The Camera is Ours: Britain's Women Documentary Makers (12A)

The Camera is Ours: Britain's Women Documentary Makers (12A)

Tue 5 - Thu 7 July

The trouble with you is that you look at things as though they were in a goldfish bowl. I’m going to break your goldfish bowl” Ruby Grierson, to her brother John

John Grierson is sometimes referred to as the father of British documentary and credited with coining the term documentary itself. But from the beginning, female innovators were at work within the genre, including Grierson’s own sisters Ruby and Marion, and we’re delighted to showcase their work alongside that of other pioneering female documentary makers in this revelatory programme of new digital restorations.

It begins with Marion Grierson’s lyrical and inventive Beside the Seaside (1935) which uses a witty array of techniques to stylish effect. In They Also Serve (1940) Ruby Grierson’s dramatised documentary is dedicated to ‘the Housewives of Britain’. A public information film by Brigid ‘Budge’ Cooper, Birth-day (1945) explores the mysteries of maternity – this is the real Call the Midwife! – while Kay Mander’s powerful Homes for the People (1945) uses the then radical technique of allowing working-class women to describe their own lives. Finally, the psychedelic spirit of the 1960s is ushered in by Sarah Erulkar’s Something Nice to Eat (1967), featuring Jean Shrimpton.


Beside the Seaside
UK | 1935 | 23’ | Marion Grierson

Beside the Seaside presents a beguiling picture of summer pleasures. Director Marion Grierson inventively switches styles and techniques, shooting faces from below – as if from the perspective of the beach – to capture the wonder of the children at what they’ve found. Overlapping snippets of dialogue convey the diversity of seaside visitors and present the absorbing oddity of overheard conversation.

Marion Grierson had an intriguing career in documentary filmmaking, despite living in the shadow of her brother John, the founding figure of the British documentary movement, and their tragically short-lived sister Ruby. Her style displays an assured lightness of touch and draws inventively on a sophisticated array of techniques. Her films were seen abroad more than in the UK, which perhaps explains why they are little known today.


They Also Serve
UK | 1940 | 9’ | Ruby Grierson

This 1940 dramatised documentary is dedicated to ‘the Housewives of Britain’ and the emphasis is very much on dutiful service of the domestic kind. The film follows a day in the wartime life of ‘Mother’, who is ever smiling in her support of her weary husband and truculent daughter. She spends her time seeing to her family’s and neighbours’ varied needs: bringing her daughter tea in bed, rubbing her husband’s aching back as well as cooking, growing vegetables and providing food for the woman next door when her husband unexpectedly returns home on leave. Despite it all, she counts herself lucky, in the best British tradition.

Director Ruby Grierson was the sister of John Grierson. She trained as a teacher before making several documentary films, of which this was the last completed before her untimely death.


UK | 1945 | 22’ | Brigid ‘Budge’ Cooper

There’s some splendid ‘mansplaining’ in Birth-day, a public information film by Brigid ‘Budge’ Cooper, about the mysteries of maternity and how to fully utilise an ante-natal clinic to ensure the health of an unborn baby.


Homes for the People
UK | 1945 | 23’ | Kay Mander

Homes for the People was made for the 1945 Labour Party election campaign and sponsored by the left-wing newspaper the Daily Herald. Conscious of the importance of women’s votes after their contribution to the war effort, the Labour Party wanted to present its post-war reconstruction policies from a woman’s perspective.

The film shows how ordinary women lived during the 1940s. The interviewees aren’t glamorised, nor are their responses scripted. Director Kay Mander sat beneath the camera and prompted her subjects with questions, allowing the women to talk as they went about their domestic work, rather than speaking directly to camera.

Homes for the People is more than just a remarkable social document, it also illustrates an advance in the documentary technique, giving its subjects a more openly direct voice than had previously been seen in British non-fiction film.


Something Nice to Eat
UK | 1967 | 21’ | Sarah Erulkar

‘Cooking is a kind of loving’: Featuring Jean Shrimpton, and sponsored by the Gas Council, this film encapsulates the spirit of the 1960s in a gloriously entertaining, sometimes patronising and always visually inventive tribute to good food – preferably prepared using a gas cooker.

Warning: Beside the Seaside and Birth-day include scenes reflecting harmful racist views that were pervasive at the time of their making. 



£6 / £4 

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