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Amateur women filmmakers recognised in UEA report

In a year when award ceremonies continued to overlook female filmmakers for their contribution to the film industry, the University of East Anglia (UEA) has been commissioned by Film Archives UK (FAUK) to reveal the invisible history of women’s amateur filmmaking in the UK.

The report explores the holdings of UK film and media archives that preserve films made by women directors, producers, camerawomen and writers who worked outside the mainstream film industry.

These pioneering women produced films that provide a rich history of the last century: from the everyday lives of families at work and play, to local community activities, through international travel, and national occasions. They also produced fictional work, including comedies, dramas, and animated short films.

The report identifies 158 women who have been key to Britain’s amateur film culture – a culture as male-dominated as the parallel feature film industry, and which has an equal tendency to overlook their contributions. In challenging that history, the report shows how these women overcame such prejudices to produce creative works deserving of attention, and require increased visibility to ensure their films are not lost.

FAUK commissioned the Women Amateur Filmmakers (WAF) project team at UEA to undertake a mapping exercise across the regional and national film and media archives of the UK. The WAF team was responsible for an earlier project with the East Anglian Film Archive, which catalogued and digitised a collection of films by non-professional women filmmakers, screening them across the UK, at film festivals, exhibitions, and on the Talking Pictures TV channel.

For FAUK, the WAF team conducted a survey of what was available and accessible within participating archives.

That survey revealed over 2,250 films produced by these trailblazing women, over two-thirds of them not digitised or available to view. Several of those films – and filmmakers – were award-winners, including Doomsday (Ruth Stuart, 1934), which won the 1936 ‘Grand Prize’ from the American Cinematographer magazine, or Mollie Butler’s film A Game for Three, which won the ‘Gold Star’ from Movie Maker magazine in 1976.

The report champions the important work already done by film and media archives and historians, and provides data for Film Archives UK to help raise the profile of these women, and to make them and their rich, resonant and fascinating work visible again.

While individual archives might promote one or two filmmakers, the report recommends developing joint national initiatives that follow the model established by the WAF project.

Dr Melanie Williams from AMA, who worked on the report along with Stephanie Clayton and Professor Keith M. Johnston, said: “The work of these innovative women is currently obscured and under-exposed in UK film archives and efforts are required to rewrite these women’s stories back into film history, or we risk losing parts of that history forever.

“Women filmmakers, whether amateur or professional, need to be more publicly visible within regional and national archive holdings. We would like to see a central site for data on women filmmakers, and their films, which could collate and make more visible this rich cultural resource. Our previous work has shown that audiences are keen to see fascinating works by pioneering women filmmakers, and a central site would allow the archives to build on that interest.”

Study Art, Media and American Studies at UEA