beset the trenches in the winter, the waves of troops advancing into no-man’s land, the use of horses and the first views of the tank – the secret weapon which it was hoped would break the deadlock on the Western Front.
A workshop at the FIAF congress on the transition to digital technology, l-r Jon Wenstrom (Swedish Film Institute), David Walsh, Thomas Christensen (Danish Film Institute), Sungji Oh (Korean Film Archive). Courtesy of the China Film Archive.
The collective noun for a gathering of film archivists? A vault? A screening? The more cynical might say a confusion. Certainly, at the annual congress of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) held in Beijing in May, in addition to a certain amount of confusion surrounding voting procedures (something of a tradition at FIAF congresses), archivists were understandably confused by the sheer scale and rapidity of the changes to their world brought about by digital technology. And so a good deal of the proceedings set about addressing some of these concerns, not least the workshop organised jointly by the Technical Commission (of which I am the head) and the Programming and Access Commission, where we looked at the digital world from different perspectives and tried to offer some guidance on acquisition, management, preservation and access. (Some of the guidance we offered is now available in a few handy documents on the FIAF website).
Our fellow commission, Cataloguing and Documentation, have also worked hard to push for worldwide implementation of an important new European standard for film metadata (EN 15907:2009), and are hoping that this will become an ISO standard shortly. To boost their case, they had the British Film Institute to present their successful adoption of CEN standards in their new Adlib database (the first organisation to do so). This commission is also working on a revised set of cataloguing rules which will be compliant with this standard.
FIAF retains a very strong interest in analogue film technology, and there are many who view the demise of this traditional technology not just as regrettable, but as something to be resisted at all costs. In this context, when the Technical Commission wondered in passing whether it should investigate the feasibility of film archives manufacturing their own film stock when all the big players (Kodak, Fuji) decide to drop it, the FIAF delegates were understandably excited. Establishing a cottage industry for film stock seems implausible to many, but I suspect that unless we can come up with definitive evidence to support this view, the idea will not rest.
Amateur film maker Rosie Newman using her Cine Kodak Model K 16mm film camera. HU 65393
Winner – Focal International Awards, ‘Best Use of Footage in a Home Entertainment Release’, 2012
Britain at War, filmmaker Rosie Newman’s film of Britain during the Second World War, is one of the most important amateur films in our collection, notable for its content and the fact that it was shot, almost entirely, in colour. This film has interested and intrigued many researchers. Who was Rosie Newman? How did she manage to film in places considered as ‘off-limits’ to amateur filmmakers? How and where did she show her films? In order to answer such questions I did some research and discovered a most remarkable filmmaker.
Miss Rosie Newman bought her first 16mm camera in 1928, indulging in the latest amusing hobby of the time. Over the next decade, however, this hobby became a serious pursuit. She filmed all her foreign travels and, encouraged by friends, began showing these films publicly as entertainment and to raise funds for charity. In recognition of her achievements, in particular for her films of India, she was elected fellow of the Royal Geographic Society.
IWM has an unparalleled collection of material, covering all aspects of twentieth and twenty-first century conflict. This blog is run by the Department of Research and reports on research undertaken at IWM into our holdings.
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