Looking for Diana Pine

Helen Hughes, University of Surrey

17 December 2019


For the past two years I have been working on a project about documentary and nuclear energy. My intention in looking at nuclear energy films has been to uannderstand how radioactivity is represented in contemporary non-fiction media, particularly in the context of environmental concern.

In order to widen the scope of my study of contemporary films to include the history of non-fiction filmmaking about nuclear energy I applied for a British Academy grant and happily received some funding to study a large number of films held in the British National Film and Television Archive. I have become a regular visitor to the viewing rooms in the basement of the BFI building in Stephen Street, helped out by Kathleen Dickson, and also by Steve Tollervey who has taught me how to thread a 16 mm and a 35 mm film on a Steenbeck (and reminded me of the details from time to time). I have also watched films on VHS and some on DVD.

How to remember how to thread a film on a Steenbeck. (Photograph by Helen Hughes)

The films I have been watching are a wide variety of non-fiction genres. There are instructional films such as Beta Gamma (1950) about how to work with radioactive materials without touching them or even looking at them. There is a surprising number of films such as Hinkley Point Part 1 (1960) that document the building of the first generation of nuclear power stations, including an observational film Nuclear Cathedral (1967) recorded in Wales that follows a variety of characters from a welder to the project manager. It has been quite absorbing to follow the developing public opinions about nuclear energy through the earnest television studio debates of the 1970s and 80s and then represented on increasingly ironic “hard hitting” chat shows in the 1990s right up to the present focus on decommissioning and the search for a location for a high level nuclear waste repository.

Along the way I have been reflecting on the process which seems as though I am composing an extremely long documentary for myself in the form of research viewing. At a certain point there is a shift and the earlier films are historicized in new programmes and incorporated into arguments about what happened and why, and it is fun to spot what archival material comes from where. The subject of radioactivity runs as a thread through it all with explanations about what it is varying in detail, in scope, and in tone.

I have put together a table which shows a relationship between the changing forms of non-fiction and the coverage of nuclear energy. The two are linked by parallel shifts in the relationship between people and authority, and participants and the camera. The most kindly example of this is a film called simply Nuclear Issues (1986) by the Edinburgh Film Workshop Trust in which Jim Hall, an organic farmer, says: ‘I would hate to think that any government would be so unfeeling that they would not like to take into consideration the wishes of the local people.’

There are of course many stories within my larger story which merit more attention than my survey will give. I have gathered that historians tend to collect more information than they can ever process in their own lifetimes. The question concerns which stories to pursue and in this the archive itself is the major player along with the people who have formed it in the past as they thought about posterity.

A central text for the history of British atomic energy is the official history Independence and Deterrence: Britain and Atomic Energy 1945-1952 (1974) published in two volumes by the first historian of science Margaret Gowing assisted by Lorna Arnold. It is really because of her work that archival documents about the beginning of the nuclear project in Britain have survived along with the films. Gowing wrote at length about Prime Minister Clement Attlee’s desire to keep the atomic project out of the public gaze and mentioned the difficulties the Central Office of Information had in gaining permission to issue any kind of information to journalists. She mentioned that the Crown Film Unit made a film about the Atomic Energy Research Establishment and its work in Harwell, Springfields and Windscale, which was not released.

A collection of books. (Photograph by Helen Hughes)

Margaret Gowing’s book led me to the National Archives in Kew where I began to look for files about the films I was watching. Putting together the films with the files in the National Archives I came to understand that Gowing was referring to the work of a filmmaker called Diana Pine who started out as a researcher and then took over as a director to organise the filming of the beginnings of the civil atomic project ‘for posterity.’ The process of understanding the context of the documents in a large file of letters, memos and production materials, selected and preserved by Gowing herself, became my introduction to the beginnings of British atomic history. After many trips to the National Archives, and endless amounts of reading, looking at newspapers, and film watching, I set out the chronology of the story in a research report for Screen called ‘The Story of Atoms at Work’. This is the first time I have tried to set out what happened in the making of a film rather than analysing what was meant.

TNA AB 8/215 ‘Scientific film production’ file cover. (Photograph by Helen Hughes)

Shot list for proposed film Springfields Factory. (Photograph by Helen Hughes)

It is sometimes said that the scholarship on British Documentary focuses too much on the war period and on the work of a few producer/directors such as John Grierson and Humphrey Jennings. I don’t think that this is surprising. World War II is well understood as a period and it is not difficult to understand the information the films provide even today. The period that followed is less well defined and even public facing films such as Atoms at Work take some investigation to see what they are. Diary for Timothy, a film made at the end of the war, is accessible to everyone as it is clearly about hoping for a better life which everyone can understand.

Nevertheless both of these films reward investigation, and the process of connecting them with the historical contexts in which they were made is positively addictive. It has led me from Stephen Street to the special file on Humphrey Jennings at the BFI Reuben library, to two taped interviews with Diana Pine, to a documentary by Robert Vos, to the Royal Institute of Science, and even up to Wick in Scotland, to see the new archive named Nucleus, dedicated to holding records about the British civil nuclear industry.

Nucleus: The Nuclear and Caithness Archives. (Photograph by Helen Hughes)

The comparison between Diary for Timothy and Atoms at Work has revived for me that old vexing question about authorship. Diary for Timothy is a Crown Film Unit production made by a team including Diana Pine who worked on it as a Unit Manager. It is known as Humphrey Jennings’ Diary for Timothy as he directed it, while it was produced by Basil Wright. Atoms at Work was directed by Diana Pine and produced by Stuart Legg, but as Stuart Legg wrote the treatment and the commentary I discussed the structure of the film in relation to his practice which has been described by Timothy Boon as dialectical. In the process I realized I have no sense of what Diana Pine’s authorship might involve even though it is clear from her letters that she had a clear idea of the shots she wished to compose.

One of the things that is very noticeable in tracing the theme of radioactivity over a long period is that with a few exceptions documentary films of the 1950s generally hide the makers more than they reveal them. Noticing the conference at the LSE on British Women Documentary Filmmakers was a spur to think further about the motivations of a film worker like Diana Pine. By a strange process of archival and internet serendipity I have now communicated with one of her nieces and have been thinking about how the personal and archival information we are piecing together can be related to the films and indeed to my project more generally.

What has come out of this new archival venture for me has been a greater awareness of the audio-visual archive as a resource to project a kind of social correlate of technological development. The story of Diana Pine that I looked for in relation to work on Atoms of Work is a way of thinking about the list of credits as a form of evidence in its own right. Contemporary independent documentary has brought the life of the filmmaker, particularly the director, more explicitly into the film but this is not to say that the lives of filmmakers were previously separate from their filmmaking. Rather it clarifies and perhaps choreographs the connections that are there already.

Perhaps it is characteristic of wartime that life and filmmaking become particularly interlinked. The life of Diana Pine, Unit Production Manager, turns out to be linked very closely to her work. The electoral register is a way to find out where people lived at different points in their lives. Like birth, death, marriage and probate, in pre-war Britain it also provides information about occupation. In 1939 she listed herself as Gubbins Diana P, (Pine, Diana professionally), and gave her employment as “Assistant Art Director in Films (unemployed)”. In 1940 her brother joined the RAF and in January 1941 her parents and sister were in occupied Jersey. Her brother was killed in March that year in one of the campaigns in East Africa. The films that Pine worked on as unit manager thus have a personal significance, particularly The Channel Islands 1940 – 1945 (1945).

Two other films make a family link that is a little more distant but which paints a broader picture of the different people who became involved with documentary filmmaking in Britain during the war. The Silent Village (1943) and Two Fathers (1944) were the first two films Pine worked on having at this point changed her occupation from unemployed art director in films to assistant director and film unit production manager. The films both present stories involving the subversive resistance work of the Special Operations Executive in occupied countries.

My first clue towards an understanding of who Pine was and how it connected to her filmmaking career turned up through her Gubbins family connections which trace a journey through British colonial history from her great great grandfather Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Gubbins’s New Brunswick Journals written in Canada in the early nineteenth century to her great grandfather Martin Richard Gubbins, financial commissioner in Oudh and author of An Account of the Mutinies in Oudh (1858), to her grandfather Charles Edgworth Gubbins of the 3rd Hydrabad Cavalry, and her father who managed to have a peacetime occupation in being a Barrister at Law but even so had fought in World War I. A cousin (once removed) was General Colin McVean Gubbins of the SOE.

The shift that Pine makes from unemployed art director to documentary takes her closer to the traditional male world of colonial administration, war, aviation, and technology from which she is descended. In the immediate post war years it is also a secret world made increasingly public as military technologies are adapted to peacetime. Her film credits for the Crown Film Unit—Dollars and Sense (1949, about the devaluation of the pound), Faster than Sound (1949, about the secret development of a missile during the war), Spotlight on the Colonies (1950, about the British approach to independence), Into the Blue (1950, about the development of civil aviation), The Magic Touch (1950, about the adaptation of materials to new purposes), and Atoms at Work (1952, about the productivity of radioactive isotopes)—represent an unusual female incursion which she sustained for only a short period once the Crown Film Unit was closed.

Non-fiction films in wartime and post war Britain film sponsored by the Ministry of Supply do not generally provoke the search for an author unless there is a particularly striking creative voice such as that of Humphrey Jennings. However, the status of Atoms at Work as the first film released by the government about its enormously expensive and risky atomic research programme, for me provoked curiosity about the secret conditions of production and the people who had been vetted and had signed the Official Secrets Act to be there with the cameras observing and recording it.

Coming back to Stephen Street and the list of films that represent the history of nuclear energy in moving images, the representation of radioactivity in Atoms at Work, with its references to alchemy and its question about good and evil, has turned out to be characteristic for representations right up to today. The most recent film I have watched in the archive was the BBC’s Inside Sellafield (2015) in which my colleague Jim Al-Khalili gives his view that there is a future for nuclear energy. For contemporary films I have largely moved from the celluloid, video and DVD archive to online sources such as the BUFVCs Box of Broadcasts. The dialectic between military and civilian uses has become one part of the debate around what is increasingly seen as an ongoing global mass experiment with nuclear fission. For me, the detour around the story of Diana Pine, as well as the aging character of media forms, makes the war generation situated at the beginning of the experiment more palpable and more connected to us as we work through the physical and psychological consequences now. Down in the basement and emerging online the archive of non-fiction films is both an outcome and an ongoing resource for many more projects like mine.

Christmas card by Diana Pine 1999. (Courtesy of Esther O’Callaghan)


Helen Hughes is a senior lecturer in film studies at the University of Surrey. She has published a number of articles and chapters on German and Austrian cinema. She is also the author of a book Green Documentary (2014) about contemporary environmental non-fiction film. She is currently working on a new book Radioactive Documentary about non-fiction feature films made on the subject of nuclear energy since the end of the Cold War.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

Jill Craigie and her suffragette film

Gillian E. Murphy, London School of Economics (LSE) Library

8 July 2019


This blog is adapted from a paper I gave at the British Women Documentary Filmmakers 1930-1955 symposium held at LSE on 5 April 2019. Here I will focus on a film proposal by Jill Craigie which never became reality. The source for this paper is Jill Craigie’s archive which is held in LSE’s Women’s Library. I’m approaching this as a historian and archivist.

Jill Craigie was born in Fulham in 1914 to a Russian father and Scottish mother. She had an unhappy childhood, spending most of her time between different boarding schools, and she took solace in writing. She left school at 18, first working as a journalist on a teenage magazine. At the age of 19 she married sculptor, Claude Begbie-Clench; they had a daughter, Julie, but the marriage did not last. Jill flirted briefly with acting in 1937, landing a small role in a circus melodrama, Make- Up, co-written by Jeffrey Dell, who later became her second husband.

During the Second World War, Jill worked as an air-raid warden, and while waiting for the siren to signal approaching enemy aircraft, she had a lot of time to read. One of the books she read was Sylvia Pankhurst’s autobiography The Suffragette Movement. Sylvia was one of the daughters of Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the militant group who campaigned for women’s suffrage. The book marked a turning point for Jill and, in a rough autobiographical account held in Jill Craigie’s archive, she wrote about this revelation. She greatly enjoyed Sylvia’s colourful writing and the way Sylvia presented a social scene through the eyes of an artist. Sylvia’s work made Jill think about women’s lives and the relationship between men and women. She said it made her a feminist.

Photograph of Sylvia Pankhurst, c. 1910 (courtesy of LSE Library)

According to Jill’s memoir, one of the first things she did after reading The Suffragette Movement was to attend a meeting in Trafalgar Square to hear MP Edith Summerskill protesting against the Government’s proposal to pay female victims of air raids less compensation than men. Jill then came across an announcement in the newspaper about former suffragettes gathering on 14 July to lay flowers at Emmeline Pankhurst’s statue at the Houses of Parliament. No date is given in Jill’s memoir, but it must have been sometime in 1943 or 1944. Laying flowers at Emmeline’s statue was an annual event since 1930 when the statue was first erected. The statue was later moved in 1958 to its present position, just to the north, in Victoria Tower Gardens.

Unveiling of the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, 1930 (courtesy of LSE Library)

Jill decided to go along to the flower-laying ceremony. Reflecting on the event in her memoir, Jill added: “I have to confess that I had a double motive for wishing to meet the suffragettes….I had just started what I hoped might become a splendid career in the film industry.” She imagined the idea of a suffragette film: “The subject as conceived for the screen would be primarily one of spectacle mingled with politics yet offering plenty of scope for emotion, romance, comedy, violence, suspense, despair and tragedy. I dreamed that one day I would make a great film about the struggle for the vote, historically accurate…”

As Jill approached Emmeline’s statue, she saw older women wearing Votes for Women sashes and WPSU badges. She felt an intruder but once the women noticed her, they welcomed her. This piqued Jill’s interest even more and she began researching the suffrage movement. Initially, Jill worked like an oral historian, interviewing suffragettes and encouraging them to write down their stories. In Jill’s archive there is a lot of primary source material such as letters, speeches, leaflets, compiled by her to add context to her planned film.

Jill entered into correspondence with various suffragettes relating to the possibility of a suffragette film. On 9 June 1944, Jill wrote to Sylvia Pankhurst: “I am writing a script covering a large part of the women’s movement. I am anxious that the film should be historically accurate and this would naturally mean re-enacting some of the great scenes in which you played the leading role….” Jill wanted to include Emmeline Pankhurst and hoped Sylvia would not object. She ended the letter with “I have a very great admiration for your past achievements….”

Jill also received a letter from Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, who had been treasurer of the WSPU, telling her that Christabel Pankhurst would prove difficult. Christabel had moved to the States in 1921, returning briefly to be made Dame of the British Empire in 1936. She had become a Second Day Adventist and very conservative. Christabel wanted to be represented by a committee of suffragettes. Other letters were to Annie Kenney and Helen Archdale, who became a mediator between Jill and Annie.

Christabel Pankhurst in New York, c. 1914 (courtesy of LSE Library)

Over the summer of 1944, Jill tried to make arrangements to see these women in an attempt to come up with a plan for a film. This proved impossible as there was much rivalry between the different factions, a hang-over from the suffrage campaign. In August, Jill wrote to Emmeline Pethick Lawrence: “I’m still winding my way through the maze of suffragette politics.” There are hints in the letters about how Jill might approach the suffragette film. In one of the last letters from Sylvia to Jill she said: “You indicated to me, I think, to represent the Movement through the eyes of a girl today looking back on it.” Sylvia then gave her opinion on this: “there are advantages in that method but it tends to make the events appear remote and to sacrifice the human quality of it all.”

In the following month, Jill wrote to Helen Archdale: “I have been advised by the producer of another company [which is not named] that if I get it into a shooting script form, then there would be no difficulty in going to production, he would back it, or partly so. But not worth my while doing this if Annie Kenney is difficult. In the meantime I am filling in time doing a documentary about post-war planning as I can’t bear to be out of work any longer.”

The documentary referred to by Jill became The Way We Live which was released in 1946. The film is told through the eyes of a bombed-out family in Plymouth; Craigie did not want to impose her own opinions on the film. She saw herself as an interpreter of the ideas of the architects, the town councillors and the people of Plymouth.

Jill would probably have taken a similar approach in her suffragette film, not imposing her own views, but portraying the movement through those who had lived it and to represent this through film. However, no consensus could be reached. The suffragette film project was put on hold and the film was not produced.

Jill’s interest in the suffrage movement never diminished and she continued to collect material on the subject, keeping in touch with many suffragettes. Her archive also contains her drafts for a book ‘Daughters of Dissent’ which was never published.

Find out more about Jill Craigie’s archive and other collections at LSE: www.lse.c.uk/library and twitter @LSELibrary. We also have lots of suffrage images on our Flickr account which you can see here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/


Dr Gillian Murphy is the Curator for Equality, Rights and Citizenship at LSE Library. She moved to LSE with the Women’s Library in 2013, where she had worked as an archivist for many years. Gillian promotes the Women’s Library collection and the Hall-Carpenter Archives through exhibitions, talks, blogs and workshops.

http://www.lse.ac.uk/library/people/gillian-murphy


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

Report: British Women Documentary Filmmakers, 1930 – 1955 Symposium, 5 April 2019, London School of Economics (LSE)

Llewella Chapman, University of East Anglia

7 May 2019


I attended this event with great anticipation, and I was most definitely not disappointed. The symposium was organised by Sadie Wearing (London School of Economics), who is part of the team working on the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded project ‘Jill Craigie: Film Pioneer’, alongside Yvonne Tasker (University of Leeds), Lizzie Thynne (University of Sussex) and Adele Tulli (University of Sussex).

The three-year project, which began in October 2018, is researching the documentary filmmaker Jill Craigie as an entry point to ‘interrogate the historical frameworks and the canon of the British Documentary Film Movement which have undervalued women’s contribution to the genre.’ As part of this, the project makes use of primary sources held by archives, predominantly Craigie’s papers held by the Women’s Library at the LSE, as well as holdings available in the British Film Institute (BFI), the British Entertainment History Project (BEHP, formally BECTU), The Arts Institute (Plymouth), The Forum (Norwich) and the Stanley Spencer Gallery. The main aim of the project is to question ‘what we can learn from a pioneering woman’s career about the inequalities which persist in the creative industries today.’ You can visit here for more information.

Most pleasing on attending the symposium was discovering that not only were there a range of papers and methodological approaches offered toward the researching of women documentary filmmakers during this period, but most importantly, the research was being conducted by a range of scholars and archivists at different levels, from PhD students to professors. All of the papers were of a consistently high quality. Alongside this, it quickly became evident that everyone attending the symposium was fully engaged with one another’s scholarship, and the symposium provided a very supportive environment in which to provide further platforms for future collaboration and research.

Fiona Kelly, Film Curator at the Imperial War Museums (IWM), began the day by introducing films by and about women during World War II held by the archive, including documentaries, informational and instructional films made by Joy Batchelor, Louise Birt, Jill Craigie, Mary Field, Ruby Grierson, Kay Mander and Margaret Thomson. In her paper, Kelly considered three main strands: firstly, the role of women behind the camera; secondly, how women were represented on screen; finally, the target audience, where Kelly noted that before female conscription, film shorts were aimed at women in their ‘traditional’ roles and domestic issues, however as the war progressed, the documentaries and dramas adapted to inform women about the different types of work and war service available to them. Kelly informed the audience of the films held by the IWM, and two Ruby Grierson films are available to view on its website: Choose Cheese (1940) and They Also Serve (1942). Another film shown was Dustbin Parade (1940), an animation short by John Halas and Joy Batchelor for the Ministry of Information (MoI):

Dustbin Parade (Halas and Batchelor, 1942)

Following Kelly’s excellent introduction, the first panel of the day continued with Toby Haggith (IWM) explaining that the majority of documentary and instructional films made by women were often concerned with ‘traditional’ issues such as welfare, health, children and the domestic sphere. Haggith went on to focus his paper on the women filmmakers’ contribution to debates on slum clearance and town planning, including Field’s Development of the English Town (1943), Mander’s New Builders (1944) and Homes for the People (1945), Budge Cooper’s Children of the City (1945), and Craigie’s The Way We Live (1946).

This was followed by Charlotte Hallahan’s (University of East Anglia) compelling research conducted into Rosie Newman, a British socialite and amateur filmmaker, and provided an insight into how Newman recorded daily civilian and military life during World War II. The focus of Hallahan’s paper was on Newman’s colour film Britain at War (1946):

Excerpt from Britain at War (Rosie Newman, 1946), courtesy of IWM

Hallahan argued that the theory of the flâneur (Walter Benjamin, developed by Lauren Elkin) can be adopted and used to analyse Newman’s film in relation to her ability to traverse the landscape of a blitzed-London at will, and personal freedom with which to document the events. It became clear during Hallahan’s excellent paper that Newman’s ability to achieve this was in part due to her socio-economic class, where Newman had a ‘little black book’ of people with which to acquire colour film stock, etc.

The final paper in this panel was delivered by Hollie Price (Queen Mary, University of London), who drew upon her extensive and fascinating archival research in to the MoI’s Film Division and its work in film distribution to present on the MoI’s non-theatrical film scheme, launched in 1940, where a fleet of mobile film units were used to screen films for free in a variety of locations including village halls, social clubs, libraries and factory canteens. Price also discussed the informal collaborations between the MoI and the Women’s Voluntary Service and the Women’s Institute. Price is working as a post-doctoral researcher on the AHRC-funded MoI Digital project, which you can read more about here.

After lunch, the second panel began with Sarah Easen (independent film historian) discussing how film historians often conflate John Grierson’s British Documentary Film Movement with documentary filmmakers generally, leading to the marginalisation of those operating outside the movement. Therefore, Easen sought to address this in her engrossing paper by focussing on the work of Mander and Thomson, including showing Thomson’s informational film Making of a Compost Heap (1941):

Making of a Compost Heap (Margaret Thomson, 1941), courtesy of BFI

Easen explained that while both Mander and Thomson achieved success in directing documentary films, neither were able to break into directing fictional feature films, with Mander returning to continuity work after being told by Michael Balcon of Ealing Studios that a woman ‘couldn’t control a male crew,’ and Thomson retiring from filmmaking in 1977 after setting up a production company in the 1950s with her husband Bill Ash. Easen provides further information on Mander’s and Thomson’s careers here and here.

Next, Helen Hughes (University of Surrey) presented on her research completed to date on ‘tracking down’ Diana Pine, a member of the Crown Film Unit between 1943 – 1951, who worked on the science films Faster than Sound (1949) and Atoms at Work (1952). Explaining that Pine was another women filmmaker whose work has been ‘hidden from view’ (in part due to Pine having to sign the Official Secrets Act), Hughes explained that Pine is an important inclusion in the work being conducted into British women documentary filmmakers due to her directing of science-based films as opposed to ‘traditional’ women-based subjects. Hughes has published her research on Pine to date in her research note ‘The story of Atoms at Work’ in Screen (Vol. 60, Issue: 1, Spring 2019, pp. 172-180).

Charles Drazin (Queen Mary, University of London) completed the panel by providing further insight into Craigie’s work through discussing his interview with Craigie as part of his research for his book The Finest Years: British Cinema of the 1940s (revised edition, London: I.B. Tauris, 2007). Drazin provided delegates with ‘impressions’ he obtained of Craigie from his interview, and specifically focussed on her directing of Out of Chaos (1944) and The Way We Live. Drazin also provided the context behind Craigie’s professional relationship with Filippo Del Giudice. You can listen to one of Craigie’s interviews published on the BEHP website here.

In the final panel of the day, Ros Cranston (BFI) started by examining the career of Marion Grierson in order to question modify the story of the ‘documentary boys’ in British film history, explaining that this was in part because of academic scholarship overlooking Marion’s work, and can also be attributed to the lack of credits at the time, leading to later mistakes through mis-crediting or omitting Marion in contemporary film reviews: a specific example being The Heart of an Empire (1935). Focussing on Beside the Seaside (1935), Cranston analysed this film in terms of its wittiness, lyricism and inventiveness, and explained that Marion believed: “There was of course prejudice against women in practically every activity,” in relation to the difference it made being a woman making a documentary, neatly linking back to Easen’s paper on Mander and Thomson in the previous panel.

Gillian Murphy (Curator, LSE Women’s Library) followed by building on from Drazin’s paper through an excellent analysis of Craigie and the rich resource of papers available which are held by the LSE Women’s Library. Murphy’s paper offered an illuminating insight into Craigie’s feminist politics, and her inspiration behind wanting make a film about the suffragette movement based on her reading of The Suffragette Movement (Sylvia Pankhurst, 1931):

Before reading the book it had not occurred to me to question the situation between the sexes, least of all had I thought that it might be changed, though it was evident that men on he whole lived a far more agreeable and interesting life. (Jill Craigie, quoted by Gillian Murphy)

In the event, the film sadly remained unrealised, in part due to not being able to satisfy the needs of those involved in the movement. Following this, Murphy analysed the making of To Be A Woman (1952), and how Craigie was commissioned to make the film by women’s organisations actively campaigning in achieving equal pay. A crowd-funding campaign was launched by the Equal Pay Campaign Committee (EPCC) to provide the £5,000 necessary for Craigie to make the film was eventually successful, the realised film did not return the investment.

To Be A Woman (Jill Craigie, 1952)

Tashi Petter (Queen Mary, University of London) offered a riveting paper on the work of Lotte Reiniger, and explained that while Reiniger is credited for the silhouette animation technique and as the director of the earliest-surviving animated feature-length film The Adventures of Prince Ahmed (1926), therefore holding an important position in the history of animation, Reiniger’s work in the area of ‘useful’ cinema has received less attention, something which Petter aims to address in her research.

Tashi Petter on ‘Sponsored Silhouettes: the fairy tale information films of Lotte Reiniger in Britain’, courtesy of Lizzie Thynne

Making extensive use of archive sources, Petter explored questions of gender and nationality, and focussed on the commissioning of Reiniger’s work produced for the General Post Office (GPO) Film Unit and Crown Film Unit. Petter explained that Reiniger’s work was heavily influenced by folklore narratives and fairy tales, leading to a ‘highly decorative, pretty and “feminine” aesthetic’. In her paper, Petter argued that these films demonstrate how Reiniger’s silhouettes are ‘inherently connected to her identity as a German émegré, and for her recognition in the production of ‘useful’ cinema, and analysed The Tocher (1938) as part of this:

The Tocher (Lotte Reiniger, 1938), courtesy of Thomas Sheppard

Finally, Melanie Williams (University of East Anglia) provided a very welcome introduction to amateur women filmmakers in the interwar and post-war period, particularly on non-fiction films, a term which encompasses different modes, including documentary, actuality, home movies and travelogues, building upon Hallahan’s analysis of Newman’s amateur filmmaking practices. Williams’ offered a close analysis of the husband-and-wife filmmaking team of Stuart and Laurie Day who were based in Stoke on Trent, and together produced non-fiction films between the 1930s and 1960s, where their prize-winning films form part of the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers (IAC) film collection held by the East Anglian Film Archive. Williams’ paper investigated how amateur filmmaking tended to be much more collaborative, which were strongly embedded within marital and familial leisure-cultures, as exemplified by the Day’s film, 1938 – The Last Year of Peace (1948), compiled from fragments of film shot before the outbreak of WWII, which only received ‘highly commended’ in the IAC Awards much to Laurie Day’s displeasure. As part of this analysis, Williams also pointed out the Day’s somewhat amusing, apparently subconscious, almost Freudian obsession with fruit throughout the film, which was used by the Day’s to reflect the changing of the seasons in the film.  Williams’ explained that this example highlights that this type of amateur film can offer reflection and commentary on social change and offers ‘a richly suggestive point of comparison for the contemporaneous work of professional female documentarists.’

Melanie Williams on ‘Women working in amateur non-fiction film: family, history, home, abroad’, courtesy of Lizzie Thynne

Following the final panel, the project team working on ‘Jill Craigie: Film Pioneer’ explained their planned outputs for the project, namely a book-length study co-authored by Tasker and Wearing, and a experimental documentary biopic about Craigie, produced by Thynne and Tulli. Delegates were then offered a treat, where the team introduced us to an 8-minute trailer for the documentary on Craigie.

In the plenary-round table to finish off the day, Isabel Seguí (University of St Andrews) introduced delegates to her website which Seguí designed based on a Scottish University University Research Collections Associate Scheme Grant, where she researched the project ‘The Grierson Sisters at the Grierson Collection’ (University of Stirling, 2018). This website will prove to be an invaluable teaching and research resource for those working in the area of documentary filmmaking.

Isabella Seguí, courtesy of Lizzie Thynne

Pat Holland (University of Bournemouth) and Sue Harper (University of Portsmouth) then offered their individual summaries on the variety of papers presented throughout the day, and their thoughts on going forward to research the history of women documentary filmmakers. Harper offered the following points for further thought beyond the symposium:

  1. Agency and autonomy. To what extent did companies inhibit or encourage female creativity, and why?
  2. Kinship networks. There are obviously familial or marriage connections to take into account, but we also need to ask ourselves whether, and when, there were “old girls’ networks”
  3. Do female documentarists operate as boundary walkers, policing the ground between the old and the new? Do they function best from the margins?
  4. We need to think about discourse. What cultural resources do female documentarists deploy, and how does their intellectual capital differ from that of male workers in the field?

Final round table: Isabel Suigí, Pat Holland and Sue Harper, courtesy of Lizzie Thynne

This event was free to attend, thanks to the sponsorship provided by the AHRC, and provided an abundance of the riches (or should that be cheese and fruit?) to enjoy from the research conducted by those presenting papers on women documentary filmmakers. Watch out John: Diana, Joy, Kay, Lisa, Lotte, Margaret, Marion, Mary, Rosie and Ruby are coming, and their voices are now finally being heard.


Dr Llewella Chapman is a film historian and an Associate Tutor at the University of East Anglia. Her research interests include British cinema, gender, heritage and costume design.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

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