On a sunny Autumn afternoon, I moved through the crowds pouring into IWM London to attend a screening of this year’s Film Festival. Launched in 2001 as a student competition by Toby Haggith, the Founding Director, the film festival is back from a three year absence to mark the reopening of the Museum.
It has expanded since its early days to include amateur and professional filmmakers and from the large number of submissions thirty-five films made the cut. Inspired by IWM’s collections, and with a chance to experiment with its unique film archive, the films cover diverse topics including the Domez Camp for Syrian refugees, letters between two lovers during the Second World War and the imagining of First World War letters on Twitter.
This year’s competition included a special category to mark the centenary in which entrants were invited to respond to the outbreak of the First World War. The three films I saw all related to the First World War but explored the conflict in very different ways.
On the Somme, by Peter Bromley was a simultaneously intimate and cinematic survey of the landscape of Picardy, scene of some of the heaviest fighting on the Western Front. Based on still photographs that Bromley had previously taken of the scars on the landscape, the tranquillity of the piece was a subtle and moving exploration of how war becomes a part of its environment, and the longevity of its impact.
James Kirby’s entry Wait For Me took us back to the opening months of the First World War with a snapshot of family life, as the parents of a volunteering soldier struggle to come to terms with their son’s enlistment and the changes and tensions his absence places on the family home. In a beautifully constructed Edwardian setting, the emotional havoc wreaked on those left behind comes into light.
The final piece was X-Ray, a silent animated piece created as part of the New Perspectives programme by young historians and filmmakers in IWM Learning Projects. Made by students from the IWM Summer School, it looked at one man’s war experience including how he was killed in conflict and the X-ray of his skull where the bullet entered. A fascinating interpretation of elements of the Museum’s collections, this and the other two films in this segment of the programme revealed the creative responses that can come from archival and historical research, opening up new ways of thinking about IWM’s collections.